Schiller - a philosopher who deserves greater recognition
Though best known as a poet and playwright, Friedrich Schiller was also an accomplished philosopher. An EU-funded project is raising the status of his philosophical work.
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The German Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) is best known as a poet and a playwright in particular for his hymn An die Freude (Ode to Joy), chosen by Beethoven for his Ninth Symphony and, 250 years later, by the Council of Europe as the anthem of the European Union.
Less well-known is that he was also active as a philosopher, physician and historian. Reassessment of his work could lead to poetry and literature being considered a mode of philosophy, no less credible than traditional philosophical works.
The research project YSCHILLER has studied his earlier philosophical writings, hoping to elevate his status as a thinker in his own right and not just as a follower of another highly influential German Immanuel Kant.
The project focused on the interdisciplinary nature of Schillers earlier pre-Kantian philosophical writings. As a philosopher who also studied law and medicine, worked as a physician for a few years and was one of Germanys greatest playwrights, he is the ideal figure to test current academic approaches to interdisciplinarity.
Schiller is one of the most prominent intellectual figures between the Enlightenment and Idealism, and a key figure in the Age of Goethe. However, he is considered more of a naive and episodic guest in the field of philosophy, prone to misunderstandings and inconsistencies we want to change that perception, explains Laura Anna Macor, YSCHILLER Marie-Curie fellow.
An independent thinker
The project asked: what philosophical issues did Schiller address before reading Kant? Which books and authors particularly inspired him? Did he develop autonomous ideas? It did so through researching Schillers dissertations, theses and speeches held at the Stuttgart Karlsschule where he studied from 1773 to 1780.
YSCHILLER uncovered evidence of Schiller as an autonomous and independent philosopher, far from a mere follower of Kant. It found that, based on ideas acquired at the Karlsschule, he subsequently explored philosophical ideas including God, knowledge, virtue, beauty and love through poems, plays, dialogues and novels.
In university circles, there is a consensus on the need to combine different expertise and perspectives across the disciplines, but the current separation of academic fields in the humanities makes it difficult to realise the true value of interdisciplinarity, explains Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Professor of German at the University of Oxford and YSCHILLER project coordinator.
This is expected to produce a momentous reassessment in the fields of German literature and philosophy and bring them towards convergence, Macor adds.
A laboratory of ideas
Macor hopes the project will help change philosophy teaching programmes by introducing Schiller as a philosopher in his own right. She also hopes it will herald a closer relationship between literature and philosophy in the long term, seeing the introduction of philosophy into the core teaching programmes of secondary and possibly primary, schools. This might provide a new way to introduce philosophy before taking up university, she says.
Robertson hopes the projects findings, to be presented in an English-language book authored by Macor, will eventually lead to a revolution in the wider field of poetry, seeing it as a laboratory of ideas.
The findings from YSCHILLER, which received funding from the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme, have been presented at several universities and research centres across Europe, the United States and South America.