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  • Eighteenth-Century Studies!
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  • Moses Mendelssohn - Jewish Studies - Oxford Bibliographies!

LOG IN. Eighteenth-Century Studies. His nomination to a prestigious intellectual organization was vetoed by the king simply because he was Jewish, and it was widely believed that Prussian Jews did not possess sufficient character to be full members of society. In North America, I can think of one English-language book written on him in the last 30 years. I want to recover him for people in diverse fields — Jewish studies, religious studies, political theory, philosophy.


We need to recover his voice and let him speak again. Mendelssohn is not generally taught in college courses surveying Western thought, reflecting the long-held view that he was somewhat parochial in his interests. Sacks is now engaged in research he hopes will help re-establish the importance of another Jewish thinker, the 19 th -century Ukrainian philosopher Nachman Krochmal. Jacobi contended that Lessing embraced Spinoza's pantheism and thus exemplified the Enlightenment's supposedly inevitable descent into irreligion. Following private correspondence with Jacobi on the issue and an extended period when Jacobi in personal straits at the time did not respond to his objections, Mendelssohn attempted to set the record straight about Lessing's Spinozism in Morning Hours.

Learning of Mendelssohn's plans incensed Jacobi who expected to be consulted first and who accordingly responded by publishing, without Mendelssohn's consent, their correspondence — On the Teaching of Spinoza in Letters to Mr. Moses Mendelssohn — a month before the publication of Morning Hours. Distressed on personal as well as intellectual levels by the controversy over his departed friend's pantheism, Mendelssohn countered with a hastily composed piece, To the Friends of Lessing: an Appendix to Mr.

Mendelssohn, Kant, and Freedom of Religion

Jacobi's Correspondence on the Teaching of Spinoza. According to legend, so anxious was Mendelssohn to get the manuscript to the publisher that, forgetting his overcoat on a bitterly cold New Year's eve, he delivered the manuscript on foot to the publisher. That night he came down with a cold from which he died four days later, prompting his friends to charge Jacobi with responsibility for Mendelssohn's death. The sensationalist character of the controversy should not obscure the substance and importance of Mendelssohn's debate with Jacobi. Jacobi had contended that Spinozism is the only consistent position for a metaphysics based upon reason alone and that the only solution to this metaphysics so detrimental to religion and morality is a leap of faith, that salto mortale that poor Lessing famously refused to make.

Mendelssohn counters Jacobi's first contention by attempting to demonstrate the metaphysical inconsistency of Spinozism. Mendelssohn's criticisms of Spinoza are discussed below but first the complexity of his relationship to Spinoza should be noted. Moreover, as Mendelssohn puts it, Spinoza does not so much deny the distinctiveness of the actual world as construe it as it is in the mind of God before the creation, existing only as a part of God Philosophical Writings , ff, ff.

Nevertheless, as noted above, part of his response to Jacobi consists in demonstrating the shortcomings of Spinoza's philosophy. As might be expected, he criticizes Spinoza's idea that there is only one, infinite, and necessary substance. What is unclear to Mendelssohn is how parts can be in motion if the whole upon which they completely depend Spinoza's substance is not in motion.

Similarly, he wants to know how, on the basis of Spinoza's account of the supposedly underlying attribute of extension, those parts come to have the particular form and organization of motions and forces that they have, that is to say, as organic, self-regulating entities. Whence the form in the parts, if the whole provides no source for this? Just as Spinoza explains the matter but not the form of the physical world, so, too, Mendelssohn charges, he gives an account of the matter but not the form of the spiritual world.

In this connection it is helpful to recall Mendelssohn's differentiation of knowing, approving, and desiring from one another. Truth and falsity, corresponding to knowing, provide the matter of the spiritual world.

Moses Mendelssohn (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

While they may, as Spinoza maintains, have their origin in thought as the attribute of a single, infinite substance, categories corresponding not to knowledge but to approving or desiring must have some other source. Yet, while some of these criticisms of Spinoza may be compelling, they do not, Mendelssohn recognizes, carry the day for a refined Spinozist or pantheist.

Spinoza's inability to explain how movement and values derive from the attributes of the one, infinite substance does not, by itself, establish the theist explanation in Mendelssohn's view. Accordingly, in Morning Hours he casts Lessing as the spokesperson for a refined pantheism — a move that figures prominently in this contribution to the Pantheismusstreit. Lessing is portrayed as someone who, while agreeing with Mendelssohn's theist position, has a knack for giving every reasonable argument its full due.

In other words, refined pantheism includes every aspect of the entire metaphysical system of theism but casts it solely as the object of divine intellect. As a result, a refined Spinozist might wonder how different the positions are since the theist purports to explain these seemingly recalcitrant phenomena merely by appealing to the divine will. A refined pantheist might accept the difference between the world thought and God thinker at a certain level, but insist that, in the end, the difference is on a merely abstract level since thinking and thought can only be distinguished as long as one is not actually thinking.

To pretend to show that there is something that can be predicated of things outside God that cannot be predicated of the divine thoughts of those things is to deny divine omniscience. But, without further qualifications, this pantheist line of reasoning is faulty, Mendelssohn submits, for at least three reasons. In the first place, it abolishes a distinction presupposed by any truthful statement, i.

Secondly, there are indefeasible marks that distinguish a finite self-consciousness as an object and original from the divine representation copy of it. Finally, the pantheist confuses divine knowledge with divine approval.

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God knows perfectly well my shortcomings without approving them and requiring their existence. Moreover, that they are thinkable hardly explains their existence since the opposite of them is just as thinkable. The problem for the pantheist, Mendelssohn submits, is explaining their existence, i. For the theist, by contrast, there is a ready solution to the problem. Still, the difference between the theist and a refined pantheist is by no means this simple, Mendelssohn is quick to add.

To be sure, Spinoza conceived intellect and will as one and the same. Seen in this light, the difference between theism and refined pantheism turns in the end on a speculative subtlety without practical consequences, namely, on different interpretations of the metaphor of divine light.

  1. Why Mendelssohn (Moses, not Felix) matters?
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  4. Mendelssohn accordingly concludes that, like many another dispute in metaphysics and epistemology, the dispute between refined pantheists and traditional theists is purely verbal. Life and career 2. Metaphysics and epistemology 3. Rational psychology 4. Natural Theology 5. Aesthetics 6. Political theory 7. Language 8. Jacobi's Correspondence on the Doctrine of Spinoza appears January 26 2. Natural Theology From the beginning of his career to the end, Mendelssohn consistently upheld the demonstrability of God's existence. Political theory In Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism Mendelssohn distinguishes church and state in order to demonstrate the salutary harmony between them and thus the need for tolerance.

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    Language Mendelssohn finds linguistic considerations at the very heart of traditional philosophical questions. Controversy with Jacobi over Lessing's alleged pantheism Mendelssohn enjoyed, as noted at the outset, a lifelong friendship with G. Bibliography Primary Literature Altmann, A.

    Continuation of edition by Fritz Bamberger et al. Reprint of Berlin edition. Philosophische Schriften [Philosophical Writings]. Translation: Philosophical Writings , D. Dahlstrom trans. Translation: Morning Hours , Daniel O. Dahlstrom and Corey Dyck trans. Jacobi's Correspondence on the Teaching of Spinoza]. Last Works , Bruce Rosenstock trans. Gottlieb, Michah ed. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University. Albrecht, Michael, Engel, Eva J. Allison, Henry, Altmann, Alexander, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann. Arkush, Allan, Beiser, Frederick, Chapter 7, pp.

    Between Judaism and German Enlightenment: Recent Work on Moses Mendelssohn in English

    Brandt, Reinhard, Bourel, Dominique, Moses Mendelssohn. Cassirer, Ernst, Christ, K. Jacobi und Mendelssohn. Dahlstrom, Daniel,