On Grace and Dignity

Über Anmuth und Würde; On Grace and Dignity (1793)

Written in response to Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790), Schiller argues that art is a form of education which is both sensual and moral at the same time. According to Kant, the ideas of reason cannot be represented empirically, but only by analogy. Schiller argues that beauty is a citizen of two worlds, both the sensual world and the realm of the spirit. Schiller defines grace as follows:

Anmuth ist die Schönheit der Gestalt unter dem Einfluß der Freiheit; die Schönheit derjenigen Erscheinungen, die die Person bestimmt.


Grace is the beauty of the form under the influence of freedom; the beauty of those manifestations which the person determines.

Grace is the expression of a beautiful soul; dignity; the calm acceptance of suuffering, is the expression of a morally sublime mind. According to Schiller, grace occurs more frequently in women; dignity more frequently in men. Grace and dignity fall on either side of Schiller’s key opposition between inclination (Neigung) and duty (Pflicht):

Der Neigung ist die Anmuth so natürlich, als der Tugend die Würde


Grace comes naturally to inclination; just as dignity comes naturally to virtue.

Schiller wants virtue to be more graceful, and inclination to become more dignified (that is, more moral).

The essay also contains an explicit criticism of Kant:

In der Kantischen Moralphilosophie ist die Idee der Pflicht mit einer Härte vorgetragen, die alle Grazien davon zurückschreckt und einen schwachen Verstand leicht versuchen könnte, auf dem Wege einer finstern und mönchischen Ascetik die moralische Vollkommenheit zu suchen.


In Kantian moral philosophy the idea of duty is expounded with such severity that all the graces are scared away, and to the extent that a weak mind could easily be tempted to seek moral perfection by means of gloomy, monk-like asceticism.

English Translation

Jane V. Curran and Christophe Fricker (eds.), Schiller’s “On Grace and Dignity” in Its Cultural Context: Essays and a New Translation (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2005)

Further Reading

Frederick Beiser, Schiller as Philosopher: A Re-Examination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

David Pugh, Dialectic of Love: Platonism in Schiller’s Aesthetics (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996)

Lesley Sharpe, Schiller’s Aesthetic Essays: Two Centuries of Criticism (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1995)