Lessing and the Enlightenment: His Philosophy of Religion and Its Relation to Eighteenth-Century Thought

SUNY Press
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 A comprehensive study of Lessing’s religious thought.
Although only one aspect of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s diverse oeuvre, his religious thought had a significant influence on thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and present-day liberal Protestant theologians. His thought is particularly difficult to assess, however, because it is found largely in a series of essays, reviews, critical studies, polemical writings, and commentary on theological texts. Beyond these, his correspondence, and a few fragmentary essays unpublished during his lifetime, we have his famous drama of religious toleration, Nathan the Wise, and his philosophical-historical sketch, The Education of the Human Race. In these scattered texts, Lessing challenged the full range of theological views in the Enlightenment, from Protestant orthodoxy, with its belief in Biblical inerrancy, to a radical naturalism, which rejected both the concept of a divine revelation and the historically based claims of Christianity to be one, as well as virtually everything in between. Since he refused to identify himself with any of these parties, Lessing was an enigmatic figure, and a central question from his time to today is where he stood on the issue of the truth of the Christian religion. Now back in print, and with the addition of two supplementary essays, Henry E. Allison’s book argues that, despite appearances, Lessing was not merely an eclectic thinker or intellectual provocateur, but a serious philosopher of religion, who combined a basically Spinozistic conception of God with a sophisticated pluralistic conception of religious truth inspired by Leibniz.
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About the author

 Henry E. Allison is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego and Boston University. He is the author and editor of many books, including Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: An Analytical-Historical Commentary and Essays on Kant.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 2018
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Pages
250
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ISBN
9781438468044
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Language
English
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Henry Allison examines the central tenets of Hume's epistemology and cognitive psychology, as contained in the Treatise of Human Nature. Allison takes a distinctive two-level approach. On the one hand, he considers Hume's thought in its own terms and historical context. So considered, Hume is viewed as a naturalist, whose project in the first three parts of the first book of the Treatise is to provide an account of the operation of the understanding in which reason is subordinated to custom and other non-rational propensities. Scepticism arises in the fourth part as a form of metascepticism, directed not against first-order beliefs, but against philosophical attempts to ground these beliefs in the "space of reasons." On the other hand, Allison provides a critique of these tenets from a Kantian perspective. This involves a comparison of the two thinkers on a range of issues, including space and time, causation, existence, induction, and the self. In each case, the issue is seen to turn on a contrast between their underlying models of cognition. Hume is committed to a version of the perceptual model, according to which the paradigm of knowledge is a seeing with the "mind's eye" of the relation between mental contents. By contrast, Kant appeals to a discursive model in which the fundamental cognitive act is judgment, understood as the application of concepts to sensory data, Whereas regarded from the first point of view, Hume's account is deemed a major philosophical achievement, seen from the second it suffers from a failure to develop an adequate account of concepts and judgment.
Henry Allison examines the central tenets of Hume's epistemology and cognitive psychology, as contained in the Treatise of Human Nature. Allison takes a distinctive two-level approach. On the one hand, he considers Hume's thought in its own terms and historical context. So considered, Hume is viewed as a naturalist, whose project in the first three parts of the first book of the Treatise is to provide an account of the operation of the understanding in which reason is subordinated to custom and other non-rational propensities. Scepticism arises in the fourth part as a form of metascepticism, directed not against first-order beliefs, but against philosophical attempts to ground these beliefs in the "space of reasons." On the other hand, Allison provides a critique of these tenets from a Kantian perspective. This involves a comparison of the two thinkers on a range of issues, including space and time, causation, existence, induction, and the self. In each case, the issue is seen to turn on a contrast between their underlying models of cognition. Hume is committed to a version of the perceptual model, according to which the paradigm of knowledge is a seeing with the "mind's eye" of the relation between mental contents. By contrast, Kant appeals to a discursive model in which the fundamental cognitive act is judgment, understood as the application of concepts to sensory data, Whereas regarded from the first point of view, Hume's account is deemed a major philosophical achievement, seen from the second it suffers from a failure to develop an adequate account of concepts and judgment.
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