The Bridge

In my previous post I put forward the concept of the dualism of the human mind in the sense of its two faculties: reason and instinct. The former is a pinnacle of evolution which elevates man’s mind above his physical brain through the means of ideas, mental constructs that are communicated, stored and evolved outside of a single mind. Man’s collaboration in the cerebral realm allows ideas to grow in size, strength and complexity just as man’s collaboration in the material realm allows him to erect monumental structures of brick, stone and steel. The latter is the animal part of man that constrains and directs his actions on primal impulse.

Unlike the animal mind, man’s reason gives him the ability to plan his actions, gives him options to choose from. His instinct, however, keeps a tight hold over his will, doing the choosing for him. In this way, even if a person is rational enough to know which action is best for him within his moral framework, he will still have to possess a strong enough will to go through with it.

What can bridge the gap between reason and will? What can give the will enough power to carry out choices worked out through reason?

In his series of letters titled On the Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller proses such a bridge in the form of Beauty. “Through Beauty the sensuous man is led to form and to thought; through Beauty the spiritual man is brought back to matter and restored to the world of sense.” Schiller posits the two extremes of mankind: the sensual man and the spiritual man – the former a savage ruled by instinct, the latter an emotionless man of reason. Beauty acts as a cure for both of these characters1, though for each in an opposite way. In the case of the savage, Beauty captivates and relaxes, giving the mind ruled by emotion a moment of repose, a moment for thought. For the spiritual man Beauty does the opposite: it ignites his emotions, energizes his senses and brings him back to the material realm. In this way the savage is united with thought, the spiritual man is guided towards action.

If we agree with Schiller on the effects of Beauty, then it follows that the bridge between reason and will is art. There are a myriad definitions of art, but for the sake of following through this thought let’s use Tolstoy’s definition, taken from his book What is Art?: “To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the activity of art.” Art is a transmitter of feeling felt by the artist, not merely a thing created to effect a feeling, which can be most anything. Joined with reason, a work of art assumes a moral quality, for one no longer simply communicates any feeling that touched him, but a feeling that was experienced in relation to a morally significant event. A moral event is a choice, either by you or by society, a trial of will, and the feeling one experiences, whether sorrow or joy, is directed by the outcome of the choice.

Art with a moral quality depicts trials of will. If the artist is successful, they will infect the observer with their own feeling, which in turn will have the potential to kindle their heart and soul. A strong enough feeling will act as a bridge between man’s reason and will, directing the will by means of primal emotion towards the rational and the good – the very same force that the animalistic instinct uses to pull it askew. Art, the conveyor of emotion, becomes the tool of reason, becomes its fuel, a force that can energize the will, can give it the strength to deny base instinct and pursue rational and noble acts.

In vain you will assail their maxims, in vain condemn their deeds; but you can try your fashioning hand upon their idleness. Drive away lawlessness, frivolity and coarseness from their pleasure, and you will imperceptibly banish them from their actions, and finally from their dispositions. Wherever you find them, surround them with noble, great and ingenious forms, enclose them all round with the symbols of excellence, until actuality is overpowered by appearance and Nature by Art.

Schiller


  1. A cure is only a cure when its use achieves a desired state of affairs. Schiller’s conception of man is neither rational, nor irrational, but both: “Man – at least in his ultimate tendency – is a sensuous being; with the single difference that in the first case he is a non-rational, in the second a rational, animal. But he should be neither of these, he should be a human being; Nature should not rule him exclusively, nor Reason conditionally. Both systems of law should subsist in complete independence, yet in complete accord with one another.”
Published November 2013