True beauty pleases the eye and the mind – but can it help us to become better people?
Schiller thinks of human nature as an arena in which two powerful psychological drives are at work. On the one hand, there is the ‘sense’ drive which lives in the moment and seeks immediate gratification. It craves contact and possession. It can be coarse, as when one yearns to swig great draughts of beer; but it can also be elevated. Schiller associated the sense drive with his friend Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who longed to see things with his own eyes. Goethe was a direct observer, a natural empiricist who immersed himself in practical detail.
The second drive identified by Schiller was the ‘form’ drive: the inner demand for coherence over time, for abstract understanding and rational order. This drive, thought Schiller, seeks to leave behind the peculiarities of one’s own experience and discover universal principles. It is at the heart of justice – which is not about getting what you want for yourself – and is animated by principle. When we think that a person is entitled to a fair trial, we are motivated, Schiller says, by the rational ‘form’ drive. We are loyal to the abstract, general ideal of due process.
What he’s calling the sense drive and the form drive are powerful impulses in us. But they are often in conflict. The demands of the short term are at odds with the hopes of the longer view. Comfort and ease struggle against a sense of duty and responsibility. The allure of freedom clashes with the longing to be steadfast and rooted in existing commitments.