/ The Passions and Disinterest: From Kantian Free Play to Creative Determination by Power, via Schiller and Nietzsche


I argue that Nietzsche’s criticism of the Kantian theory of disinterested pleasure in beauty reflects his own commitment to claims that closely resemble certain Kantian aesthetic principles, specifically as reinterpreted by Schiller. I show that Schiller takes the experience of beauty to be disinterested both (1) insofar as it involves impassioned ‘play’ rather than desire-driven ‘work’, and (2) insofar as it involves rational-sensuous (‘aesthetic’) play rather than mere physical play. In figures like Nietzsche, Schiller’s generic notion of play—which is itself influenced by Kant’s claim that aesthetic pleasure is orthogonal to desire-satisfaction—becomes decoupled from his (further) Kantian view that aesthetic play essentially involves a harmony of sensuous receptivity and rational spontaneity. The result, I suggest, is a self-standing opposition between desires and passions. This motivates a recognizably Romantic vision of aesthetic disinterestedness, as freedom from desire realized in a state of creative determination by passion.


Nietzsche is highly critical of Kant’s account of aesthetic ‘disinterestedness’. But, I argue below, Nietzsche’s criticism of Kantian aesthetic disinterestedness reflects his own commitment to claims that closely resemble certain Kantian aesthetic principles, specifically as reinterpreted by Schiller. This positive structural continuity between Kantian aesthetic theory and Nietzsche’s criticism thereof, mediated by Schiller, has not been noted in the literature on the relation of Schiller’s aesthetic theory to Nietzsche’s.[1] However, the fact that there was such a surprising line of structural continuity indicates the need to distinguish between two currents of Romantic aesthetic theory invoking two kinds of disinterestedness: an idealistic current, which emphasizes the interplay of sensuous and rational faculties; and a dynamistic current, which asserts the aesthetic character of all genuine passion and creative power, even in the mode of animalistic vitality or physical force. This illuminates post-Kantian aesthetics. And—although it is not my central aim to defend this claim—it also indicates a plausible line of direct and indirect historical influence by Schiller on Nietzsche, which clarifies the genealogy of ‘will to power’.

For Kant, the experience of beauty is ‘disinterested’ in that it involves a kind of pleasure which is neither based in, nor directly gives rise to, any desires. Hence, he takes pleasure in the beautiful to be importantly different from ‘interested’ satisfaction in both the merely ‘agreeable’ objects of sensuous desire and the instrumentally or finally ‘good’ objects of rational desire. In turn, freedom from desire may be intuitively associated with freedom from the passions. Thus one might expect that aesthetic theorists directly inspired by Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790) would characterize the experience of beauty as thoroughly dispassionate.

But the actual uptake of Kantian aesthetic theory was from the outset more complex. Already in Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), which he acknowledges are based “for the most part” in Kantian principles (AE: 19), one finds what appears to be a strange ambivalence towards the passions.[2] On the one hand, Schiller insists that an “impassioned fine art” is a “contradiction in terms,” because “the inevitable effect of the Beautiful is freedom from passions [Leidenschaften]” (AE: 84). On the other hand, though, he also argues that aesthetic freedom originates in a kind of “physical play [physische Spiel]” manifest in phenomena like ‘joyous movement’ and ‘high-spirited roaring’ which seem paradigmatically impassioned:

Certainly Nature has given even to the creatures without reason more than the bare necessities of life, and cast a gleam of freedom over the darkness of animal existence. When the lion is not gnawed by hunger and no beast of prey is challenging him to battle, his idle energy creates for itself an object; he fills the echoing desert with his high-spirited roaring, and his exuberant power [üppige Kraft] enjoys itself in purposeless display [zwecklosem Aufwand]. The insect swarms with joyous life in the sunbeam; and it is assuredly not the cry of desire [der Begierde] which we hear in the melodious warbling of the song-bird. Undeniably there is freedom in these movements, but not freedom from need [Bedürfnis] in general, simply from a definite external need. The animal works when deprivation [ein Mangel] is the mainspring of its activity, and it plays when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life [das überflüssige Leben] is its own stimulus to activity. (AE: 105)

Admittedly, in one sense there is simply no tension here. Schiller thinks that unstructured ‘physical play’ or animalistic ‘exuberant power’ falls short of aesthetic play until and insofar as it takes on form—specifically, rational form. The resultant ‘reciprocal action’ of sensuous and rational impulses just is what he means by ‘freedom from passions.’ And this is related, at least, to Kant’s own theory of disinterested pleasure in the ‘free play’ of imagination and understanding.

However, I argue below that this is an oversimplification. Schiller’s account of disinterestedness in fact involves a simultaneous appeal to two different distinctions: first, the aforementioned distinction between one-sided determination by either one’s ‘sense impulse’ [Stofftrieb] or (rational) ‘form impulse’ [Formtrieb], and states of aesthetic play in which these two impulses are “at once mutually subordinated and coordinated” (AE: 54 Footnote 8); second, the distinction between work and play, or activity rooted in ‘desire’, ‘need’, ‘deprivation’, etc., as opposed to that which expresses ‘exuberant power’ or ‘superabundant life’. Schiller takes the experience of beauty to be disinterested in two distinct ways: insofar as sense and reason both function in it as loci of impassioned play, not desire-driven work; and insofar as it involves aesthetic play, not just physical play. Notably, no previous commentators seem to have observed this dual account.[3]

Schiller’s distinction between desire-driven ‘work’ and impassioned ‘play’ has strong echoes in Nietzsche’s aesthetic theory (and broader philosophy). Below I examine these deep structural continuities between Kant and Nietzsche, mediated by Schiller, with particular attention to the way in which Schiller’s generic notion of play—which is influenced by Kant’s claim that aesthetic pleasure is orthogonal to desire-satisfaction—becomes decoupled from his (further) Kantian view that aesthetic play essentially involves the interaction of reason and sense. The result, I suggest, is a self-standing opposition between desires and passions, with the latter understood as feelings of power lacking any necessary connection to reason or objective judgment. This motivates a recognizably Romantic vision of aesthetic disinterestedness, as freedom from desire realized in a state of creative determination by passion.


To understand these lines of conceptual connection and their interrelation, we must first review some basic features of Kant’s and Schiller’s accounts. Kant’s appeal to disinterested pleasure in beauty reflects his intellectual debt to 18th-century British aesthetic theorists.[4] For our purposes, however, it will prove more helpful to consider his account on its own terms. By ‘interest’, then, Kant means “[t]he satisfaction that we combine with the representation of the existence of an object” (KU 5:204).[5] In turn, according to Kant, interested satisfaction is always grounded in, or else itself grounds, a desire (KU 5:208–209). In cases where a desire is grounded in interested satisfaction, he refers to the object of this desire as merely agreeable. Intuitively, the agreeable is that which we want more of—“it excites a desire for objects of the same sort”—simply because it “gratifies” us in a bodily way (KU 5:207). Kant presents as paradigmatic agreeable things pleasant ‘sensations’, e.g., pleasant impressions of objects’ color or tone (KU 5:224)—hence presumably also their taste, smell, or tactile quality. As opposed to the agreeable, Kant claims that our satisfaction in representing the existence of something good is grounded in our rational desire for it (KU 5:207–209). Whether we take an object or action to be good in itself or merely a means to such an end (KU 5:226), that is, we take satisfaction in the representation of its existence, and in general do so independently of its capacity to provide us with immediate sensory gratification. Finally, Kant insists that the sensory ‘matter’ in our representations of beautiful objects cannot be the ground of disinterested pleasure, but at most interested pleasure in agreeable things. On Kant’s view, we can take disinterested pleasure only in reflection upon the spatiotemporal “shape or play” of this sensory matter (KU 5:225), i.e., aesthetic form. Kantian disinterested pleasure is thus the feeling of freedom from desire in open-ended reflection on beautiful aesthetic form: the ‘free play’ (KU 5:217) or ‘harmonious’ (KU 5:258) interaction of our imagination and understanding.

Following Kant, Schiller develops his notion of disinterestedness against the backdrop of a broader theory of human beings’ “sensuous-rational nature” (Schiller AE: 50), with aesthetic experience mediating between sensory receptivity and rational spontaneity. Broadly as Kant describes ‘free play’ between imagination and understanding, Schiller identifies beauty as the object of a “play impulse” [Spieltrieb] in which both our “sense impulse” and our “form impulse” are combined (AE: 59–60). Beauty itself is thus “living shape,” where ‘life’ (“all material being and all that is immediately present in the senses”) is the object of the ‘sense impulse’, and ‘shape’ (“all formal qualities of things and all their relations to the intellectual faculties”) is the object of the ‘form impulse’ (AE: 60).

In the experience of beauty we avoid both “overpowering sensuousness” and “overpowering rationality” (AE: 55 Footnote 9), Schiller suggests, not through attenuation of either the form or sense impulse, but rather through their “mutual[] subordinat[ion] and coordinat[ion]” (AE: 54 Footnote 8). If the form impulse totally overpowers the sense impulse (‘overpowering rationality’), then there results a lamentable “rigidity of principles” or the “egoism of our reason” (AE: 56 Footnote 9). In this state, natural desires or passions are viewed simply as barriers to moral virtue, ethical principles are upheld only robotically, and empirical science becomes perverted by dogmatic refusal to revise general principles in light of contravening observations. Man thus becomes a “barbarian” whose “principles destroy his feelings” (AE: 27). On the other hand, if the sense impulse totally overpowers the form impulse (‘overpowering sensuousness’), there results the mere “savage” whose “feelings rule his principles” (AE: 27): a person who is driven entirely by particularistic desire and natural impulse without regard for universal moral duty or the value of pure theoretical knowledge.

But, Schiller continues, it is also ignoble for the form and sense impulses to be ‘mutually subordinated and coordinated’ simply by virtue of being equally weak. Moderation of the sense impulse by means of a “physical incapacity and a dullness of the perceptions” deserves “nothing but contempt,” as does moderation of the form impulse by means of an “intellectual incapacity and a feebleness of thought and will which would degrade humanity” (AE: 57). Hence, the ideal condition of humanity is one of “reciprocal action between the two impulses, of such a kind that the operation of the one at the same time confirms and limits the operation of the other, and each one severally reaches its highest manifestation precisely through the activity of the other” (AE: 58). On Schiller’s view, finally, this ‘aesthetic condition’ is the essential human condition: the “disposition which comprises in itself the wholeness of humanity,” wherein we are “masters in equal degree of our passive and our active powers” (AE: 81–82). Thus “Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the word a man, and he is only wholly Man when he is playing” (AE: 63). (Likewise, poetry is “nothing but giving mankind its most complete possible expression” [Schiller NS: 111].)

Schiller’s account of aesthetic disinterestedness is informed by this broadly Kantian notion of open-ended interplay between ‘form’ and ‘sense’:

It is neither charm, nor is it dignity, that speaks to us from the superb countenance of a Juno Ludovici;[6] it is neither of them, because it is both at once. While the womanly god demands our veneration, the godlike woman kindles our love; but while we allow ourselves to melt in the celestial loveliness, the celestial self-sufficiency holds us back in awe. [...] Irresistibly seized and attracted by the one quality, and held at a distance by the other, we find ourselves at the same time in the condition of utter rest and extreme movement, and the result is that wonderful emotion for which reason has no conception and language no name. (AE: 64)

Here Schiller’s appeals to ‘charm’, ‘love’, and ‘attraction’ evidently correspond to the Kantian claim that the objects of sensuous desire are agreeable, and his appeals to ‘dignity’, ‘veneration’, and ‘awe’ evidently correspond to the Kantian claim that the objects of rational desire are good. In Kantian terms, that is, Schiller seems to be claiming that the beautiful is at once agreeable and good, yet in a specific way that mitigates the typically ‘interested’ character of our pleasure in either. This can be understood as a fairly intuitive phenomenological claim: it is precisely in the reciprocal coordination of sensuous and rational modes of necessitation that (Schiller suggests) we cease to experience either as a burdensome load or alien force of compulsion, and so first feel radically unencumbered, empowered, and joyful—and in this sense, free. ‘Ideas’ make ‘actuality’ seem “small” by comparison. For instance, self-seeking individualism seems petty and small by comparison to properly moral concern for the welfare of all people. And ‘necessity’ conversely seems to “grow[] light,” in the sense that ideal forms or rational principles appear ethereal and insubstantial, when brought into contact with concrete sensuous ‘perception’. In both directions, then, it is not the attenuation of ‘form’ and ‘sense’ impulses but rather their full reciprocal activation that lifts us out of seriousness into play (AE: 62).[7] Schiller’s account of aesthetic disinterestedness apparently differs from Kant’s. For Kant, aesthetic experience is purely contemplative, in that it involves neither rational nor sensuous desires—not a balance of the two, as Schiller apparently claims. In fact, I argue below, Schiller appeals to a balance of rational and sensuous passions, not desires. This is still arguably opposed to Kant’s view, but less clearly so.


We may now turn to Nietzsche’s critique of Kantian disinterestedness, which will help to better orient further analysis of his relationship to Schiller. Nietzsche’s clearest criticism of Kantian aesthetic disinterestedness occurs in Essay III, §6 of On the Genealogy of Morals (1887).[8] Here Nietzsche complains that Kant’s account unduly privileges the experience of the artistic ‘spectator’ [Zuschauer] over “the point of view of the artist (the creator)” (GM III, 6). (In a note from 1888, Nietzsche likewise insists that “to demand of the artist that he should practice the perspective of the audience [of the critic—] means to demand that he should impoverish himself and his creative power—” [WP 811].) He also questions Kant’s association of beauty with “impersonality and universality,” which he notes are elsewhere used to dignify knowledge:

This is not the place to inquire whether this [viz., Kant’s thinking that he was honoring art by associating beauty prominently with impersonality and universality, as predicates which also ‘establish the honor of knowledge’] was essentially a mistake; all I wish to underline is that Kant, like all philosophers, instead of envisaging the aesthetic problem from the point of view of the artist (the creator), considered art and the beautiful purely from that of the ‘spectator,’ and unconsciously introduced the ‘spectator’ into the concept ‘beautiful.’ It would not have been so bad if this ‘spectator’ had at least been sufficiently familiar to the philosophers of beauty—namely, as a great personal fact and experience, as an abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires [Begierden], surprises, and delights in the realm of the beautiful! But I fear that the reverse has always been the case; and so they have offered us, from the beginning, definitions in which, as in Kant’s famous definition of the beautiful, a lack of any refined first-hand experience reposes in the shape of a fat worm of error. ‘That is beautiful,’ said Kant, ‘which gives us pleasure without interest.’ (GM III, 6)

Insofar as the ‘abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises, and delights in the realm of the beautiful’ is a manifestly personal experience, Nietzsche argues that only someone lacking this sort of ‘refined first-hand experience’ with beauty could claim that judgments of taste are rendered from an ‘impersonal’ point of view. Moreover, he clearly associates ‘vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises, and delights’ with the ‘interestedness’ of pleasure in beauty.

This link is further clarified by Nietzsche’s subsequent interpretation of a passage in which Stendhal describes the beautiful as ‘une promesse de bonheur’ (‘a promise of happiness’). “[T]o [Stendhal],” Nietzsche suggests, “the fact seems to be precisely that the beautiful arouses the will (‘interestedness’) [die Erregung des Willens (des ‘Interesses’)]” (GM III, 6).[9] Here several threads of Nietzsche’s critique come together. Stendhal is a “genuine ‘spectator’ and artist,” on Nietzsche’s view, and so naturally understands beauty from this creative perspective as opposed to that of a creatively inert spectator (GM III, 6). Part of what Stendhal sees from this creative perspective, in turn, is that beauty produces ‘arousal of the will’, which is directly opposed to the ‘will-lessness’ that Schopenhauer links to aesthetic experience.[10] For Nietzsche, this state of ‘arousal’ is personal in that it involves ‘an abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises, and delights’ with respect to beauty. And he identifies this ‘arousal of will’ in ‘personal’ experiences directly with the ‘interestedness’ of truly artistic or creative responses to beauty.[11]

According to Nietzsche, then, the Kantian theory of disinterestedness reflects Kant’s merely spectatorial and so overly passive relationship to beauty. Creative people understand that beauty in fact systematically arouses the will, Nietzsche thinks, precisely because their creative power itself is such a state of willful ‘arousal’. Thus, in Twilight of the Idols (1889), Nietzsche insists that ‘Apollonian’ and ‘Dionysian’ art forms both elicit a state of ‘frenzy’ or ‘intoxication’ [Rausch] (TI “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man,” 10). More explicitly, he writes in a note from 1888 that “the effect of works of art is to excite the same state that creates art—intoxication” (WP 821).[12] And, as he clarifies in another note from 1888, this “condition of pleasure called intoxication” is “precisely an exalted feeling of power” (WP 800).

Finally, for the purposes of the present analysis, it should be emphasized that Nietzsche connects creative ‘arousal’ in states of ‘interested’ willful engagement with beauty directly to desire, including even paradigmatically sensuous desires like basic feelings of sexual attraction:

If our aestheticians never weary of asserting in Kant’s favor that, under the spell of beauty, one can even view undraped female statues ‘without interest,’ one may laugh a little at their expense: the experiences of artists on this ticklish point are more ‘interesting,’ and Pygmalion was in any event not necessarily an ‘unaesthetic man.’ Let us think the more highly of the innocence of our aestheticians which is reflected in such arguments; let us, for example, credit it to the honor of Kant that he should expatiate on the peculiar properties of the sense of touch with the naiveté of a country parson! (GM III, 6)

Here one may also recall Nietzsche’s explicit appeal to ‘desires’ [Begierden] as part of the ‘great personal fact and experience’ that a ‘genuine “spectator” and artist’ would associate with beauty.


Schiller anticipates Nietzsche’s dual emphasis on the point of view of ‘creators’ rather than ‘spectators’ and on the ‘arousal of will’ in genuinely creative receptivity to beauty, in certain respects. This is especially noteworthy insofar as Schiller’s aesthetic theory is heavily inspired by his reading of Kant. By no means do I claim that Schiller was Nietzsche’s main or only influence in this context.[13] (Nietzsche did read Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man in 1862, studied his Sämtliche Werke and essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry in 1871, and returned to the latter again in 1873.[14]) But Schiller’s particularly close theoretical proximity to Kant, on various points, helps to show how Nietzsche’s appeal to ‘willful arousal’ in creative responses to beauty echoes accounts of disinterestedness arising within the Kantian tradition.

As we have seen, Schiller evidently understands aesthetic disinterestedness, not as the absence of interests or desires, but as freedom in the reciprocal coordination of sensuous and rational drives: “[...] the freedom in which [one] quite rightly place[s] the essence of Beauty is not lawlessness but harmony of laws, not arbitrariness but the utmost inner necessity” (AE: 71). Likewise: “[e]very exclusive domination of either of [Man’s] two fundamental impulses is for him a condition of constraint and of force, and freedom consists solely in the co-operation of both his natures” (AE: 68). Clearly, these formulations indicate how to properly interpret Schiller’s claim that an “impassioned fine art” is a “contradiction in terms,” and “no less self-contradictory is a fine instructive (didactic) or improving (moral) art, for nothing is more at variance with the concept of Beauty than that it should have a tendentious effect upon the character” (AE: 84). For Schiller, beauty elicits freedom from sensuous ‘passions’ and avoids ‘tendentious’ moral-rational effects because it involves the harmony of sensuous and rational laws, not their absence or attenuation.

Some of Nietzsche’s central criticisms of Kantian aesthetic disinterestedness therefore do not apply to Schiller’s account, at least in any straightforward way. Again, Nietzsche insists that Pygmalion was “not necessarily an ‘unaesthetic man’” by virtue of falling in love with the statue he carves, and so chastises Kant for approaching aesthetics “with the naiveté of a country parson” (GM III, 6). But as we saw above, Schiller explicitly allows that the Juno Ludovici’s sensuous aspect ‘kindles our love’: we are ‘irresistibly seized and attracted’ by it, as a godlike woman, and ‘melt in [its] celestial loveliness.’ Schiller simply adds that we are equally held at distance from the statue insofar as it stimulates our drive to rational form, as a womanly god who ‘demands our veneration.’ If anything, then, Nietzsche’s analysis may appear more naive than Schiller’s. For in his rush to reject the anti-sensualism that he sees in the Kantian notion of aesthetic disinterestedness, Nietzsche arguably fails to appreciate the extent to which Kant’s view emphasizes the full activation of sensuous and rational powers, in equal measure. This is the crux of the Kantian notion of ‘free play’, after all, at least as interpreted by theorists like Schiller.

Here one may object: if Nietzsche reacts to Kantian aesthetic theory with such intense aversion, surely this indicates that Nietzsche’s criticism of aesthetic disinterestedness is not directly influenced by Schiller, at least insofar as Schiller’s view is still broadly Kantian? Here several points are worth clearly noting. First, Nietzsche’s criticism of Kant is at least in part predicated on his hostility to Schopenhauer’s distinctive interpretation of Kantian aesthetic disinterestedness, in terms of the cessation of ‘interested’ activity like sexual desire.[15] To some extent, Nietzsche even seems to be aware of the fact that he is at least as much engaged with Schopenhauer’s version of Kantian aesthetic theory, in GM III §6, as he is with Kant himself.[16] Thus, insofar as Schopenhauer’s interpretation of Kant is far from clearly correct, by comparison to less ascetic interpretations like Schiller’s, Nietzsche may well reject Schopenhauer’s Kantianism in a way that reflects his own positive influence by Schiller’s Kantianism. Insofar as Nietzsche takes Schopenhauer’s interpretation of aesthetic disinterestedness to accurately reflect Kant’s view, in turn, Nietzsche himself seems not to clearly apprehend this complex dynamic.

Nor does Schopenhauer’s interpretation of Kantian aesthetic disinterestedness have to be simply wrong in order for Schiller’s alternate interpretation to be at least partly accurate. Rather, it is most plausible that both Schopenhauer and Schiller here understand something real in, and critical to, Kant’s aesthetic theory. Namely, both clearly perceive that Kant associates pleasure in beauty with a kind of freedom from desire, and both agree with Kant on this point. Schopenhauer offers a negative vision of this Kantian state of freedom from desire, in terms of the absence of desires or willful activity. Correspondingly, he valorizes a drive to ‘will-lessness’, which Nietzsche diagnoses as perversely ascetic. Schiller instead offers a positive vision of Kantian pleasure in freedom from desire, in terms of the ‘harmony’ of sense- and form-impulses.

As construed by Schiller, moreover, aesthetic freedom does not clearly preclude ‘desire’ or willful ‘arousal’, in Nietzsche’s sense. In fact, I will argue, Schiller’s account makes salient a distinction between desire and passion, which indicates how aesthetic experience could involve passion but not desire. And there is even good reason to think that Nietzsche would find this view amenable. Note that my claim here is not that Nietzsche was positively influenced by non-Kantian elements in Schiller. Rather, Schiller’s view contains two distinct currents of Kantian influence. First, Schiller’s distinction between ‘work’ and ‘play’ reflects the direct influence of Kant’s distinction between pleasure in desire-satisfaction and pleasure entirely free from desire. Second, Schiller’s emphasis on ‘harmony’ between sense- and form-impulses reflects the direct influence of Kant’s appeal to the feeling of ‘free play’ between imagination and understanding. Nietzsche is in turn directly influenced by Schiller’s work-play distinction, hence indirectly by one main aspect of Kantian aesthetic theory, even while he moves further away from the other main aspect of Schiller’s Kantianism, concerning the ‘harmony’ of sensuous and rational activity.


Schiller views aesthetic disinterestedness as freedom not just in the harmony of sensuous and rational faculties, but also insofar as the form- and sense-impulses function as passions or loci of power, rather than lack. Here recall his claim that it is “assuredly not the cry of desire which we hear in the melodious warbling of the song-bird,” for “[t]he animal works when deprivation is the mainspring of its activity, and it plays when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life is its own stimulus to activity” (AE: 105). ‘Play’ is here associated directly with freedom from desire, which is in turn intuitively tied to Kantian disinterestedness. In order to analyze this intuitive connection more precisely, however, it will prove helpful to explicitly distinguish several aspects of Schiller’s opposition between ‘play’ and ‘work’.

First, Schiller associates work directly with ‘deprivation’, which he explicitly contrasts against play as manifest in ‘superabundant life’ and ‘the fullness of strength’. This bears close resemblance to a distinction he draws elsewhere, in an epigram on ‘Love and Desire’ [Liebe und Begierde]: “[...] One loves what he has, one desires what he has not; / Only the rich soul loves, only the poor one desires.”[17] Schiller associates ‘desire’ [Begierde] with lack or deprivation in both contexts. The relationship between the ‘love’ of a ‘rich soul’ and the ‘play’ of a swarming insect or warbling songbird is arguably less direct. Partly for this reason, I will refer to this aspect of Schiller’s distinction between ‘work’ and ‘play’ as the distinction between desire-driven activity grounded in lack or external need and impassioned activity grounded in power or internal necessity—or, for short, desire as opposed to passion. Sorrow or joy thus plausibly functions as a passion, in the present sense, insofar as it feels like a force or locus of motive power by which one seems to be physically or psychically seized and hence actively compelled from within, without any goal beyond the exercise of this passion itself. (Thus, perhaps, we can understand the sense of ‘joyous’ in Schiller’s appeals to ‘joyous life’ and ‘joyous movement’.) Sadness functions as a desire, by contrast, insofar as it feels like having a void inside of oneself which one wishes to fill, and happiness functions as a feeling of desire-satisfaction or the mere absence of external needs insofar as it feels like being complete or having nothing missing within oneself. For Schiller, then, the form-impulse and the sense-impulse both function as loci of passion, not desire, in aesthetic experience. Aesthetic play is the interplay of rational and sensuous powers.

Drawing this explicit contrast between desire and passion helps to demarcate a specific aspect of Schiller’s opposition between ‘work’ and ‘play’, and hence to prevent terminological confusion in subsequent interpretive analysis. But explicitly appealing to ‘passion’ also helps to bring out an otherwise merely implicit, or perhaps merely latent, phenomenological dimension of Schiller’s account: states of ‘exuberant power’, ‘joyous movement’, ‘superabundant life’, and so on, are intuitively associated with passion. ‘Passion’ is also arguably preferable to ‘love’, in this respect.[18] Thus my contrast between ‘desire’ and ‘passion’ constitutes a fair compromise between the goals of (i) deferring to Schiller’s own terminology, and (ii) situating his account in a broader aesthetic theoretical context, in a way that is maximally illuminating and minimally misleading.

Nietzsche’s account of will to power is another important aspect of this broader context. Here first recall his insistence that “the effect of works of art is to excite the same state that creates art—intoxication” (WP 821),[19] and his elaboration elsewhere that “[t]he condition of pleasure called intoxication” is “precisely an exalted feeling of power” (WP 800). This is part of Nietzsche’s broader metaphysical vision of life, and arguably all reality, as essentially characterized by a drive to ‘self-overcoming’ or the continual expansion of power.[20] Life, the “really fundamental instinct” of which “aims at the expansion of power” (GS 349), is on Nietzsche’s view “the instinct for growth, for durability, for an accumulation of forces, for power” (A 6). The “will of life” is “bent upon power” (GM II:11) and so itself is the will to power (GS 349). Will to power is “the essence of life” (GM II:12), in short, and in this sense “life itself simply is will to power” (BGE 259).[21] This account of will to power in turn underlies the “main distinction” that Nietzsche draws in the domain of aesthetic value:

Regarding all aesthetic values I now avail myself of this main distinction: I ask in every instance, “is it hunger or superabundance that has here become creative?” At first glance, another distinction may seem preferable—it is far more obvious—namely the question whether the desire to fix, to immortalize, the desire for being prompted creation, or the desire for destruction, for change, for future, for becoming. But both of these kinds of desire are seen to be ambiguous when one considers them more closely; they can be interpreted in accordance with the first scheme that is, as it seems to me, preferable. The desire for destruction, change, and becoming can be an expression of an overflowing energy that is pregnant with future (my term for this is, as is known, “Dionysian”); but it can also be the hatred of the ill-constituted, disinherited, and underprivileged, who destroy, must destroy, because what exists, indeed all existence, all being, outrages and provokes them. To understand this feeling, consider our anarchists closely.

The will to immortalize also requires a dual interpretation. It can be prompted, first, by gratitude and love; art with this origin will always be an art of apotheoses, perhaps dithyrambic like Rubens, or blissfully mocking like Hafiz, or bright and gracious like Goethe, spreading a Homeric light and glory over all things. But it can also be the tyrannic will of one who suffers deeply, who struggles, is tormented, and would like to turn what is most personal, singular, and narrow, the real idiosyncrasy of his suffering, into a binding law and compulsion—one who, as it were, revenges himself on all things by forcing his own image, the image of his torture, on them, branding them with it. (GS 370)[22]

Nietzsche embraces art grounded in ‘superabundance’, and spurns art grounded in ‘hunger’. This distinction in turn informs his basic criticism of romanticism: “[a]ll romanticism in art and insight” reflects the suffering of “those who suffer from the impoverishment of life,” he claims, rather than from “the over-fullness of life” (GS 370).[23] Likewise, but more broadly: “Points of view for my values: whether out of abundance [der Fülle] or out of want [dem Verlangen]? [...]—whether sick from sickness or excessive health?” (WP 1009 [1887]). (Compare Goethe’s characterization of Romanticism in a letter to Eckermann from 1829: “The classical I call healthy and the Romantic sick...Most of the new poetry is not Romantic because it is new, but because it is weak, sickly, and ill, and the old is not classical because it is old, but because it is strong, fresh, cheerful, and healthy.”[24])

Nietzsche thus takes all good art to induce feelings of power and abundance as opposed to weakness and deprivation. He diagnoses Schopenhauer as the type of romantic who seeks out “rest, stillness calm seas, redemption from themselves through art and knowledge” as a symptom of spiritual ‘hunger’ and the ‘impoverishment of life’ (GS 370). Hence, Nietzsche rejects Schopenhauer’s vision of contemplating beautiful form as a ‘pure, will-less’ subject. But here Nietzsche’s view is still essentially compatible with Schiller’s reinterpretation of Kantian aesthetic disinterestedness in terms of the coordination of sensuous and rational passions, in the absence of all mere desires.

Here one might object that ‘passion’ (via the Latin passio and Greek pathos) and ‘Leidenschaft’ both strongly connote suffering and passivity, in a way that seems to run counter to my proposed distinction between passions and desires. Thus, indeed, Nietzsche is sometimes explicitly critical of ‘passions’ [Leidenschaften], as in a section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra on ‘[D]en Freuden- und Leidenschaften’ (Z I, 5).[25] The term ‘Freudenschaften’ is an original coinage by Nietzsche, from Freude (‘joy’), which Walter Kaufmann translates aptly as ‘passions-enjoyed’, by contrast to Leidenschaften construed as ‘passions-suffered’. Nietzsche directly links the suffering of passions (i.e., Leidenschaften) to a (moralistic) impulse to label these passions as evil [böse]. By contrast, virtues [Tugunden] “grow out of [wuschen aus]” passions insofar as “[y]ou set your highest goal to [these passions’] heart [Du legtest dein höchstes Ziel diesen Leidenschaften an’s Herz]” (Z I, 5). In this way, passions-suffered [Leidenschaften] are transformed into “your virtues and passions you enjoy [deine Tugenden und Freudenschaften]” (Z I, 5). Moreover, we have seen above that Nietzsche sometimes draws positive links between ‘desire’ [Begierde] and aesthetic experience.

But these terminological points do not undermine my view. Quite to the contrary, the essential point is that I am using the term ‘passion’ to indicate something close to, if not simply identical to, what Nietzsche means by ‘Freudenschaft’ as opposed to ‘Leidenschaft’. Instead of coining a new English word, I have simply elected to appropriate the term ‘passion’ for this purpose, in part for reasons already indicated above. Thus construed, I distinguish ‘passion’ from ‘desire’, to which I relegate all connotations of suffering and passivity, in order to gain conceptual and interpretive clarity. In this way, I accommodate the fact that Nietzsche’s use of the words ‘passion’ and ‘desire’ does not always neatly track the conceptual distinction that I am indicating with these terms, and which clearly structures his view. There is good reason to believe that Nietzsche’s emphasis on the distinction between passion and desire reflects his positive influence by Schiller, at least in part. And there is good reason to believe that Schiller’s emphasis on the same distinction is at least partly informed by Kant’s claim that our pleasure in beauty is orthogonal to both rational and sensuous modes of desire-satisfaction.[26]


Second, Schiller associates play with ‘purposeless display’, and hence implicitly associates ‘work’ with purposive activity. This is informed by Kant’s (more complex) claim that beautiful form displays a “purposiveness without an end [Zweckmäßigkeit ohne Zweck],” and so is “entirely independent of the representation of the good” (KU 5:226). The link between this distinction and the previous one depends on whether purposive activity necessarily stems from ‘deprivation’.

Notably, Nietzsche sometimes characterizes the will to power in fairly similar terms. For instance, he claims in Twilight of the Idols that the Darwinian “struggle for existence” exists only “as an exception,” because “the total appearance of life is not the extremity, not starvation, but rather riches, profusion, even absurd squandering—and where there is struggle, it is a struggle for power” (TI “Anti-Darwin”). Life’s essential drive to self-overcoming has no extrinsic purpose or goal, on Nietzsche’s view. Rather, the world viewed as “the will to power—and nothing besides” is his “‘beyond good and evil,’ without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal”:

This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end [...] a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back, with tremendous years of recurrence, with an ebb and a flood of its forms; out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex, out of the stillest, most rigid, coldest forms toward the hottest, most turbulent, most self contradictory, and then again returning home to the simple out of this abundance, out of the play of contradictions back to the joy of concord, still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness. (WP 1067 [1885])

Despite his criticism of Kantian disinterestedness, then, Nietzsche is clearly friendly to Schiller’s claim that ‘exuberant power enjoying itself in purposeless display’ is aesthetically significant. And Schiller’s view here tracks Kant’s account of ‘disinterested’ pleasure more closely than it might appear to. When either ‘form’ or ‘sense’ acts as a passion, it is evidently ‘purposeless’: activity undertaken for its own sake, free from interest in the existence of any objects of desire.


Third, Schiller associates work with ‘external need’ [äußern Bedürfniß], which he implicitly contrasts against ‘inner need’. In his Kallias Letters to Gottfried Körner (1793), he elaborates on this sort of inner need or necessity and its relationship to ‘purposeless display’:

[Nature in artfulness is] the pure coincidence of the inner essence with form, a rule, which is at once given and obeyed by the thing. (The beautiful is merely a symbol of the completed and perfect, because it does not, as does the purposeful, require anything outside itself, but commands and obeys itself for the sake of its own law.) (K: 167)

Schiller proposes that a beautiful thing must be “heautonomous”: its form must be “self-determining and self-determined,” such that the thing seems not only to obey or realize its own essence, but moreover to freely create it. As one commentator puts it, “what seems to be a constraint never appears beautiful to us,” and so “the law or form of a [beautiful] thing must appear to derive from it naturally, spontaneously, flowing from its inner energies” (Beiser 2005: 67). Autonomy by contrast only requires that something determines itself in accordance with its own essence or form. So an autonomous being may impose its own form upon itself in the mode of a constraint—e.g., a person may impose rational form on her own behavior merely in the mode of an alien force of compulsion, yielding genuine autonomy or self-determination, but not heautonomy or beauty. (Likewise, recall Schiller’s caution against ‘overpowering rationality’.) Autonomy and heautonomy are thus two different kinds of freedom, for Schiller.[27] And nature construed as “the inner necessity of form [die innere Notwendigkeit der Form],” as opposed to form that has been artificially or otherwise externally imposed onto matter, appears as ‘purposeless display’ precisely because it is heautonomous (K: 166).[28]

Still, Schiller argues in On Naive and Sentimental Poetry (1795–1796) that “true nature [wahre Natur]” must be carefully distinguished from mere “actual nature [wirkliche Natur]”:

Actual nature exists everywhere, but true nature is all the rarer, for to it belongs an inner necessity of existence [innere Notwendigkeit des Daseins]. Actual nature is every outburst of passion [Leidenschaft], however crude; it may even be true nature, but truly human it cannot be, for this requires some participation of the independent faculties in every utterance the expression of which is to possess dignity. Actual human nature includes every moral baseness, but it is to be hoped that true human nature does not; for the latter cannot be other than noble. (NS: 158–159)

Rather than the phrase ‘inner necessity of form [Form]’, as in his explanation of heautonomy, Schiller here appeals to the ‘inner necessity of existence [Daseins]’ in ‘true’ nature. Although this terminological variation is somewhat obscure, and its significance perhaps easily overstated, it can arguably be understood in the following terms. ‘True nature’, in the context of On Naive and Sentimental Poetry, is nature construed as that of which every poet is properly the “guardian[]” (NS: 106), whether as a ‘naive’ poet who “is nature” or as a ‘sentimental’ poet who “seek[s] lost nature” (NS: 110):

Nature, considered in this wise, is for us nothing but the voluntary presence, the subsistence of things on their own, their existence in accordance with their own immutable laws. … [W]hat could a modest flower, a stream, a mossy stone, the chirping of birds, the humming of bees, etc., possess in themselves so pleasing to us? … It is not these objects, it is an idea represented by them which we love in them. We love in them the tacitly creative life, the serene spontaneity of their activity, existence in accordance with their own laws, the inner necessity, the eternal unity with themselves … Yet their perfection is not to their credit, because it is not the product of their choice. They accord us, then, with the quite unique delight of being our example without putting us to shame … We are free, they are necessary; we change, they remain a unity. But only if both are joined one with the other—if the will freely obeys the law of necessity, and reason asserts its rule through all the flux of imagination, does the ideal or the divine come to the fore. (NS: 84–85)

Many aspects of ‘true’ nature thus arguably fail to be heautonomous insofar as their ‘inner necessity,’ or ‘existence in accordance with their own laws,’ is ‘not the product of their choice.’ Whereas a heautonomous thing’s form is ‘self-determining and self-determined’, the modest flower or mossy stone’s form cannot literally flow freely from within itself, because only rational beings are literally capable of freedom. Inhuman nature displays only the “choiceless but calm necessity of the irrational” (NS: 103). Hence, Schiller arguably associates heautonomy in a strict sense only with true human nature, i.e., aesthetic play or freedom, not with true nature more generally. This helps to explain why, as Schiller is drawing the distinction between ‘actual’ and ‘true’ nature, he acknowledges that ‘every outburst of passion, however crude…may even be true nature’ (my emphasis). ‘Crude’ passion simply cannot be “truly human” (NS: 158)—nor (hence) truly beautiful.

Schiller is a fairly strict Kantian, in this respect, whereas Nietzsche embraces a far more radical aesthetic amoralism. In The Birth of Tragedy, for example, Nietzsche describes the Dionysian as one of two fundamental art-impulses, even though it manifests as a drive towards ecstatic identification with ‘titanic’ and ‘barbaric’ forces of nature (BT 4). The Nietzschean Dionysus enjoys all “productive and destructive force,” evidently without regard for its moral quality (WP 1049 [1885-1886]).[29] More broadly, Nietzsche’s theory of a universal will to power, incorporating both Dionysian and Apollonian aspects, is his vision of an “entirely reckless and amoral artist-god,” who in “creating worlds, frees himself from the distress of fullness and overfullness” (BT “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” 5):[30] an impassioned god.

For Kant, on the other hand, taste is “at bottom a faculty for the judging of the sensible rendering of moral ideas” (KU 5:356). He understands the feeling of harmonious free play as a special kind of ‘reflecting judgment’, which aims not at subsuming a given beautiful intuitive form under the concept of a determinate kind of object of possible experience (as in the standard ‘objective’ use of the reflecting power of judgment), but rather at relating this beautiful form to the non-objective concept of the universal subjective conditions of possibility of objective (reflecting) judgment itself.[31] Roughly speaking, Kant claims that finding something beautiful essentially involves synthesizing the manifold of sensations it elicits by means of the universal subjective concept of a generic theoretically rational subject who perceives objects in space and time, as opposed to the concept of a specific kind of object. In short, one can roughly understand Kant to be claiming that things are beautiful insofar as they sensuously represent the generic structure of human cognition, or the intuitive ‘shape’ of a generic sensuous-rational subject like us.

Schiller’s claim that we “believe ourselves to perceive form immediately” in the experience of beauty (AE: 97) must be understood in this context. Broadly as Kant claims that taste is ‘a faculty for the judging of the sensible rendering of moral ideas,’ Schiller claims that the objective correlate to the aesthetic play impulse is beautiful “living shape,” which can be understood in Kantian terms as the ‘sensible rendering’ of human freedom.[32] Here ‘objective’ should be understood in the sense of an objective secondary quality like the greenness of a meadow: this greenness inheres in the meadow itself, in a sense, even though it only appears in relation to perceiving subjects. Thus the meadow’s greenness can be described as its objectively-grounded power to affect subjects like us in a certain way. Likewise, then, Schiller posits ‘living shape’ as beautiful things’ objectively-grounded power to elicit a broadly Kantian state of ‘play’. This state of ‘aesthetic play’ is the most fully human state, on his view, as we have seen. Hence, ‘living shape’ is the sensuous expression of essential human powers, for Schiller. For Nietzsche, by contrast, good art can express entirely amoral forms of power, including that of inhuman nature.


Nietzsche’s radical amoralism is arguably facilitated by views like Schiller’s, however. Schiller’s emphasis on ‘true nature’ that is neither mere ‘actual nature’ nor ‘true human nature’ motivates (latently) amoral standards of value that become fundamental for theorists like Nietzsche. While these more indirect forms of conceptual interrelation may seem tenuous, my primary intention in the present section is simply to show how what appears to be especially tenuous or indirect evidence in fact reveals deep structural continuities, running from Kant to Schiller to Nietzsche, that cannot otherwise be easily or fully appreciated. Note that these structural continuities are philosophically significant even if one insists that they do not amount to Schiller’s direct or indirect historical influence on Nietzsche. However, it is also probable that Nietzsche was in fact positively influenced by Schiller in this regard, both directly (through his own reading of Schiller, as established above) and indirectly (through the mediating influence of figures like Emerson who, as indicated above, were themselves directly influenced by Schiller).[33] The more indirect evidence adduced in this section would not, in itself, be sufficient grounds for claiming Schiller’s historical influence on Nietzsche. But it does provide some support for the intellectual historical hypothesis that Nietzsche was so influenced. And my primary intention is not to defend this claim of historical influence, but to use Schiller to reveal surprising deep structural continuities between Kantian aesthetic theory and Nietzsche’s criticism of Kant. The significance of these continuities grounds the importance of a bare claim of historical influence.

That Nietzsche’s amoralism is plausibly facilitated by Kantian principles interpreted as by Schiller can be appreciated more fully by returning to Schiller’s notion of ‘physical play’:

Even in mindless Nature there is revealed a similar luxury of powers [Luxus der Kräfte] and a laxity of determination [Bestimmung] which in that natural context might well be called play. The tree puts forth innumerable buds which perish without developing, and stretches out for nourishment many more roots, branches and leaves than are used for the maintenance of itself and its species. What the tree returns from its lavish profusion [verschwenderischen Fülle] unused and unenjoyed to the kingdom of the elements, the living creature may squander in joyous movements. So Nature gives us even in her material realm a prelude to the infinite, and even here partly removes the chains which she casts away entirely in the realm of form. From the compulsion of needs [Zwang des Bedürfnisses], or physical seriousness [physischen Ernste], she makes her way through the compulsion of superabundance [Zwang des Überflusses], or physical play [physische Spiel], to aesthetic play; and before she soars in the lofty freedom of the Beautiful above the fetters of every purposed end [Zweck], she is already approaching this independence, at least from a distance, in the free movement which is itself end and means [Zweck und Mittel]. (AE: 105)

In terms of the aforementioned distinctions, ‘physical seriousness’ (‘the compulsion of needs’) is evidently closest to mere ‘actual nature’. ‘Physical play’ (‘the compulsion of superabundance’) then evokes ‘true nature’ that is not yet ‘truly human’. Physical play encompasses ‘free movement which is itself end and means,’ and thus resembles the heautonomous or beautiful thing that ‘does not require anything outside itself.’ But the physical play of the roaring lion, swarming insect, and warbling bird is not truly free play, as it is still grounded in ‘compulsion’—albeit the internal compulsion of passion or their own superabundant power, not the external compulsion of desire or deprivation. So, like the modest flower or mossy stone, presumably, physically playful things have a ‘perfection’ that is yet ‘not to their credit, because it is not a product of choice.’

‘Physical play’ is thus arguably a state of purely sensuous passion or superabundant sensuous power, for Schiller, whereas ‘physical seriousness’ is a state of purely sensuous desire or sensuous deprivation. ‘Aesthetic play’ is then an interplay between sensuous and rational powers, which manifest affectively as reciprocally-coordinated sensuous and rational passions.

Note that ‘play’ in the generic sense that encompasses both physical play and aesthetic play seemingly cannot be the same thing as ‘play’ construed as the object of the ‘play impulse’, in which sense and form impulses are “combined” (AE: 59). For when Schiller says things like “Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the word a man, and he is only wholly Man when he is playing” (AE: 63), he is clearly referring to ‘aesthetic play’ and not to ‘physical play’. Apparently, then, Schiller uses the term ‘play’ in two different senses. In the narrower sense, ‘play’ only refers to the free (inter)play of the form and sense impulses, as in Kant’s account of aesthetic experience. In the broader sense, ‘play’ is any self-expressive, autotelic display of internal powers (as opposed to external needs), encompassing both ‘physical play’ and ‘aesthetic play’.

Schiller arguably uses the term ‘play’ in both senses, not simply due to confusion or lack of concern for precision, but because he views play fundamentally in terms freedom. Physical play is more free than physical seriousness, and aesthetic play is freer still. Hence, aesthetic freedom is in some sense the only true form of play, for Schiller, as is reflected in his characterization of the ‘play impulse’ as that in which the form and sense impulses are ‘combined.’ But the ‘compulsion of superabundance’ is closer to true play than the ‘compulsion of needs’ is, so the former is aptly termed ‘physical play’, even if only in an approximate or analogical sense. The qualifier ‘physical’ thus serves not simply to differentiate physical and aesthetic play, as two different modes of play, but also to qualify the degree to which ‘physical play’ is genuine play. Physical play only approximates genuine play, which must be truly free.

One can arrive at a more radically amoral aesthetic theory, in the vein of Nietzsche’s, by emphasizing that ‘play’ in the narrower sense is simply a special case of ‘play’ in the broader sense: it is the autotelic, coordinated, self-expressive display of essential human powers. ‘Play’ in the broader sense manifests ‘superabundance’ or ‘exuberant power’ in even arational natural phenomena. Hence, one might come to view human freedom as valuable because it is a form of play, rather than viewing physical play as valuable because it foreshadows human freedom.

Again, this is not Schiller’s view: he consistently exalts human freedom as evaluatively fundamental. This is further evidenced by the moralistic denouement of his letters on aesthetic education: “aesthetic freedom” is ultimately just an “intermediate condition,” he claims, or “the necessary condition by which alone” it is possible to “make the sensuous man rational,” where in turn morality is the paragon of ‘rationality’ (AE: 85): “Man is his physical condition is subject to the power of Nature alone; he shakes off this power in the aesthetic; and he controls it in the moral condition” (AE: 89). This moralism is perhaps surprising, given Schiller’s claim that Man “is only wholly Man when he is playing” (AE: 63), which is to say when he is experiencing beauty. But any apparent tension here is only superficial. Schiller’s considered view is that the ‘moral condition’ is a condition of aesthetic freedom, and indeed the highest one (AE: 109–110). He differentiates this moral condition from the ‘intermediate condition’ of aesthetic freedom in certain contexts only in order to highlight the existence of a pre-moral form of aesthetic freedom, which (he argues) must precede the highest aesthetic condition of complete reciprocal coordination between moral principle and feeling. Nevertheless, Schiller’s account of physical play indicates how more amoral theorists may revalue human freedom, as one among many kinds of impassioned activity.


Two points remain to examine more explicitly: Schiller’s anticipation of Nietzsche’s emphasis on the perspective of artists, and the relation between passion and will. Regarding the former, it is helpful to consider Schiller’s account of a teleological progression from “crude taste” to authentically felt respect for moral law in a truly “aesthetic state” (AE: 107–110). The stages in this progression explicitly involve creative activity, not just reflection or contemplation. ‘Crude taste’ “fashions grotesque shapes,” for instance, and calls beautiful that which “gives [Man] material for possible shaping” (AE: 107).[34] Man then passes onward to more sophisticated taste in outward form:

[Now what Man possesses, what he produces, must] reflect the genial intellect which conceived it, the loving hand which executed it, the serene and free spirit which chose and established it. Now the ancient German goes in search of glossier animals’ skins, statelier antlers, more elegant drinking horns, and the Caledonian selects the choicest shells for his festivals. [...] Man adorns himself. (AE: 107)

Here again, Schiller clearly emphasizes creative expression, not the reflective activity of passive aesthetic ‘spectators’. This stage in turn evolves into more sophisticated taste in inward form:

The lawless leap of joy becomes a dance, the shapeless gesture a graceful and harmonious miming speech; the confused noises of perception unfold themselves, begin to obey a rhythm and weld themselves into song. While the Trojan host with shrill cries storms like a flight of cranes across the battlefield, the Greek army approaches quietly, with noble tread. There we see only the arrogance of blind strength, here the triumph of form and the simple majesty of law. (AE: 107–108)

And humanity thereby ultimately achieves authentically felt respect for universal moral law:

A lovelier necessity now links the sexes together, and the sympathy of hearts helps to maintain the bond which was knitted only capriciously and inconstantly by desire. Released from its sullen chains, the quieter eye apprehends form, soul gazes into soul, and out of a selfish exchange of lust there grows a generous interplay of affection. (AE: 107–108)

Schiller thus interprets the ‘moral condition’ as a state of creative expression, arising from ‘cruder’ expressions of the same “aesthetic creative impulse” (AE: 108). The result is a vision of creative ‘harmony’ between form and sense impulses, which is rightly contrasted against Kant’s more contemplative theory of ‘free play’. Schiller thus anticipates Nietzsche’s emphasis on ‘creators’, in texts that Nietzsche actively engaged with. Moreover, Schiller’s account shows how this emphasis is compatible with an otherwise broadly Kantian theory of aesthetic disinterestedness.


Finally, we may return to the relationship between disinterestedness and ‘will-lessness’. Although Nietzsche objects to (what he sees as) Schopenhauer’s nihilistic drive to self-abnegation, Nietzsche himself embraces a certain kind of de-individuation, i.e., dissolution of individualized subjectivity. This is especially pronounced in The Birth of Tragedy, where Nietzsche is still heavily influenced by the Schopenhauerian metaphysics of ‘will and representation’. But it persists even through his later writings. This is not a contradiction on Nietzsche’s part, however, insofar as the ‘arousal of will’ that he associates directly with ‘interestedness’ in the Genealogy is compatible with an impassioned mode of de-individuation. In other words, there is no tension in Nietzsche’s view insofar as the Dionysian drive to de-individuation is not romantic, in his sense of ‘romanticism’.

Here there is an important difference between Nietzsche’s view when The Birth of Tragedy was first published in 1872, and his view in in the mid- to late-1880s, when he published a revised edition of The Birth of Tragedy with a prefatory ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’ (1886) and the Genealogy (1887). In the new ‘Attempt at a Self-Criticism’, Nietzsche criticizes his own youthful romanticism, and in particular his earlier call for an ‘art of metaphysical comfort’ (BT 18). The older Nietzsche associates the drive to ‘metaphysical comfort’ with romanticism and Christianity, and instead recommends learning “the art of this-worldly comfort first” (BT “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” 7).

Nevertheless, Nietzsche does not abandon his earlier appeal to Dionysian processes of de-individuation. In Twilight of the Idols (written in 1888), he ‘baptizes’ with the name Dionysus “the faith that only the particular is loathsome, and that all is redeemed and affirmed in the whole,” which he calls “the highest of all possible faiths” (TI “What the Germans Lack” 49). Likewise, in an unpublished note from 1888 he explains that the word ‘Dionysian’ means to him:

… an urge to unity, a reaching out beyond personality, the everyday, society, reality, across the abyss of transitoriness: a passionate-painful overflowing into darker, fuller, more floating states; an ecstatic affirmation of the total character of life as that which remains the same, just as powerful, just as blissful, through all change; the great pantheistic sharing of joy and sorrow that sanctifies and calls good even the most terrible and questionable qualities of life; the eternal will to procreation, to fruitfulness, to recurrence; the feeling of the necessary unity of creation and destruction. (WP 1050)

By contrast, ‘Apollonian’ means “the urge to perfect self-sufficiency, to the typical ‘individual,’ to all that simplifies, distinguishes, makes strong, clear, unambiguous, typical; freedom under the law” (WP 1050). Hence, for Nietzsche in the late 1880s, the Dionysian is clearly aligned with de-individuation and identification with nature, and the Apollonian with heroic individuality. This is largely in the spirit of Nietzsche’s view in the first edition of The Birth of Tragedy, where he suggests that Dionysian frenzy involves ecstatic identification with a “universal will” or “world-will” [Weltwillens] (BT 17; BT 21), which he also identifies as “nature” (BT 2; BT 4; BT 8) or “primordial being” [Urwesen] (BT 17), and so yields insight into “vast universality and absoluteness” (BT 6). This is to be contrasted against the Apollonian “rhapsodist who does not become fused with his images but, like a painter, sees them outside himself as objects of contemplation” (BT 8).

Dionysian de-individuation is distinct from Schopenhauerian ‘will-lessness’ insofar as Nietzsche stipulates—particularly in the 1880s—that it must be grounded in an “excess of force” (TI “What I Owe to the Ancients,” 4).[35] The Dionysian is will to power in the mode of a drive to “[e]ternal life, the eternal return of life [...] the triumphant Yes to life beyond all death and change; true life as the over-all continuation of life through procreation, through the mysteries of sexuality” (TI “What I Owe to the Ancients,” 4). Thus Dionysian processes are willful, but not essentially individualized. They reflect the activity of holistic and hence impersonal modes of will to power, as opposed to ‘Apollonian’ heroic individuality.

Insofar as Nietzsche embraces both the Apollonian and Dionysian as ‘art-impulses’, he clearly does not insist that all genuine aesthetic experience involves de-individuation. But he also clearly believes that genuine aesthetic experience is compatible with de-individuation, as long as it is ‘Dionysian’ and not ‘romantic’. Therefore, Nietzsche’s appeal to a ‘great personal fact and experience [...] in the realm of the beautiful’ is evidently meant to be consistent with the existence of some genuinely aesthetic experiences that involve radical forms of de-individuation.

Dionysian de-individuation is an impassioned state, clearly. But in Dionysian frenzy, the passions by which one is compelled will evidently seem to have been ‘channeled’ from without. They will be objective passions, that is, which are (at least as if) localized in ‘nature’, ‘eternal life’, or other transpersonal phenomena, not just within individual human subjects. Schiller’s contrast between ‘internal’ and ‘external’ compulsion thus loses clarity in the context of Dionysian de-individuation. Hence, on Nietzsche’s account aesthetic experience is no longer essentially tied to human self-expression, individually or collectively. For in Dionysian frenzy humanity may be impassioned from without, or determined by the amoral power of nature.


Schiller is by no means the only important conceptual influence, or the only plausible historical influence, on Nietzsche’s aesthetic theory. And Schiller is not a strict Kantian in all respects. But I hope to have demonstrated that Schiller does play an important mediating role between Kant and Nietzsche: Schiller’s distinctive interpretation of Kantian aesthetic principles illuminates how Nietzsche’s critique of aesthetic ‘disinterestedness’ reflects commitments that are far closer to Kantian than they appear to be. None of this is to say that Nietzsche’s view is derivative upon Schiller’s, let alone Kant’s. Nietzsche is an amoralist in a way that Schiller is not. Schiller treats human freedom as fundamental, and hence values states like ‘physical play’ as partial realizations or symbolic prefigurations of ‘true human nature’. But by characterizing Kantian ‘free play’ in terms of the interaction of form and sense insofar as they function as loci of internal power rather than external need, Schiller paves the way for a more radical naturalism that emphasizes power, not human freedom, as aesthetically fundamental.

The present analysis demonstrates the utility—for the history of post-Kantian aesthetic theory, but plausibly also for 19th-century intellectual history more broadly, and arguably even for normative aesthetics—of a distinction between two modes of Romantic aesthetic theory, invoking two kinds of disinterestedness. On the one hand, there is a broadly idealistic current of Romanticism, which emphasizes the interplay of sensuous and rational faculties. On the other hand, there is a dynamistic current, which asserts the aesthetic character of all genuine passion and ‘abundant’ power, even in the form of arational natural force. Radical amoralists like Nietzsche emphasize this dynamism, and reject the idealistic tendency as ‘romantic’, in a pejorative sense. But both currents are arguably basic to Schiller’s aesthetic theory. And it is perhaps to Schiller’s credit that he struggles to fully re-contain this dynamistic impulse under the purview of his idealistic emphasis on human freedom. In the core of Schiller’s thought, rather, a moral drive to human freedom and an amoral drive to ‘superabundant life’ enter into dynamic relation, as natural powers or agonistically-interacting passions in their own right.


Many thanks to Daniel Herwitz, Gordon Belot, Pavel Godfrey, Tad Schmaltz, Janum Sethi, and Filipa Melo Lopes for helpful discussions and suggestions. I am also grateful to an audience at the University of Michigan, and to three anonymous referees at Ergo for their consideration and helpful feedback.


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    1. For previous analyses of Nietzsche’s relationship to Schiller, see Rehder (1976), Bennett (1979), Silk and Stern (1981: 301–304), Del Caro (1989), Martin (1995; 1996), Prange (2006), Kalar (2008), and Katsafanas (2011). For Nietzsche’s relationship to broader traditions of Classicism, see Del Caro (1980), Bishop and Stephenson (2005). Silk and Stern (1981: 301) discuss disinterestedness, but simply suggest that Nietzsche “half undo[es]” the “nexus between art and disinterestedness” that one finds in Kant and Schiller. In no way do they claim that Nietzsche’s view is positively influenced by Schiller’s account of disinterestedness, as I argue.

      For example, Came (2009) argues that Nietzsche’s aesthetic theory is positively influenced by Schopenhauer’s conception of disinterestedness. Our accounts are largely compatible. But Came (2009: 98) supposes that “the Nietzschean aesthetic entails a complete destruction of the subject.” This is only plausible with respect to Dionysian (not Apollonian) ‘frenzy’ [Rausch], however. Moreover, Came (2009: 98) observes that “unlike Schopenhauer’s conception of disinterestedness, Nietzsche’s notion of Rausch does not exclude the processes of desire.” But he does not explain this difference, whereas I do, by appeal to Schiller’s notion of disinterest. This example indicates the kind of advantages that my account has vis-à-vis salient alternatives.return to text

    2. I will use the following abbreviations for works by Schiller: AE = Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man; K = Kallias, or Concerning Beauty (1793 letters to Gottfried Körner); NS = On Naive and Sentimental Poetry. Translations of these texts are from Schiller (2014; 2003; 1966), respectively, except where noted otherwise.return to text

    3. Guyer (1993b) examines ‘Kant and Schiller on disinterestedness,’ for instance, but discusses only the harmony of sensuous and rational drives, not the contrast between desire-driven activity and power-driven activity. More typically, Wilm (1906), Grossman (1968), and Beiser (2005) mention disinterestedness only in passing as they examine Schiller’s views, without attempting to analyze the notion on his behalf.return to text

    4. On ‘disinterestedness’ in 18th-century British aesthetics, see Stolnitz (1961a; 1961b), Berleant (1986), Guyer (1993a), and Rind (2002). For replies to Stolnitz, see also Dickie (1964; 1984). On Kant’s relationship to this British context, see White (1973), Townsend (1987), and Guyer (1993b).return to text

    5. I will use the standard abbreviation KU for the Kritik der Urteilskraft. Translations are from Kant (2000).return to text

    6. I.e., the head of a 1st-century Roman statue of the goddess Juno. MacLeod argues (1998: 244 Footnote 64) that Schiller’s choice “almost certainly reflects the influence of Goethe,” who saw the sculpture in Rome.return to text

    7. Schiller elsewhere appeals to ‘seriousness’ in a distinct and more complimentary sense—e.g., he praises “the high solemnity of feeling that must underlie all play if it is to be poetic” (NS: 123), and argues that “[e]verywhere too little seriousness underlies [Voltaire’s] ridicule” (NS: 124).return to text

    8. I cite Nietzsche’s texts by section and part number using the standard English abbreviations: A = The Antichrist, BGE = Beyond Good and Evil, BT = The Birth of Tragedy, EH = Ecce Homo, GM = On the Genealogy of Morals, GS = The Gay Science, NCW = Nietzsche Contra Wagner, TI = Twilight of the Idols, WP = The Will to Power, Z = Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I use the Kaufmann and Hollingdale translations. For some notes, I cite KSA = Kritische Gesamtausgabe, edited by Colli and Montinari, by volume, fragment and aphorism number.return to text

    9. See Nehamas (2007) for thoughtful reflection upon Stendhal’s remark vis-à-vis Nietzsche and Kant.return to text

    10. Schopenhauer (1819/1966: 219) takes contemplation of beauty to be a “painless state” of temporary “freed[om] from the terrible pressure of the will,” in which we “celebrate the Sabbath of the penal servitude of willing.”return to text

    11. To be in a state of ‘aroused will’ is plausibly to be willful as opposed to will-less, for Nietzsche. The broader subject of the third essay of the Genealogy is the meaning of the ‘ascetic ideal’ that Nietzsche takes to manifest in a self-abnegating drive to be will-less (GM III, 28). In GM III, 6 Nietzsche is also attacking Schopenhauer, who claims that pleasure in beauty arises from self-consciousness “not as an individual, but as pure, will-less subject of cognition,” such that “our attention is no longer directed to the motives of willing but instead grasps things freed from their relation to the will, and hence considers them without interests, without subjectivity, purely objectively” (Schopenhauer 1819/1966: 219). Schopenhauer’s Kantianism is mediated by his own pessimistic theory of individualized willing as essentially tied to suffering, grounded in alienation from the objects of desire.return to text

    12. Nietzsche does not always use Rausch so expansively. In The Birth of Tragedy, e.g., he maps the distinction between Apollonian and Dionysian drives onto dreams and intoxication [‘des Traumes und des Rausches’] (BT 1).return to text

    13. Among others, Emerson and Goethe also likely guided Nietzsche’s hostility to ‘will-less’ aesthetic contemplation. (Nietzsche’s view of Goethe was in part mediated by Emerson’s account in Representative Men—see Brobjer 2008: 247.) A broader Romantic tradition also clearly influenced Nietzsche’s notion of Dionysian ecstasy, and his emphasis on creative-destructive power and nature’s ‘superabundance’—all of which bears on his assessment of aesthetic disinterestedness, as I will argue. See Bauemer (1976) for a survey of this Dionysian tradition. See also Norman (2002), on Nietzsche’s relationship to early Romanticism. These studies of Nietzsche and Romanticism are typical in excluding Schiller (who is often viewed as a Classicist, not a Romantic).return to text

    14. Brobjer (2008).return to text

    15. Here I am very much in agreement with Came (2009).return to text

    16. Compare Janaway’s suggestion (2007: 191) that “[a]fter the brief discussion of Kant, Nietzsche reverts [in GM III, 6] to his more serious target, Schopenhauer.” This is a slightly stronger claim than I take to be warranted, given my analysis here. But I agree that Nietzsche is here at least as concerned with Schopenhauer as with Kant.return to text

    17. Dwight (1839: 352). Notably, Emerson (1983: 273) draws a similar contrast in ‘Self-Reliance’: “‘What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love’.” Indeed, Emerson places this statement in quotation marks because he is (mis)quoting Schiller (Arsić 2010: 193).return to text

    18. Here consider that Burke also associates beauty with “love” as opposed to “desire or lust” (1757/1958: 91), but sees the ‘love’ evoked by beautiful things as an “affection and tenderness” (1757/1958: 51) that is not elicited by sublime things, which instead arouse “astonishment” and “terror” in us (1757/1958: 57–58). Burke understands both love and terror as ‘passions’ (1757/1958: 57, 91, and 136). This is also intuitive, which suggests that an aesthetic theory appealing to passion, rather than to love, is more likely to have intuitive purchase on aesthetic experiences of both beauty and sublimity. Burke also subsumes “violent and tempestuous passions” under the ambit of ‘desire’ (1757/1958: 91). Thus his notion of ‘passion’ is not opposed to ‘desire’ in the way that Schiller’s notion of ‘love’ is.return to text

    19. See Footnote 12.return to text

    20. While some commentators interpret Nietzsche as attributing a will to power only to things that are alive in an intuitive sense, he occasionally suggests that the will to power is literally everywhere. E.g., “[L]ife is merely a special case of the will to power” (KSA 13:14[121]). See Richardson (1996: 18 Footnote 4) for further examples.return to text

    21. Similarly: “Only where there is life is there also will: not will to life but—thus I teach you—will to power” (Z II: “On Self-Overcoming); “... life itself is will to power” (BGE 13); “There is nothing to life that has value, except the degree of power—assuming that life itself is the will to power” (KSA 12:5[71].10).return to text

    22. See WP 846 [1885–1886] for a draft version. Compare NCW, “We Antipodes”: “Regarding artists of all kinds, I now avail myself of is main distinction: is it the hatred against life or the excess [der Überfluß ] of life which has here become creative?”return to text

    23. Similarly: “Deepest difference: whether hunger or overabundance [der Überfluß] becomes creative? The former generates the ideals of romanticism” (WP 59 [1885–1886]).return to text

    24. Quoted in Richards (2002: 458).return to text

    25. I thank an anonymous referee at Ergo for pressing me on this point.return to text

    26. A final terminological point may shed further light on the relationship between my analysis and other areas of Nietzsche scholarship. Namely, if despite all of the above one were to still resist my use of the term ‘passion’ to indicate activity grounded in power or internal necessity, then one might instead choose to appeal to terms like ‘impulse’ or ‘drive’ [Trieb], which are ubiquitous in Nietzsche’s writings, for the same purpose. Hence, one might contrast ‘passions’ and ‘desires’, alike, against genuine ‘drives’. One cost of this interpretive decision, however, is that terms like ‘impulse’ and ‘drive’ do not evoke intense affective states in the way that ‘passion’ does. In this light, moreover, my use of the term ‘passion’ could perhaps be leveraged to draw Nietzsche’s ‘third-personal’ drive-psychological theory into closer relation with a more ‘first-personal’ or phenomenological analysis of the kinds of affective states that he—like Schiller—evidently associates with aesthetic experience. Further inquiry into the relationship between ‘passions’ (in the present sense) and Nietzschean ‘drives’ is certainly warranted. But further analysis of this rich and complex issue would take me too far afield from my main argumentative aims.return to text

    27. Compare Schiller (AE: 76 Footnote 14).return to text

    28. Kant also uses the term ‘heautonomy’, but with a different meaning. For Kant, the power of judgment displays heautonomy insofar as it ‘prescribes a law’ to itself, rather than (as in the case of autonomy) to nature. See KU 5:185–186; 20:225.return to text

    29. See also WP 1050 [1888].return to text

    30. Compare Friedrich Schlegel’s remark (1968: 89) that “the sacred plays of art are only a remote imitation of the infinite play of the universe, the work of art which eternally creates itself anew.” See also Norman (2002).return to text

    31. For Kant, to judge that a given object is beautiful is to claim that the spatiotemporal form of a corresponding intuitive representation of the object is ‘subjectively purposive’, or “purposive for the reflecting power of judgment by itself, i.e., in the mere intuition without any concept” (KU 20:249).return to text

    32. Compare Hegel (1975).return to text

    33. See Footnotes 13, 14, and 17, as well as associated main text. Indeed, it is even plausible that Nietzsche’s account of the interplay of Dionysian and Apollonian drives in Attic tragedy is influenced in part by Schiller’s account of the interplay between sensuous and rational powers in aesthetic experience, which is of course directly influenced by Kant’s aesthetic theory. To sustain any such interpretive hypothesis would require far more analysis than I can here provide, however. For instance, Rehder (1976: 159) claims in a superficially similar vein that “[b]ehind the Apollinian and the Dionysian there still glow the well discussed polarities of the Classical and the Romantic or, mutatis mutandis, those of Antiquity and Christianity;” but that this is an oversimplification is immediately apparent from the fact that Nietzsche contrasts both the Apolline and the Dionysian against the Socratic, which in turn he clearly associates with Christian moralism. Likewise, Baeumer (1976: 181) claims that “[t]he well-known argument ‘Classical-Romantic’ ends in the controversy ‘Classical-Dionysian,’” and that “Nietzsche stands on the side of the Romantics.” But this clearly cannot be correct if the ‘Classical’ is associated directly with the Apollonian (given that Nietzsche approves of Apollonian and Dionysian drives alike). Baeumer’s claim is plausible, rather, only insofar as ‘Classical’ is interpreted in terms of the notion of Greek ‘cheerfulness’ that Nietzsche situates himself against polemically in The Birth of Tragedy (for instance).return to text

    34. For Bilden, I replace Snell’s ‘fashioning’ with ‘shaping’, to emphasize the link to form.return to text

    35. Compare NCW, “We Antipodes.”return to text