Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Allen, Annette C.

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Blum, Mark E.

Author's Keywords

Play; Human nature; Germany; Vitalism; Aesthetic Letters


Schiller, Friedrich, 1759-1805. U¨ber die a¨sthetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen; Schiller, Friedrich, 1759-1805--Philosophy; Play (Philosophy)


Friedrich Schiller's psychological theory of play, his hypothesis about human nature, is embedded in the Aesthetic Letters . Its trans-historical value owes much to the committed interest in life in the late Enlightenment, and the theory itself is an example of that period's enthusiastic study of living organisms. It is within this context--of eighteenth-century natural history, natural philosophy and medicine--that the theory can be profitably evaluated. That it is also an example of the connection of the humanities of the time and the emerging life sciences suggests its usefulness as a paradigm today: as a general theory of human nature, it might serve as a bio-cultural ground for the humanities. In this dissertation, Schiller's theory's situation in several contemporary contexts is explored and its relevance to the contemporary humanities and biological sciences, asserted Chapter II presents Schiller's theory of play. In hypothesizing a theory of species-specific drives, Schiller approached human nature as a unity. In us, the actions of two drives, the sense-drive and the form-drive, create a play-drive which, in relation to beauty, promotes full personal development. Chapter III reviews the activities of mid-eighteenth-century researchers whose attention was turned to the anomalies that defined life. From their work, Schiller drew ideas about nature and the human species. Chapter IV celebrates the identification of a program of life study, vitalism. Schiller's mix of mechanical and organic metaphors, his drives and his history of play are based on its science. Chapter V presents the period's vitalistic epistemology. In it, comparison, analogy and hypothesizing augment observation, experimentation and analysis. As a vitalist, Schiller combined Kant's epistemology with Goethe's scientific intuition. Chapter VI reviews Schiller's German aesthetic heritage. Special focus is given to his text as an example of art, as an organic product, and to Schiller's own life, as an example of the whole man in the process of development. The Epilogue notes current play research in biology and the humanities and suggests that Schiller's play is an evolutionary mechanism, a structural and behavioral adaptation and, as such, a firm ground upon which to steady the humanities against aspects of its own relativism.