Free spirit

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Freigeist (a loan translation from French esprit libre ) is a term that was widespread in the 18th century, especially in German-language literature and journalism, for representatives of an attitude according to which thinking is not based on traditional customs or on the moral norms established by official religion Thinking prohibitions may be restricted. This was particularly interesting for publicists, because the free spirit was in direct contrast to the activities of the state censors. According to the free-spirited position, the practice of uneducated reasoning should also lead to morally correct, or at least to wise, action.

This individualistic and radical justification demand is related to sensitivity , but the reception of British empiricists and economists in the German-speaking area (such as Francis Hutcheson , David Hume or Adam Smith ) could also be regarded as free-spirited. In any case, free spirits were considered to be representatives of open agnosticism or atheism , to which amoralism was sometimes assumed. The term was initially a pejorative used and should indicate in particular disregard for established customs, but they became in the 19th century by the rise of the educated middle class the honorary title of critical journalists. In German usage, free-spiritedness differs significantly from libertinage . Libertinage hardly connotes independent and individualistic intellectuality, but primarily sexual freedom and / or the uninhibited realization of desires at the expense of one's own ego and / or third parties.

The Bonaventure's Night Vigils , published in 1804 and presumably by Ernst August Friedrich Klingemann, are considered a classically free-spirited script . Today the term free spirit is used synonymously with free thinker , even if their historical connotations differ.

The literary image of free spirit

Free spirit as a defiance against religions

In 1747, the poet Christian Fürchtegott Gellert ridiculed a free spirit as someone who turned against religion all his life and then became pious again when he died.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's comedy Der Freigeist (1749) shows a somewhat ridiculous rider of principles who, in his stubbornness, does not confess his love, but in the end is reconciled with his apparent competitor, a young clergyman, through his initiative.

Free spirit as amorality

Almost 10 years later Joachim Wilhelm von Brawe won a literary competition with his tragedy Der Freigeist in 1758. In the play, the free spirit Henley desires Miss Granville, but she loves Clerdon. Out of envy of the virtuous and successful Clerdon, Henley weaves an intrigue that leads to Clerdon killing the Granville's brother, whereupon Clerdon finally stabs Henley and himself.

In 1786, in his work What means: To orient oneself in thinking , Immanuel Kant describes free spirit as “the principle of recognizing no duty at all”. Since Kant's ethics are based on voluntary self-commitment, he warns against free spirit: "And so freedom in thinking, if it wants to act independently of the laws of reason, finally destroys itself."

Asian role models?

The view of East Asia has been relevant for European societies since the early Enlightenment , as philosophical systems and well-ordered communities were found here, which previously apparently had no contact with Christian revelation . So this was not a necessary condition of the good and right life after all. More precise reports and translations of classic East Asian texts, such as Buddhism or Daoism , did not spread to the German-speaking world until the 19th century.

Free Intellectual thinking was in the traditional wisdoms of the Buddha and the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tse read into it , and founding figures of a willing unifying thinking as Lao Tse and Buddha appeared especially the free spirits even more and more historical than their counterparts.

Reception of the free spirits at Nietzsche

An openly anti-Christian and free-spirited approach is extolled in his posthumous writings by Friedrich Nietzsche .

In Also Spoke Zarathustra , in the title character Zarathustra, an ideal free spirit is described, who looks at the world and people from the perspective of a liberated spirit and is by no means opinionated, but feels his free spirit as a loss of integration and certainty. For Nietzsche, despite this inconvenience, free-spiritedness is not only not amoral, but also a moral imperative.

In a deeper sense, however, Nietzsche's free spirit is someone who has freed his thinking from distorting influences. These distortions are mainly socially anchored religion and morals. The historical man (as a man who is part of humanity) is implanted in the human world, which is only the “morally disguised” image of the “real” world. Marriage also harms the free spirit ( human, all- too- human ). The free spirit, who is in search of the one, the only truth, i.e. the deeper truth, becomes aware of these falsifications of truth and tries to free his mind of it.

As Nietzsche says, the free spirit is a kind of person who can only be recognized by their own kind and who is misunderstood or even despised by contemporaries. The ordinary world would refer to such a free spirit as "wise", but not as ordinary sages, because ordinary wisdom is equated with experience.


In the 1997 comedy Le Libertin (The Free Spirit ) written by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt - filmed in 2000 - the French philosopher Denis Diderot , while writing the article Moral for his Encyclopédie , constantly stumbles over his own moral transgressions between infidelities and marital quarrels. With the desire to define morality not only as a moral convention, but as a norm of justice that covers his own behavior, he gets more and more into definition difficulties.


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Individual evidence