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Albrecht, Michael, u. Eva J. Engel [Hrsg.]


Moses Mendelssohn im Spannungsfeld der Aufklärung.


Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog 2000. 284 S. 8. Lw. DM 68,-. ISBN 3-7728-1956-7.


Peter Foley

This work is a collection of papers that started life as presentations at a round table on "Moses Mendelssohn - Enlightenment and Modernity." The abstracts of that session were published in: Transactions of the Ninth International Congress on the Enlightenment I (Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 346). Oxford 1996, 293-312. Only one of the original contributors is missing from this collection and some have been added. After an introduction and succinct summaries of the papers by the editors (5-12) the articles are as follows:

M. Albrecht, "Aber ich folge dem Schlechteren. Mendelssohns mathematische Hypothese zum Problem des Handelns wider besseres Wissen" (11-35); C. Buschmann, "Wie bleibt Metaphysik als Wissenschaft möglich? Moses Mendelssohn und seine Konkurrenten um den Preis der Preußischen Akademie für 1763" (37-49); E. J. Engel, "Literaturkritik als Wissenschaft und Kunst" (51-72); Günter Gawlick, "Ein vergessener ,Anti- Phädon' aus dem Jahr 1771" (73-88); R. A. Jacobs, "A Jewish Reading of Moses Mendelssohn's Response to Lavater" (89-10); H. Klenner, "Rechtsphilosophisches zur Kant/Mendelssohn-Kontroverse über das Völkerrecht" (101-118); H. Lausch, "Moses Mendelssohn und die Zeitgenössische Mathematik" (119-135); A. v. d. Lühe, ",Catarcticon' oder ,organon'. Kausalität und Induktion bei Hume und Mendelssohn" (137-158); L. Lütteken, "Moses Mendelssohn und der musikästhetische Diskurs der Aufklärung" (195-241); U. Ricken, "Mendelssohn und die Sprachtheorien der Aufklärung" (195-241); D. Sorkin, "Moses Mendelssohn's Biblical Exegesis" (243-276).

A valuable index of names follows on 277-284. As the titles indicate, this volume covers a broad sweep of the diverse fields to which Moses Mendelssohn evidently made significant contributions.

Jacobs challenges most existing scholarship by showing that Mendelssohn's theological position was that of a pious, conforming Jew steeped in the rabbinical exegetical traditions of his upbringing. While he may have been a controversial figure, his work shows that Moses Mendelssohn remained within the traditions of the Jewish community. In fact Mendelssohn's use of the tools of the philosophy of his day manifests a continuation of a Jewish diaspora tradition that sought to reconcile its theology first with Hellenistic and then Arab philosophy. Sorkin similarly argues that Mendelssohn is fully immersed in the Jewish exegetical tradition (263). Mendelssohn was historical rather than historicist in his approach to the Bible. History placed the Jews in proximity to the Bible and their traditions led back to the actual events of the Bible. Thus the Jews had a closeness and direct witness that was mediated by such tools as the accents of the masoretic text. But such interpretive acts, rather than guaranteeing the adherence to a literalist oral tradition as Mendelssohn saw it, were the very sources of corruption of the Bible for J. G. Eichhorn's historico-critical school. Mendelssohn remained fixed in theological Wolffianism and found himself at odds with figures such as Eichhorn and J. D. Michaelis.

For Klenner history is also crucial in the realm of political theory. Mendelssohn differed from Kant in seeing history as a process of perfection of the individual rather than the whole of society: History reveals peoples and societies to waver between vice and virtue, joy and despair, religion and atheism, and levels of morality; rather than finding themselves on a relentless march to social perfection, as Lessing and Kant saw history.

Gawlick discusses a hitherto unexamined reaction to Mendelssohn's Phädon, that was missed most likely because it appeared in collection of articles edited by C. F. Bahrdt. The repudiation of Mendelssohn's ideas on life after death in particular serves Bahrdt's purpose of mounting a more general defence of tolerance amongst Christians while attacking deism. Mendelssohn's suggestion that happiness is achieved by contemplating God's creation is dismissed as only leading to a jealous hybris in people. Indeed, so well does this fit Bahrdt's programme that Gawlick suggests he would be the most likely candidate as author of this particular anti-Phädon.

The more specifically philosophical papers in this collection show Mendelssohn's attachment to reason. Albrecht carefully examines how Mendelssohn develops his ideas regarding the dissonance between knowing and willing over the course of many decades. Von der Lühe shows Mendelssohn revivifying reason by using probability to justify induction and thus make metaphysics an objective science. The latter question was at the forefront of discussions for many of the entries to the 1763 competition. The at least 30 entries ranged from Mendelssohn's rational defence of metaphysics to attacks on the Prussian Academy for asking such a question that could only support humankind's sceptical hybris.

The polymath Mendelssohn was not only acknowledged by his contemporaries as a "scharfsinnige[r] Mathematiker" as Lausch points out (119), but he also attempted to resolve the conflict between the affective power of music and rationality (Lütteken 162, with a select bibliography on Berlin 1745-86; 184-192). The breadth of Mendelssohn's activity is best summed up by Engel's examination of his activity as a reviewer who furthered learning in Germany in such varied fields, making a lasting impact in philosophy, literature, drama, language (see also Ricken) and aesthetics.