Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Morally Educated Man

 The morally educated man, and only this one, is entirely free. Either he is superior to nature as power, or he is in harmony with the same. Nothing which it exerts upon him is violence, for before it comes up to him, it has already become his own act, and dynamic nature never even reaches him, because acting freely he retires from all that it can reach. This mentality, however, which morality teaches under the concept of resignation to necessity and religion, under the concept of submission to divine counsel, demands, if it shall be a work of free choice and reflection, already a greater clarity of thinking and a higher energy of the will, than man is characteristically accustomed to in active life. Fortunately, however, there exists in his nature only a moral predisposition, which can be developed through the understanding, but rather even in his sensuous rational, i.e., human nature, an aesthetical tendency thereto, which can be awakened through certain sensuous objects and cultivated through purification of his feelings into this ideal swing of the mind.

[Friedrich Schiller, On the Sublime.] This "aesthetical tendency" manifests itself in our sense of sublimity (when the relation to nature is one of superiority) or our sense of beauty (when the relation to nature is one of harmony). 

I've recently been taking about the Kantian theory of sublimity in Ethics class, so I've been thinking about theories of the sublime; Schiller has one of the more interesting adaptations of the Kantian theory. And it's Lent, of course. We don't usually think of the appropriate appreciation of the beautiful and the sublime as an ascetic practice, but Schiller is right that both are ways in which we are raised above the merely sensuous, and when you look at actual Lenten practices, you find that people often try to season their self-denials with things quietly beautiful or sublime, which I think is a natural impulse and probably necessary for sustaining even minor self-denials in a large population or consistently across a large portion of life.