The Spinozan-Wolffian Philosophy? Mendelssohn’s Philosophical Dialogues of 1755

Kant-Studien 109 (2):251-269 (2018)
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Abstract
: Mendelssohn’s Philosophische Gespräche, first published in 1755, represents his first philosophical work in German and rather surprisingly for a debut, in the first two dialogues of that work Mendelssohn attempts nothing less than a defense of the legacy of the most controversial philosopher of his day, Benedict de Spinoza. In this paper, I attempt to enlarge the context, and if possible to raise the stakes, of Mendelssohn’s discussion in order to bring out what I take to be a much more ambitious project on Mendelssohn’s part, namely, not only the rehabilitation of a fellow Jewish thinker but also the rehabilitation of metaphysics as such by means of a thorough accounting of the Spinozan elements in the Wolffian philosophy. As I will show, framing the project of the Gespräche too narrowly is responsible for obscuring much of what I take to be most original and insightful in Mendelssohn’s use and interpretation of Wolff’s thought, as well as his ultimate purpose in resolving what he regarded as an ongoing crisis in metaphysics that is responsible to no small extent for its widespread neglect.
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First archival date: 2017-12-09
Latest version: 2 (2017-12-20)
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