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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller

Sabine Roehr

Journal of the History of Ideas, Volume 64, Number 1, January 2003, pp. 119-134

Published by University of Pennsylvania Press


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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller

Sabine Roehr

Much has been said lately about the development of the concept of au-
tonomy up to Kant.1 This essay will examine what happened to the concept
immediately after Kant, specifically how it fared at the hands of the German
playwright and Kantian Friedrich Schiller, who was famous for his support of
human freedom and self-determination. Commentators have drawn attention
to his employment of different concepts of freedom and autonomy.2 Others
have complained about the inconsistency found in Schillers Letters on the
Aesthetic Education of Man regarding the aesthetic ideal of play and the moral
ideal of practical reason.3
This essay will try to provide a systematic as well as chronological account
of Schillers use of the concepts of freedom and autonomy. It will show that
one of these concepts is Kantian, while the others are not. One non-Kantian
concept is Schillers notion of natural autonomy; another one is connected to a
particular concept of free will that he took over from the philosopher Karl
Leonhard Reinhold. This concept of the will in turn influenced Schillers re-
construction of the Kantian dualism of sensibility and intellect and his attempt
at overcoming this dualism with the help of the concepts of freedom and play.
Lastly, I will address some specific problems that arise from Reinholds and
Schillers concepts of freedom and autonomy and show how the simultaneous
employment of different concepts of autonomy leads to conflicting ideals of
aesthetics and morality in Schiller.

Jerome B. Schneewind, The Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philoso-
phy (Cambridge, 1998).
See, W. M. Calder, Schiller on the Will and the Heroic Villain, Oxford German Studies,
2, (1967), 41-53; Paul Menzer, Schiller und Kant. Zum 150. Todestage Friedrich von Schillers
am 9. Mai 1955, Kant-Studien, 47, (1955/56), 113-47, 234-72; R. D. Miller, Schiller and the
Ideal of Freedom: A Study of Schillers Philosophical Works with Chapters on Kant (Oxford,
Dieter Henrich, Beauty and Freedom: Schillers Struggle with Kants Aesthetics, Essays
in Kants Aesthetics, ed. Ted Cohen and Paul Guyer (Chicago, 1982); Lesley Sharpe, Schillers
Aesthetic Letters: A Theory of Beauty in a Revolutionary Age, talk given at a workshop on
Schillers Aesthetic Letters in January 1999 at the Institute of Germanic Studies, London.
Copyright 2003 by Journal of the History of Ideas, Inc.

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120 Sabine Roehr

Schillers writings on ethical and aesthetic theory fall mainly in the period
1792-96. After some years of struggles in his work as a dramatisthe finished
the Don Carlos in 1787 after five years of writinghe turned to theory, read-
ing widely in the areas of history, aesthetics, and philosophy. Most of all it was
the philosophy of Immanuel Kant that influenced him, a fact well known and
much written about. After initially reading some of Kants shorter essays on
history, it was Kants third Critique, the Critique of Judgment, that impressed
Schiller enduringly.
The Kallias-Letters, written to his friend Christian Gottfried Krner dur-
ing January and February 1793, was his first detailed reaction to Kants aes-
thetic theory.4 Schiller tries there to refute Kants claim that no objective con-
cept of beauty is possible. He does so by utilizing Kants concept of moral
autonomy, the moral self-legislation of practical reason, in the realm of the
aesthetic. He assigns the appearance, the similitude, of autonomy to natural
or artificial objects that appear to be determined from within themselves, by
their own nature. Nature is the particular essence of a thing, so to say, the
person of a thing, as Schiller puts it.5 In inanimate objects it is the form that
expresses this essence and correspondingly must shape the material of the ob-
ject completely; in animate objects the living forces perform this task. We
perceive beauty everywhere, where the mass is completely dominated by the
form and (in the plant and animal kingdoms) by the living forces (in which I
locate the autonomy of the organic).6 For this kind of autonomy, Schiller uses
the term heautonomy, which he takes over from Kant.7 In contrast to Kant, he
employs the concept in order to describe the regulative character of aesthetic,
not teleological judgment. What is perfect can possess autonomy, in so far as
its form is determined purely through its concept; but only beauty possesses
heautonomy, because only in beauty is the form determined by the inner na-
Moral autonomy is the self-legislation of practical reason in a sensible-
rational, human being. Schiller takes this concept from Kant. Free in this

Schiller, Kallias oder ber die Schnheit, Kallias oder ber die Schnheit. ber Anmut
und Wrde (Stuttgart, 1971), from now on quoted as Kallias-Briefe.
Kallias-Briefe, 38.
Ibid., 40.
Kant introduces the concept of heautonomy in the introduction to his Critique of Judg-
ment. Apparently, he made it up in order to distinguish between moral autonomy and the particu-
lar autonomy of the faculty of judgment that judges nature according to a subjective principle of
purposiveness. The judgment has therefore also in itself a principle a priori of the possibility of
nature, but only in a subjective aspect, by which it prescribes not to nature (autonomy), but to
itself (heautonomy) a law for its reflection upon nature. See Critique of Judgement, tr. J. H.
Bernhard (London,1951), 22. The added prefix he, as in the Greek heauton, is probably
meant to draw attention to the purely reflexive character of such law.
Kallias-Briefe, 47. See also Ernst Cassirer, Freiheit und Form: Studien zur deutschen
Geistesgeschichte (Darmstadt, 1961), 286.

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 121

context means through reason, and that means through concepts. Pure self-
determination in general is the form of practical reason. When a rational being
acts, it must act from pure reason, if it is to show pure self-determination.
When a mere natural being acts, it must act from pure nature, if it is to demon-
strate pure self-determination; for the essence [Selbst] of a rational being is
reason, the essence of a natural being is nature.9 Heautonomy, or beauty, is the
appearance of freedom in a natural or artificial object that only seems to deter-
mine itself through its own nature but in reality is not free at all, showing only
the semblance of freedom, or freedom in appearance.10 The use of the no-
tion of freedom in this case is merely regulative.11 The two concepts of moral
and aesthetic autonomy tentatively come together in the story of a human
being that spontaneously acts from duty, with an ease, as if mere instinct had
acted in him,12 an idea of moral beauty that runs like a thread through Schillers
theoretical writings, from his student times at the Karlsschule to his last major
theoretical work On Naive and Sentimental Poetry.13
These are the two concepts of freedom in the Kallias-Briefe. Soon after-
ward Schillers outlook on freedom and autonomy changed in certain respects.
For one, he gave up, or at least postponed, his search for objective criteria of
beauty in objects and also the idea of natural autonomy. He did not give up
though on the idea of moral beauty in humans, but for this he needed a different
concept of freedom, one that was independent of practical reason. Schiller found
this in the concept of a neutral free will as it was formulated by his colleague
and sometime-friend in Jena, the philosopher Karl Leonhard Reinhold. Reinhold
deeply influenced Schillers reception of the Kantian philosophy, a fact that
has not gained enough attention up until now.
Schiller met Reinhold after he moved to Weimar in the summer of 1787.
Reinhold was originally from Vienna, where he was born in 1757, educated by
the orders of the Jesuits and the Barnabites, ordained as a priest, and employed
by the Barnabites as a teacher of philosophy. He was closely involved in the
intellectual and cultural life of Vienna and in 1783 he became a Freemason and
Illuminatus. His engagement with enlightened and Freemasonic thought soon
led him into questioning his stance toward the dogmas and institutions of Ca-
tholicism. He fled Austria at the end of 1783 and moved to Weimar, where he
met Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Gottfried Herder, and other important
thinkers of this age. He converted to Protestantism, married one of Wielands

Kallias-Briefe, 17.
See Sigbert Latzel Die sthetische Vernunft: Bemerkungen zu Schillers Kallias mit
Bezug auf die sthetik des 18. Jahrhunderts, Friedrich Schiller: Zur Geschichtlichkeit seines
Werkes, ed. Klaus Berghahn (Kronberg, 1975), 247.
Kallias-Briefe, 32.
See Dieter Henrichs Beauty and Freedom: Schillers Struggle with Kants Aesthetics.

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122 Sabine Roehr

daughters, and started to make a name for himself as a writer of articles and
reviews. He wrote, for example, for Wielands journal Der Teutsche Merkur, of
which he became co-publisher in 1786.
Reinholds philosophical break-through came with his widely-read Briefe
ber die Kantische Philosophie,14 which appeared in the Teutsche Merkur in
1786/87 and in which he famously popularized Kants critical philosophy. In
this work he presented the results of Kants first Critique in a manner more
accessible than the original work, though one structured by his own practical
concerns. Reinholds and Schillers biographies show interesting parallels in
this period of their lives. Schiller, too, planned to become a co-publisher of the
Merkur and a son-in-law of Wieland, neither of which plans worked out, al-
though Schiller published in the Merkur.15
From their first meeting, the two talked about Kant. Schiller wrote to his
friend Christian Gottfried Krner, that compared with Reinhold, [Krner]
look[ed] with contempt on Kant, for (Reinhold) claim[ed] that in a hundred
years time, [Kant] would have to have the reputation of Jesus Christ.16 How-
ever, while Reinhold at this point still agreed with the Kantian system, he soon
began to introduce changes, first in regard to Kants theoretical philosophy and
later, after the publication of Kants Critique of Practical Reason (1788), in
regard to his practical philosophy as well.17 In particular, Reinhold criticized
Kants concept of free will.

As has been observed by one commentator, there remains in Kant a cen-

tral and insufficiently justified belief in an intrinsic connection between moral-
ity and absolute freedom.18 For example, in his Review of Schulz (1783)
Kant claimed that one must presuppose freedom if one will have morality and
do ones duty.19 In his Critique of Pure Reason Kant introduces the idea of
transcendental freedom as a theoretical, cosmological concept, which in the
Third Antinomy functions as an alternative concept to that of natural causality
and which he characterizes as absolute spontaneity or the power of beginning
a state spontaneously.20 This concept of freedom, neither whose reality nor

Briefe ber die Kantische Philosophie, in Der Teutsche Merkur (Weimar, 1786), III and
(Weimar, 1787), I, II, III.
E.g., his Briefe ber Don Carlos and his poem Die Gtter Griechenlands (Teutsche
Merkur, 1788), his Was heit und zu welchem Ende studiert man Universalgeschichte? and
Die Knstler (1789).
Letter 97, to Krner, Weimar, 29 August 1787. Schillers Werke Nationalausgabe (NA),
XXIV, ed. Benno von Wiese (Weimar, 1963), 143.
See Briefe ber die Kantische Philosophie (Leipzig, 1790), I and (Leipzig, 1792), II.
Karl Ameriks, Kants Deduction of Freedom and Morality, Journal of the History of
Philosophy, 19 (1981), 54.
Ibid., 59.
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Norman Kemp Smith (London, 1933), A533/

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 123

even whose possibility can be established theoretically, nevertheless allows for

a concept of freedom in the practical sense, which he describes in a negative
way as choices independence of coercion through sensuous impulses, and
positively as the power of self-determination, of a causality of our will ...
which, independently of those natural causes, and even contrary to their force
and influence, can produce something that is determined in the time-order in
accordance with empirical laws, and which can begin a series of events entirely
of itself.21 In the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals Kant reformulates
and expands the concept of positive freedom of the first Critique to that of
autonomy of the will, which he defines as that property [of the will] by
which it is a law to itself independently of any property of objects of voli-
tion.22 This will is autonomous, i.e., self-legislating, in prescribing the moral
law, in the form of the Categorical Imperative, to itself.
However, in the Foundations Kant struggledunsuccessfully, as most com-
mentators thinkwith a theoretical proof, a deduction, of transcendental, ab-
solute freedom; He failed to establish that human beings, as rational agents,
really possess the kind of free will that is able to formulate such a moral law,
and so he gave up on that endeavor and settled for the derivation of freedom
from morality. In his Critique of Practical Reason Kant derives our knowledge
of freedom from a fact of reason, the reality of the moral law as people are
aware of in their conscience, maneuvering the free will into an analytical rela-
tionship with morality. As a consequence, only actions performed for the sake
of the moral law are truly free, or autonomous. All others fall into the realm of
heteronomythat means, they are determined by something outside of them-
selves, like some inclinationleading to the dilemma that immoral actions or
those belonging to an amoral realm do not seem to be free and thus not imput-
This does not mean that Kant thinks that actions performed for reasons
other than for the sake of the moral law are automatically the opposite of free.
In the Foundations he points out that persons are responsible for the influence
that they allow their inclinations to have on their maxims of acting: [Man]
does ascribe to his will the indulgence which he may grant to them [inclina-
tions and impulses] when he permits them an influence on his maxims to the
detriment of the rational laws of his will.23 Similarly, in the Critique of Prac-
tical Reason he describes the will that acts from desire as pathologically af-
fected but not pathologically determinedand thus still free.24 However, it
is not clear what kind of freedom is left for heteronomy within the theoretical

Critique of Pure Reason, A534/B562.
Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. and intro. L. W. Beck (London,
1959), [440], 59 (page numbers in brackets refer to the Akademie-Ausgabe).
Ibid., [458], 77.
Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, tr. and intro. L. W. Beck (London, 1956), [32], 32.

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124 Sabine Roehr

framework that he has set up, which inextricably links freedom with moral
autonomy and human sensuous nature, i.e., existence under empirically con-
ditioned laws with heteronomy.25
Not surprisingly, Kant himself was made aware of the problem connected
with the freedom of heteronomous actions 26 and tried to solve it in the first part
of his Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, which appeared in 1792, at
the same time that Reinholds second volume of the Briefe ber die Kantische
Philosophie was published, which contained his detailed analysis of the prob-
lem. Without doubt, the Religion contains some of the clearest passages re-
garding the accountability for immoral actions, as when Kant writes that the
source of evil cannot lie in an object determining choice through inclination,
nor yet in a natural impulse; it can lie only in a rule made by choice for the use
of its freedom, that is, in a maxim.27 That means persons must determine them-
selves to let themselves be determined by inclination; there must be an au-
tonomy to heteronomy.
Some commentators think that Kant solved the problem in the Religion,
others do not. For example, John Silber claims that, in comparison with his
Critiques, Kants Religion offers his only sustained analysis of the human
will, with Willkr analyzed ... as a unitary faculty in which the forces of
sensibility and rationality have a common meeting place. It thus provides the
basis for an understanding of the experience of obligation as the constraint of
the law upon a will tempted to reject it.28 Allen W. Wood accepts the human
propensity to evil, which Kant introduces in order to explain immoral actions,
as an inseparable part of moral character and as an explanation for the imput-
ability of such actions.29 Gerold Prauss, on the other hand, argues that Kant
gets caught in a circulus vitiosus when trying to explain immoral actions by
assuming radical evil as part of human nature and ultimately fails because he
does not question the analytical nature of freedom and morality and radically
locates the good of the moral law ... at the root of freedom.30 Thus, there is no
consensus between experts, and it is certainly beyond the scope of this article
to discuss the merits of the various views. However, Reinhold and Schiller, for
their part, did not think that Kants Religion solved the problem.
Reinholds solution to the imputability of immoral and amoral actions con-
sists in dissolving the analytical relationship of practical reason, freedom, and
the will by introducing the concept of a neutral will that is not tied to practical
Critique of Practical Reason [43], 44.
Through the criticisms of J. A. H. Ulrich and C. C. E. Schmid.
Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, tr. John Silber (New York, 1960), BA7/
17. I changed the translation of Willkr from will to choice.
John Silber, Introduction: The Ethical Significance of Kants Religion, Religion Within
the Limits of Reason Alone, 127-28.
Allen W. Wood, Kants Moral Religion (Ithaca, N.Y., 1970), 245.
Prauss, Kant ber Freiheit als Autonomie (Frankfurt,1983), 98f.

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 125

reason. He starts out by characterizing the faculty of desire as containing two

original, essentially different and essentially united, drives ... of which one is
based on sensibility and has pleasure in general as its object. The other, located
in personal spontaneity, sets down a law that is necessary only through itself.31
One is the drive for pleasure, which Reinhold also calls the selfish drive; the
other is practical reason, or the unselfish drive. Both these drives function in-
stinctively and with necessity. As the selfish drive strives for the satisfaction of
inclinations that are necessary parts of human nature, so the unselfish drive
produces the moral law with the necessity that accrues to reason.
Freedom resides between these two necessary drives. It represents the con-
tradiction of the person within itself and thus the possibility to act in one way
or the other. While the necessary drives are objective reasons for the will and
without them no volition is conceivable, they only induce it, they do not deter-
mine it; for that, freedom, the faculty of self-determination, is needed.32 The
free will decides between the demands of the two other drives. It is not a drive
but a free faculty, the faculty of the person to determine itself to either
satisfy or not satisfy the demand of the selfish drive in reality.33 Reinhold thus
breaks up Kants near-identity of practical reason, freedom, and the will. Prac-
tical reason is thought of as free only in connection with the will, in its execu-
tion, not in its legislation.34 While autonomynow meaning nothing but self-
legislationstill pertains to practical reason, Reinhold shifts the aspect of free-
dom, or self-determination, into the will.35
Reinhold, Briefe ber die Kantische Philosophie, II, 436 (6th Brief).
Ibid., 438 (6th Brief), 494 (7th Brief).
Ibid., 437.
See ibid., 447 (6th Brief)
Kants answer in The Metaphysics of Morals to his critics contains some surprising, if
only apparent, similarities between his and Reinholds accounts of freedom and will. Kant, for
the first time, explicitly separates the will (Wille) from choice (Willkr), reminiscent of Reinholds
distinct capacities of practical reason and free will. The will now gives the laws and thus cannot
be called either free or unfree, since it is not directed to actions immediately but immediately to
giving laws for the maxims of actions (and is, therefore, practical reason itself). Hence the will
directs with absolute necessity and is itself subject to no necessitation. Only choice can therefore
be free. (Metaphysics of Morals, tr., notes Mary Gregor [Cambridge, 1991], [226], 52). But
then Kant immediately proceeds to disclaim the possibility of a theoretical concept of free choice.
But freedom of choice cannot be definedas some have tried to define itas the capacity to
make a choice for or against the law (libertas indifferentiae), even though choice as a phenom-
enon provides frequent examples of this experience (ibid.). The some obviously refers to
Reinhold, and this is Kants last word on the matter: free choice cannot be defined as a separate
capacity; he even characterizes it as an incapacity Only freedom in relation to the internal
lawgiving of reason is really a capacity; the possibility of deviation from it is an incapacity
(ibid., [227], 52). Thus, Kant was clearly aware of the intentional, self-determinational aspects
of heteronomous acting, but he could not accommodate it within the strict dualism of autonomy
and heteronomy, freedom and natural causality. I will forgo discussing here Reinholds answer to
Kant in his Einige Bemerkungen ber die in der Einleitung zu den metaphysischen
Anfangsgrnden der Rechtslehre von I. Kant aufgestellten Begriffe von der Freiheit des Willens,
Auswahl vermischer Schriften, vol. 2 (Jena, 1797).

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126 Sabine Roehr

While Schiller was still a good Kantian in his Kallias-Briefe, where he

described free actions as actions determined through reason and practical
reason and the pure will as completely identical,36 soon afterwards he took
over Reinholds concept of the neutral free will.37 There is evidence that he did
so for the immediate reason that, as a playwright, he needed a concept of the
will that was more realistic than the Kantian one, a concept of the will not tied
to reason but free and powerful enough to actively choose desire over the moral
law. By putting characters onto the stage like Karl Moor (in The Robbers), who
defies not only the political laws of his country, but also those of common
morality, Schiller must be able to account for the possibility of a human will
that is independent of any (external or internal) laws. Such a will would be
autonomous in a sense different from Kants, it would show an independence
that defies the dictates of the persons own moral reason and still, or exactly
because of this defiance, demand the admiration of the theater audience. To
paraphrase Schillers On the Pathetic, in aesthetic judgment the force of the
will is more important than its direction.38 At the end of The Robbers, Karl
Moor kills his love, Amalia, when she asks him to do soan act against and
beyond the prescriptions of the moral law but an act that Schiller describes as
possessing positive beauty.39
Thus, Schiller had to be dissatisfied with Kants rigorist ethics, with the
constraining character of the moral imperative. As he writes in On the Pa-
thetic (1793): The moral judgment limits and humbles us, since we find our-
selves, in every particular act of the will, more or less at a disadvantage in the
face of what is an absolute law of the will. The fact that the will is limited to
being determined in one way alone, a limitation demanded by duty, is at odds
with the instinct of freedom on the part of fantasy.40 He needed a concept of
freedom independent of practical reason and its absolute command, and he
found this in Reinholds concept of free will and employed it for the first time
in his On Grace and Dignity.
There, Schiller distinguishes between the natural drive (Naturtrieb), rea-
son, and an additional feature, namely the will, which as a supersensible
Schiller, Kallias-Briefe, 13, 16.
See Menzer and Wolfgang Dsing, in his sthetische Form als Darstellung der Sub-
jektivitt: Zur Rezeption Kantischer Begriffe in Schillers sthetik, Friedrich Schiller: Zur
Geschichtlichkeit seines Werkes, ed. K. Berghahn; and Jeffrey Barnouw in his Freiheit zu
geben durch Freiheit: sthetischer Zustandsthetischer Staat, Friedrich Schiller: Kunst,
Humanitt und Politik in der spten Aufklrung. Ein Symposium, ed. W. Wittkowski (Tbingen,
1982). Schiller himself draws attention to it in his ber Anmut und Wrde.
See Dsing and Sabine Rhr Zum Einflu K. L. Reinholds auf Schillers Kant-Rezeption,
Proceedings of the International Karl Leonhard Reinhold Colloquium 1998, ed. Wolfgang
Schrader and Martin Bondeli (Stuttgart, forthcoming).
Letter 13, to Wolfgang Heribert von Dalberg. Stuttgart, 12 December 1781. NA, vol. 23,
Schiller, On the Pathetic, Friedrich Schiller. Essays, ed. Walter Hinderer and Daniel O.
Dahlstrom, tr. Dahlstrom (New York, 1993), 64.

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 127

faculty is subordinated neither to the law of nature nor to that of reason. While
the moral will must still follow practical reason, the will in general does not
have to do so in order to prove itself as free: as a force of nature it is free in
regard to both....41 When it acts contrary to the dictates of reason, it uses its
freedom, but it does so in an unworthy manner.
Schiller maintained this concept of the will throughout his subsequent philo-
sophical writings, even though he changed some of the terms involved. In ber
den moralischen Nutzen sthetischer Sitten he clearly distinguishes between
the freedom of an external action as immediately springing from the will of a
person and the morality of an inner action as the immediate determination of
the will by the law of reason.42 In his Letters on the Aesthetic Education of
Mankind he describes the will as located completely free between duty and
inclination, and no physical compulsion can, or should, encroach upon this
sovereign right of his (mans) personality.43 In this work Schillers concept of
a free will and how it is grounded is much more detailed than in his former
writings. Earlier it had remained ultimately an open question how a will free to
choose between two necessary alternatives came into being.

While following Reinholds basic conception, Schiller does not adopt

Reinholds theoretical foundation of freedom, which the latter locates in the
possibility of inner intuition of our basic faculties.44 Nevertheless, he certainly
understands the free will of a person as an absolute cause, though without try-
ing to justify his assumption of the reality of such a will.45 Not only that, but the
will becomes the essence of a person, what distinguishes the human race
(Geschlechtscharacter des Menschen).46
However, there is another thought to be found in Reinhold, namely that of
the two necessary drives in between which a third force gains freedom, almost
mechanically through the two necessary drives canceling each other. In his
Aesthetic Letters Schiller develops this idea further. He talks first of a sense
drive (sinnlicher Trieb), material drive or drive for matter (Stofftrieb),
which determines human beings as material beings, through sensation
(Empfindung), making them subject to temporal change living in a realm of

Schiller, ber Anmut und Wrde, 114-15.
ber den moralischen Nutzen sthetischer Sitten, NA, vol. 21, 29. On the moral use-
fulness of aesthetic manners/habits.
Schiller, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, Friedrich Schiller. Essays, tr.
Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby, 93 (4th letter).
Reason possesses a very real reason to think freedom as an absolute causethat is, self-
consciousness, through which the acting of this faculty announces itself as a fact and through
which it justifies common sense to make an inference from its reality to its possibility (Briefe
ber die Kantische Philosophie, II, 511).
See ber Anmut und Wrde, 82, 94.
Concerning the Sublime, Friedrich Schiller: Essays, 70.

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128 Sabine Roehr

mere facts. Secondly, he describes a form drive (Formtrieb), which aims to

transform human beings into persons according to the unchangeable laws of
their rational nature. If the first drive [sense drive] only furnishes cases, this
second one [form drive] gives lawslaws for every judgment, where it is a
question of knowledge, laws for every will, where it is a question of action.47
Both drives function with necessity, the material drive according to the
laws of nature, the formal drive according to those of reason. No third drive
between them is possible, except for one that is engendered by their reciprocal
relation, their community (Wechselwirkung). Schiller calls this the play drive
(Spieltrieb) and assigns it the role of mediating between the two other drives,
of creating a realm of freedom by harmonizing two realms of necessity. To the
extent that [the play drive] deprives feelings and passions of their dynamic
power, it will bring them into harmony with the ideas of reason; and to the
extent that it deprives the laws of reason of their moral compulsion, it will
reconcile them with the interests of the senses.48 The play drive overcomes
both chance and necessity by reconciling them within the same being. Rea-
son, on transcendental grounds, makes the following demand: let there be a
bond of union between the form drive and the material drive; that is to say, let
there be a play drive, since only the union of reality with form, contingency
with necessity, passivity with freedom, makes the concept of human nature
This is Schillers solution to the problem of the Kantian dualism of human
nature, a problem that Kant himself and many of his contemporaries and suc-
cessors tried to solve. For Schiller, it is play that makes [a human being] whole
and unfolds both sides of his nature at once. In other words, man is only fully
a human being when he plays.50
But Schiller does not formulate this dualism in Kantian terms. Instead he
follows Reinholds formulation in terms of material and form drivethe major
difference being that for Kant only one of the two sides, that of sensibility,
works with necessity, while the intellectual realm is that of spontaneity, free-
dom, and self-imposed moral law.51 Reinhold is ambiguous about this; in his
Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermgens (At-
tempt at a new theory of the human faculty of representation) he still identifies
formal drive/understanding/reason with spontaneity and freedom, and he still
distinguishes, in Kantian manner, between the comparative freedom of choos-

Aesthetic Letters, 120 (12th letter).
Ibid., 127 (14th letter).
Ibid., 128.
Ibid., 130, 131 (15th letter).
Except in the passage from The Metaphysics of Morals quoted above, where he calls
practical reason neither free nor unfree.

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 129

ing to follow a particular inclination and the absolute freedom of choosing the
moral law. On the other hand, in the later Briefe ber die Kantische Philosophie
he describes both the selfish and the unselfish drivethe moral versions of
sense and form driveas necessary. The same ambiguity can be found in
Schiller, who in the fifteenth of his Aesthetic Letters links the form drive to
freedom, while in the nineteenth letter freedom is the result of the reciprocal
relation of material and form drive.
Reinhold first presented this dualism of material and formal drive in his
Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermgens of 1789,
a work in which he tried to provide a firm foundation for Kants critical phi-
losophy (which in his opinion was missing in Kants own attempt at a system-
atic philosophy) on the basis of the concept of representation. A representation
consists of matter and form, matter being the content and form that which is
contributed by the mind. For the most part of Versuch Reinhold treats of the
faculty of representation as the ground of the mere possibility of representa-
tion; only in the last chapter, Grundlinien der Theorie des Begehrungs-
vermgens (Outline of the theory of the faculty of desire), he talks about
actual representation. For the latter to come into being, an active representing
force must be present. When this force combines with the faculty of represen-
tation, we get the drive of the representing subject to represent. To be deter-
mined by the drive to produce a representation is called desire, and the capacity
to be determined by the drive, the faculty of desire in a broader sense.52
Desire lies at the heart of any actual representation, and without the drives
for matter and form no actual, real representation will come about. Reinhold
further describes the drive for matter as a need for matter that possesses a dis-
tinct form of receptivity and is only satisfied when something is given to it.
Therefore he calls it selfish. The drive for form is a positive force which, in
combination with the form of its spontaneity, is only satisfied when it can act.
Thus he calls it unselfish. The drive for matter is sensible, the drive for form
intellectual. In regard to the moral realm, Reinhold talks of the drive for happi-
ness and the pure and rational, or moral, drive.53
While calling this last chapter, for example, odd (Alfred Klemmt) or
curious (Daniel Breazeale), many commentators have interpreted it in the
light of Reinholds goal to provide a unified theory of all human faculties, of
bringing together theoretical and practical reasonas actually his whole theory

Reinhold, Versuch einer neuen Theorie des menschlichen Vorstellungsvermgens (At-
tempt at a new theory of the human faculty of representation) (Prague, 1789; repr. Darmstadt,
1963), 561.
Schiller adopted this terminology in On the Art of Tragedy (1791/92). After this, he
employed various terms. It is confirmed that he had read at least half of Reinholds Versuch, a
particularly dry, abstract work (see Reinholds letter to Jens Baggesen, 23 January 1792).

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130 Sabine Roehr

of representation was meant to provide a unifying basis for Kants critical phi-
Two features seem to be of importance in connection with Schiller: the
first is the concern with reality/actuality as opposed to mere possibility. Schiller
employed in his own theory of the free will the notion of force in order to talk
about the reality of acting freely in the world,55 in contrast to Kant, who cat-
egorically denies any possibility of demonstrating the reality of freedom, its
actual, empirical occurrence in the sensible world.

Reason has accomplished all that she can accomplish by discovering

the law and establishing it. Its execution demands a resolute will and
ardor of feeling. If truth is to be victorious in her conflict with forces,
she must first become a force and appoint some drive to be her cham-
pion in the realm of phenomena; for drives are the sole motive forces
in the sensible world.56

Second was, the concern with reconciling the dualism of sensibility and intel-
lect. The structure in both thoughts is basically the same: two necessary drives
cancel each other and thus create a realm of freedom, which Schiller describes
as a realm of undeterminedness between the others that are both absolutely
determined (by nature and by reason, respectively). It seems possible that Schiller
adopted this structure because it coincided with his own interpretation of Kantian
dualism, in particular his mostly negative view of Kantian duty and the repres-
sive character of the moral law. A third reason might be found in Schillers
concern with the relationship of matter and form in a work of art and how this
compares to the same relationship in regard to human beings. In the fourth of
the Aesthetic Letters he stresses that, while the artisan and even the artist do
violence to their material, for the pedagogic or the political artist man is at
once the material on which he works and the goal toward which he strives.
Thus he must approach his material and its innermost being with respect.57
It was Schillers declared goal to overcome the Kants dualism of inclina-
tion and duty. People possessing grace, who perform acts of duty as if from
instinct, whose conscience has become second nature, a part of their sensible
nature and who, thus, do not have to repress their feelings for the sake of the
strict moral law, were his ideal. The aesthetic state of play presents the realiza-
tion of this ideal, when the full realization of both necessary drives leads to an

See Martin Bondeli, Das Anfangsproblem bei Karl Leonhard Reinhold: Eine systematische
und entwicklungsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zur Philosophie Reinholds in der Zeit von 1789
bis 1803 (Frankfurt, 1995), 85, 91f.
See Jeffrey Barnouw, Freiheit zu geben durch Freiheit, 139, 147.
Schiller, Aesthetic Letters, 106, (8th letter).
Ibid., 94, (4th letter).

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 131

state of undeterminedness, or determinability, in which persons are at the height

of their possibilities. In a way, Schillers entire philosophical work revolves
around these two themes, which are intrinsically connected in the image of the
beautiful soul, a person that overcomes the dualism of nature and intellect by
gracefully, without compulsion, realizing his or her free will in the natural world,
thus at the same time creating beauty.
This kind of freedom, which Schiller calls the aesthetic state and which is
the product of reciprocal action between sense and form drive, is the third
major concept of freedom to be found in Schiller. In a way it takes over the
place of natural autonomy found in the Kallias-Briefe. While abandoning
the regulative idea of a natural autonomy found in every kind of object and
living being, Schiller makes it a real idea, characterizing it as the self-determi-
nation of persons who reach the height of their possibilities by realizing both
their sensible and their intelligible nature, that is, their mixed nature, to the

Reinhold and, following him, Schiller can be credited with breaking open
Kants identification of practical reason and freedom and thus providing a con-
cept of a neutral will that is free to decide between different options for acting.
However, this approach creates problems of its own. Karl Ameriks has recently
drawn attention to two problems connected to the origin of this will. Being the
product of the canceling of two opposing drives, one sensible, the other ratio-
nal, limits this kind of will to beings who possess these two sides, beings with
a dualistic, mixed nature. What about God? Since he is purely rational and not
automatically subject to the absolute rule of natural desire, can he therefore
not be free?58 As Ameriks points out, Reinhold himself became eventually aware
of this dilemma. However, while Reinhold was sensitive to this problem (since
one of his main philosophical objectives was to secure humanitys moral and
religious beliefs), Schiller might have been not really concerned about this
effect, since his concern was with human freedom alone.
Another consequence of Reinholds dualism of drives, again remarked on
by Ameriks, is that there exist only two different courses of action open to the
will, either to follow the selfish or the unselfish drive. Reinhold tries to escape
this conclusion by insisting that the scope of the empirical will is larger than
that of the impure, immoral will, and that practical reason not only estab-
lishes the moral law but other practical, nonmoral laws as well. Unfortunately,
he does not expand on this idea.59
Schiller could be said to avoid this problem from the start when he charac-
terizes the form drive as pertaining to laws in general, those of knowledge as
Ameriks, The Gospels Revised, 74.
See Reinhold, Einige Bemerkungen ber die in der Einleitung zu den Anfangsgrnden
der Rechtslehre von I. Kant aufgestellten Begriffe von der Freiheit des Willens.

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132 Sabine Roehr

well as morality, not morality alone.60 The footnote at the end of the nineteenth
letter might be interpreted in this light. He talks there about two kinds of hu-
man freedom, one that pertains to a human being considered as intelligent
being, and a second that is founded upon his mixed nature.61 The first one
might be interpreted as that freedom which Schiller, in the twelfth letter, links
to the form drive and to law-giving in general.62 When he then proposes to
explain the latterthe product of reciprocal action between sense and form
drivequite simply as a natural possibility of the former,63 he derives aes-
thetic not from moral freedom, as has been claimed,64 but from a general kind
of freedom that belongs to human beings as intelligible beings.
A third problem arises from the concept of free will as something third
between two necessary sides. It leaves freedom as choice in an indeterminate
realm without rules or laws. Only the will that chooses to act morally is gov-
erned by a law, that of practical reason. But on what basis does a person choose
in the first place? As Reinhold puts it, It depends on the subject whether it lets
itself be determined or determines itself.65 However, the subject is a purely
transcendental one, it has no substance of its own. As Alessandro Lazzari has
asked, Who is the subject of the will?66 The accusation of contingency can-
not be easily fought off. Schiller was aware of the danger of a state of indeter-
minacy that would be empty and contingent. As we have seen, he tried to over-
come this problem by assigning the greatest possible content to the two drives
that cancel each other. The ensuing indeterminacy is not empty, but full of
content. Freedom thus equals not contingency but a higher kind of necessity.
Another, and maybe the most important, problem concerns the notion of
autonomy. What happens to Kantian autonomy as the free self-legislation of
practical reason? For Reinhold this self-legislation becomes necessary. How-
ever, he tries to avoid the consequence of autonomy becoming the opposite of
freedom by having it denote not only self-legislation but also the self-determi-
nation of the free will. The autonomy of the will consists not only in the self-
legislation of reason, whereby the person acts spontaneously but involuntarily,
but in the self-determination of the will for this law, to which it commits it-
self.67 So Reinhold wants to have it both ways: autonomy is necessary and

Schiller, Aesthetic Letters, 120.
Ibid., 144.
Alternatively, it could also be seen as Kants theoretical concept of comparative freedom
of choosing between different courses of action in accordance with theoretical, hypothetical
Ibid., 144n.
W. M. Calder, Schiller on the Will and the Heroic Villain, 47.
Reinhold, Einige Bemerkungen ber die in der Einleitung..., 380.
A. Lazzari, System und Freiheit. K. L. Reinholds Bearbeitung der Freiheitsthematik
zwischen 1789 und 1792, Proceedings of the International Karl Leonhard Reinhold Collo-
quium 1998.
Reinhold, Briefe ber die Kantische Philosophie, 502.

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Freedom and Autonomy in Schiller 133

free at the same time, necessary in respect to legislation and free in respect to
Certainly this is an ambiguous outcome, which Schiller, following Reinhold
in using the notion of autonomy for both moral self-legislation and free self-
determination, does not avoid either. This ambiguity is responsible for the in-
conclusiveness that many commentators find in Schillers Aesthetic Letters,
and in other writings as well. Is the aesthetic state a transitory one facilitating
the ultimate triumph of the moral law? Or is it the goal itself and, as a harmoni-
ous one, superior to the one-sidedness of practical reason? Does the aesthetic
state come to represent true morality?
No doubt, both readings can be found in Schiller. In On Grace and Dig-
nity, if graceful, morally beautiful acting is impossible, dignity must take its
placesubmission to the dictates of the moral law and suppression of the senses;
the ideal of beauty is supplemented with that of the sublime. In the twenty-third
of the Aesthetic Letters Schiller describes the aesthetic state as a precondition
for the moral one, as a transitional state. In the same letter he speaks of aes-
thetic transcendence by noble actions which he characterizes as exceeding
duty, going beyond it, something that is not possible for merely moral con-
duct. Still, sublime conduct is to be held in higher esteem: Noble conduct is to
be distinguished from sublime conduct. The first transcends moral obligation;
not so the latter, although we rate it incomparably higher. But then again man
must learn to desire more nobly, so that he may not need to will sublimely.68
Schiller clearly finds the aesthetic state more desirable, although he dutifully
reserves the highest respect for the moral.
Dieter Henrich has expressed the dilemma like this:

Thus it is required of the moral agent that he commit himself to the

ideal of depending on, trusting himself to the so-called faculty of sen-
sibility, but at the same time that he hold in reserve, though one knows
not where, the energy of his resolve, the energy to be active against
sensibility itself in situations of extremity. This reserve of will over
against sensible-moral harmony is unintelligible precisely because
Schiller wants to see in the unification of these two subjective powers
the highest perfection of mans moral potentialities.69

Henrich attributes the problem to Schillers unawareness of the fact that the
Kantian conceptual framework hindered him in consistently formulating his
own ideal of aesthetic freedom.70 One might add that it was exactly Schillers

Schiller, Aesthetic Letters, 155 n. 3, 156.
Henrich, Beauty and Freedom: Schillers Struggle with Kants Aesthetics, 253-54.
Ibid., 255.

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134 Sabine Roehr

adoption of Reinholds concept of free will that broke up the Kantian frame-
work and that it was Schillers insistence on retaining both concepts of free-
dom and autonomy that created the ambivalence of different ideals.
Schiller was certainly aware of the problem. He tried, though halfheart-
edly, to overcome it by having the true ideal of moral conduct lie in the har-
mony of the two sides of beauty and the sublime. As Henrich remarks, this was
not a convincing solution, since as long as [Schiller] assumes that sensibility
is active in the harmonious soul, while reason is active in the sublime soul, it is
impossible for him to show where the genuine unity of these two modes of
activity lies.71 Although this idea occurs in the Aesthetic Letters, it is not promi-
nent. If one can take the last, twenty-seventh, letter as Schillers final state-
ment, then it is clear that he contrasts the aesthetic with the moral (political)
state and makes no attempt at reconciling them.
In conclusion, the advantage of Schillers concept of autonomy is that, in
identifying autonomy with self-determination in general and separating it from
reason, a neutral kind of freedom ensues that makes the imputability of moral
as well as immoral and amoral actions comprehensible. Also, this autonomy
refers to the whole person and not only to a persons rational side. There is a
line of development here from Kant, who locates the person in a human
beings rational side, through Reinhold, for whom the person encompasses
both sensible and rational sides but who cannot quite make good on this claim,
and lastly Schiller, who strives to identify autonomy with self-determination
and place it within the reconciliation of a persons mixed nature.
That his concept of autonomy still faces some of the difficulties that
Reinholds concept encounters cannot be denied. Those who claim that Schiller
uses different concepts of freedom are right. But it certainly helps to trace their
source. When the well-known Schiller scholar Lesley Sharpe claims that Schiller
felt torn between two models of human behaviour,72 which she calls the
harmony model and the triumph of the will model, she puts her finger on
exactly the two types of freedom and autonomy in Schiller whose origin this
paper has tried to illuminate. These two kinds of freedom are responsible for
the dualism of Schillers aesthetic-moral idealsgrace and dignity, beauty and
the sublime, play and moral law.

New Jersey City University.

Henrich, Beauty and Freedom, 254.
Sharpe, Schillers Aesthetic Letters, 11.

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