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Sources returnpage

Schiller, Friedrich von

Category: Philosopher

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (10 November 1759 – 9 May 1805) was a German poet, philosopher, historian, and playwright.

Schiller is considered by most Germans to be one of Germany's most important classical playwrights and he has been praised for his innovative use of dramatic structure and his creation of new forms, such as the melodrama and the bourgeois tragedy. His plays include The Robbers, Fiesco, Intrigue and Love, Don Carlos, Wallenstein, Mary Stuart, The Maid of Orleans, Turandot, The Bride of Messina, William Tell and Demetrius.

Schiller wrote a number of poems, some of which were set to music by composers like Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, for example:

  • An die Freude (Ode to Joy)(1785) became the basis for the fourth movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony
  • Die Bürgschaft (The Hostage) was set to music by Schubert
  • Nänie was set to music by Brahms
Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)  
Druck: Friedrich Bruckmann (1814-1898)

Schiller's main preoccupation philosophically was the balance between intellect and emotion or instinct. To this end he wrote many philosophical papers on ethics and aesthetics. Based on the work of other philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Karl Reinhold, he created the concept of a “schöne Seele “( beautiful soul), defining this as a human whose emotions and intellect were in perfect balance.

In some senses he was trying to elucidate the tricky balancing act that must take place between subconscious and conscious,  'freedom' and 'duty', showing that unless one has at least some moral and obligatory rules, freedom is illusory. One of the ways he proposed to sublimate the intellect whilst maintaining some degree of order was the promotion of Beauty - the use of Beauty, Art and Music as a way of elevating the Subconscious, but preserving the benefits of the Conscious.

In his Letters he asserts that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by simply touching their souls with beauty, an idea that is also found in his poem Die Künstler (The Artists).

There is also recognition in all his works that one never receives inspiration or wisdom unless the balance between the anima and animus is achieved: "Only through Beauty's morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of wisdom."


Schiller called the intellectual drive for conceptual and moral order Formtrieb whilst the drive of the emotions and instinct he called Sinnestrieb. Given that the subconscious is more like a child than an adult he also promoted the idea of play as a mechanism of bringing out the underlying subconscious in a positive way.

On the basis of Spieltrieb, Schiller sketches in Letters a future ideal state (a utopia), where everyone will be content, and everything will be beautiful, thanks to the free play of Spieltrieb.


Schiller wrote two important essays on the question of the sublime (das Erhabene), entitled "Vom Erhabenen" and "Über das Erhabene"; these essays address the problem of how one can sublimate basic instincts for 'higher goals', when, for example, someone willingly sacrifices themselves for conceptual ideals.


During the last seventeen years of his life (1788–1805), Schiller struck up a productive, if complicated, friendship with already famous and influential Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They frequently discussed issues concerning aesthetics, and Schiller encouraged Goethe to finish works he left as sketches, whilst Goethe convinced Schiller to return to play-wrighting. This relationship and these discussions led to a period now referred to as Weimar Classicism. Schiller and Goethe also founded the Weimar Theater, which became the leading theater in Germany. Their collaboration helped lead to a renaissance of drama in Germany.

Where did Schiller get his inspiration? For most of Schiller's relatively short life he suffered from illness, principally tuberculosis. In 1773, he even entered an elite academy to study medicine and spent the rest of his life trying to cure himself. He also had a most unpleasant 14 days in prison as the consequence of his leaving his regiment without permission. But it seems as though his principal inspiration was his own philosophy – one of love, squashing the ego and one based on beauty, art and music.

There is also evidence that Schiller indulged in the inhalation of volatiles and gases - see the observation. Rather innocuous inhalant sniffing, but interesting nevertheless .

For his achievements, Schiller was ennobled in 1802 by the Duke of Weimar, adding the nobiliary particle "von" to his name. He remained in Weimar, Saxe-Weimar until his death at 45 from tuberculosis in 1805. 


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