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Last Works

Last Works

Translated, with an Introduction and Commentary, by Bruce Rosenstock
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Last Works
    Book Description:

    Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) was the central figure in the emancipation of European Jewry. His intellect, judgment, and tact won the admiration and friendship of contemporaries as illustrious as Johann Gottfried Herder, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and Immanuel Kant. His enormously influential Jerusalem (1783) made the case for religious tolerance, a cause he worked for all his life._x000B__x000B_Last Works includes, for the first time complete and in a single volume, the English translation of Morning Hours: Lectures on the Existence of God (1785) and To the Friends of Lessing (1786). Bruce Rosenstock has also provided a historical introduction and an extensive philosophical commentary to both texts. _x000B__x000B_At the center of Mendelssohn's last works is his friendship with Lessing. Mendelssohn hoped to show that he, a Torah-observant Jew, and Lessing, Germany's leading dramatist, had forged a life-long friendship that held out the promise of a tolerant and enlightened culture in which religious strife would be a thing of the past._x000B__x000B_Lessing's death in 1781 was a severe blow to Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn wrote his last two works to commemorate Lessing and to carry on the work to which they had dedicated much of their lives. Morning Hours treats a range of major philosophical topics: the nature of truth, the foundations of human knowledge, the basis of our moral and aesthetic powers of judgment, the reality of the external world, and the grounds for a rational faith in a providential deity. It is also a key text for Mendelssohn's readings of Spinoza. In To the Friends of Lessing, Mendelssohn attempts to unmask the individual whom he believes to be the real enemy of the enlightened state: the Schwärmer, the religious fanatic who rejects reason in favor of belief in suprarational revelation.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09399-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction to the Translation
    (pp. ix-xxxvi)

    On February 15, 1781, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing died at the age of fifty-two. The two final works of Moses Mendelssohn’s career,Morgenstunden (Morning Hours,1785) andAn die Freunde Lessings(To the Friends of Lessing,1786), were written in the long shadow cast by this death over the remaining years of Mendelssohn’s life.¹ “The death of this friend with whom, one could say, I felt I had come to share my life has struck a deep wound in my heart,” Mendelssohn confessed, just one month after Lessing’s death, in a letter to Johann Gottfried Herder.² Two months later, Mendelssohn informed...

  2. Notes on the Translation
    (pp. xxxvii-xxxviii)
  3. Morning Hours or, Lectures on the Existence of God

    • Preliminary Remarks
      (pp. 3-6)

      1 The following reflections about the existence of God are the end result of much reading and pondering. The study of this subject had long been an important one for me. But during the past twelve to fifteen years I have found myself, due to a grave impairment, quite incapable of making any further headway in this study. A certain weakness of nerves has forbidden me during all this time to make any intellectual exertion, although I have found it more difficult to penetrate other people’s thoughts than to pursue my own. This strikes my doctors as somewhat peculiar. The...


    • LECTURE I What Is Truth?
      (pp. 9-15)

      1 My dear friends! When we set out to search for the truth, we thereby assume that the truth may be found, and that there exist secure marks whereby to distinguish it from untruth. We have therefore first of all to answer these questions: (1) What is truth? (2) By what marks will we distinguish it from appearance and falsehood?

      2 Whoever does not speak differently than he thinks tells the truth. Truth-telling is therefore the correspondence between our words and our thoughts, between signs and the things they signify. [6] Now, since our thoughts are in a certain way...

    • LECTURE II Cause. Effect. Ground. Power.
      (pp. 16-24)

      1 I am going to push on with my effort to track down the first source of our knowledge of actual things, even if I risk exhausting you all with these hairsplitting exercises. At least once in the course of one’s life one needs to gather up all the subtleties that one can into one neat pile and then sweep them out of doors if one wants to escape the coils of sophistry. We have seen that the frequent succession of two appearances gives us warrant to suspect that they are joined together. We call the antecedent appearance the “cause,”...

    • LECTURE III Self-Evidence—Immediate Knowledge. Rational Knowledge—Natural Knowledge.
      (pp. 25-30)

      1 We are now coming closer to our two guiding questions: What is truth? And, how can we assure ourselves that we have actually gotten hold of it?

      2 The sum of our knowledge can be divided into three classes: (1) Sensory knowledge, or the direct awareness we have of changes that transpire within us when we see, hear, feel, and so forth; or when we experience pleasure or pain; or when we have a desire for or aversion to something; or when we judge, conclude, hope, fear, and so on. All of this I place in the column of...

    • LECTURE IV Truth and Illusion.
      (pp. 31-37)

      1 As I was coming up the staircase now, it seemed from all the shouting that you, my dearest friends, had gotten yourselves involved in some kind of altercation. Can you return your daggers to their sheaths and put your dispute on hold for now, or is the battle related somehow to the subject of our morning conversations?

      2 “You know,” J. answered, “that during these hours, as Pope says, we ‘leave all meaner things to low ambition and the pride of kings,’¹ and we begin each day with such thoughts as concern us more closely.” “That is how an...

    • LECTURE V Existence. Waking. Dreams. Delusion.
      (pp. 38-43)

      1 When the poet returns to his dear mother earth, his homeland, from the borderless kingdom of his poetic imagination after he has rambled there long enough, he lifts his voice in song: “Hail to you, my maternal land, I see you again, my earth!”¹ We likewise have returned from a similar journey to a land of possibilities and ideas back to this actual life in which we find ourselves more comfortably at home. We might also lift our voices in a similar song and continue on our way with confidence and courage if the skeptics had not done their...

    • LECTURE VI The Connection of Our Ideas. Idealism.
      (pp. 44-50)

      1 Aren’t metaphysicians, in fact, a strange lot? That’s the question that many a person who saw us now would likely be prompted to ask. They deny themselves the pleasures of morning sleep, perhaps even interrupting the most delightful morning dream, in order to meet here under a linden tree in the hope of discovering the important truth that sleeping is not waking and waking is not a dream state—a truth that is as well known to every child in the bosom of his nurse as it is to them. However comical this may be, like everything comical, as...

    • LECTURE VII Continuation. Quarrel of Idealists with the Dualists. Truth Drive and Approbation Drive.
      (pp. 51-58)

      1 In the last lecture I tried to bring clarity to the quarrel between idealists and dualists and to show you how in the end this quarrel hangs on a very fine distinction. The advocate of idealism holds all the phenomena of our senses to be accidents of the human spirit [Geist], and he does not believe that outside the spirit one can find a material original in which these accidents have correlated attributes. On the other hand, the dualist says: “I find that in these sensory phenomena, which you call accidents of the spirit, there exists so much agreement...


    • LECTURE VIII Introduction. Importance of the Investigation. On the Principle of Basedow’s Principle of the Duty to Believe. Axioms.
      (pp. 61-67)

      1 As I stride closer to the goal now, dear children and fellow researchers of the truth, and as I prepare to investigate with you the subject of God and His attributes, I find myself in a dilemma, which, if I am to follow the precedent of our previous dealings, I cannot conceal from you. The dilemma is this: shall I share with you how deeply I feel about the importance of this subject and the influence it can have on the happiness and the peace of humanity? In all honesty, for me, were I to lose the sureness of...

    • LECTURE IX Certainty of the Pure and Applied Doctrine of Magnitudes. Comparison with the Certainty of the Proof of the Existence of God. Various Methods for Such a Proof.
      (pp. 68-71)

      1 Pure mathematics demonstrates its claims without the aid of experience or of sensory cognition, merely by the laws of thought, or, as philosophers commonly say, a priori. The cogency of the proofs of mathematics is based on the explication of concepts. One dissects the conceptAand finds the necessary connection of its properties with the concept of the predicateB. This yields the asseverative propositionA is B;their incompatibility with the concept yields the negative propositionA is not B. But both propositions assert nothing more than a connection between concepts, ideal entities, that is explicated according...

    • LECTURE X Allegorical Dream. Reason and Common Sense. Proofs of the Existence of God, According to the System of the Idealists, Based on Our Own Existence. Also Possibly Based on the Ideal Existence of an Objective Sense-World.
      (pp. 72-78)

      1 The reflections concerning reason and common sense with which I ended yesterday’s lecture got entangled in my head with a story about a trip to the Swiss Alps that our guests entertained us with last evening. Reflections and story formed themselves in my imagination into a dream that has an almost allegorical meaning. We were traveling together in the Alps, and we had two guides, one male, the other female. He, a sturdy Swiss youth, strong of limb but not possessed of the most refined intellect; and she, tall and thin, earnest, with an inward-looking gaze and a dreamy,...

    • LECTURE XI Epicureanism. Luck. Coincidence. Number of Causes and Effects, without End, with No Beginning. Progress to Infinity, Forward and Backward. Timelessness, without Beginning, without End, and without Forward Progress.
      (pp. 79-83)

      1 A changeable, contingent thing is something that one can conceive differently. For any change one can conceive it undergoing, one can conceive it not undergoing that same change. Both propositions contain the same truth value. In our thoughts we can assert contrary predicates of the same subject.A is B, andA is not B: both propositions can be true or come to be true, although not at a time and asserted of the same subject. But if each of these propositions contains exactly the same ideal truth value, how can they ever achieve actuality? What splits the difference...

    • LECTURE XII Sufficient Reason Grounding the Contingent in the Necessary. The Former Is Somewhere and Sometime, the Latter Is Everywhere and Always. The Former Is Only in Relation to Space and Time, the Latter Is Absolutely the Best and Most Perfect. Everything That Exists Is the Best. All Thoughts Belonging to God, insofar as They Have the Best as Their Goal, Achieve Actuality.
      (pp. 84-91)

      1 Without assuming the impossibility of a beginningless series, as I said in the final remarks of my lecture yesterday, some philosophers have argued for the existence of that which is necessary and unchanging from the existence of that which is contingent. This argument proceeds rather successfully. By virtue of the sixth principle that we laid out in our propaedeutic lectures, one can truly assert of a subjectAthat it possesses actual existence only insofar as it has some connection with this predicate, either because it cannot be conceived except as having actual existence, or because under certain circumstances...

    • LECTURE XIII Spinozism. Pantheism. All Is One and One Is All. Refutation.
      (pp. 92-100)

      1 The Spinozists claim that neither we ourselves nor the sensory world outside of us are things that exist independently and by themselves, but rather they are mere modifications of the infinite substance. No thought belonging to the infinite could attain actuality outside of the infinite and separated from its being, because there is only one substance with infinite power of thought and infinite extension. God, says the Spinozist, is the only necessary and also the only possible substance; everything else neither lives, nor moves, nor exists outside of God, but is a modification of the divine being.

      One is...

    • LECTURE XIV Continued Quarrel with the Pantheists. Convergence, Point of Union with Them. Innocuousness of Purified Pantheism, Compatibility with Religion and Morality, insofar as They Are Practical.
      (pp. 101-109)

      1 “Not so quickly,” my friend Lessing would have broken in had he been present at our last lecture, “you people are still far from your goal, and you shout victory before your triumph has been secured. Even if all the points were correct that you brought against Spinoza, you would in the end have only defeated Spinoza, but you would not have refuted Spinozism. You would have shown that the system of this philosopher has its shortcomings and gaps just like any other system that has ever sprung from the mind of a mortal, and that the philosopher himself...

    • LECTURE XV Lessing. His Service to the Religion of Reason. His Thoughts Concerning Purified Pantheism.
      (pp. 110-119)

      1 Our friend D., who surprised us with his visit the last time we were together, did not finally bid me farewell until he had raised a number of objections against what I had said. “What is it,” he said, “that makes you turn our Lessing into a defender of so erroneous and ill-reputed a doctrine? Had you no other name to which you could attach this whole unsavory business?” “You know,” I replied, “that Lessing was always the first to come to mind whenever I looked about for a judge in such matters. With him I had a long...

    • LECTURE XVI Explanation of the Concepts of Necessity, Randomness, Independence, and Dependence. Attempt at a New Proof for the Existence of God from the Incompleteness of Self-Knowledge.
      (pp. 120-128)

      1 If one demonstrates that a certain thing actually exists, the possibility of its existence is forthwith established. Everything that is actual must also be able to be conceived. Now, we had to admit that a contingent, dependent being exists, for our own existence is of the highest certainty, the consciousness of our limitedness is evident beyond all dispute. We also had to admit that something that is dependent is inconceivable in the absence of something independent, and it therefore has no possibility of existing in its absence, and thus we were forced to admit the actuality of a necessary,...

    • LECTURE XVII A priori Grounds for Proof of the Existence of a Most Perfect, Necessary, Independent Being.
      (pp. 129-138)

      1 The concept of that which is necessary, as it was developed in the last lecture, could easily lead an audacious thinker such as Descartes to embark on the trail of discovering an a priori proof for the existence of such a being. If it is indeed true that the actuality of this being depends only on its possibility, and if there is a firmly established route by which to travel from the conceivability of that which is necessary to its actual existence, perhaps it is within the power of human reason to discover this route and thereby to break...

  6. To the Friends of Lessing A Supplement to Mr. Jacobi’s Correspondence Concerning the Doctrine of Spinoza 1786
    (pp. 139-176)

    1 [iii] My late friend entrusted to me the task of bringing this work to press, just as he did with hisMorning Hours.How can I surrender it to the world without at least saying a word about the magnitude of my loss and the pain within my heart?¹

    2 How great a loss Mendelssohn’s death means to scholarship, philosophy, and German literature is known to everyone for whom these things are important, but it hardly compares with the irreplaceable loss sustained by his friends! [iv] What the world was able to see of this man was the least...