Aesthetic Philosophy (He Used to Mate Ideas of the Most Alien Sorts) (Moses Mendelssohn)


Poking fun at Jacobi, Mendelssohn addressed these words to the friends of Lessing about his friend, “Whenever the fancy struck, [Lessing] used to mate ideas of the most alien sort, just to see what they would generate in the way of offspring. Through this unplanned, random interbreeding of ideas there occasionally arose some quite strange musings, which he knew how to put to good use at a later date. Most of the ideas, however, quickly revealed themselves to be rely strange vagaries that are best suited to serve as diverting entertainments to accompany a cup of coffee…Such are his notions of the world soul, of the entelechies of Leibniz that are supposed to be mere effects of the body, his meteorological machinations, his endless boredom, and other such bursts of thought that flare up in an instant, crackle, and then disappear” (Moses Mendelssohn, To the Friends of Lessing, p. 164, translated by Bruce Rosenstock).

I doubt whether these words aid in resolving the pantheism dispute. My interest in them here has more to do with the exuberance of intellectual experimentation, the creation of hybrid thoughts, the random playfulness of ideas, their loose relation to the truth, and the sudden appearance and disappearance of a fancy or fanciful notion in time. As for Mendelssohn himself, as a Jew, he claims not to need the “honorable retreat under the banner of faith” that Jacobi recommended to Lessing. Remaining with “my Jewish infidelity,” his faith as trust and confidence, Mendelssohn’s fascination with hybrid-monsters stands against the “angel-pure mouth” of Lavater’s form of Christian faith (p.175). In death, Mendelssohn hoped that Lessing could now enjoy the company of outcasts without fear of being bored, the embrace of men, who like him, “trusted a little bit in reason” (p.176)

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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