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In Defense of Orthodoxy: Lessing Between Spinoza and Maimonides

Watling, Daniel
Format
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Author
Watling, Daniel
Advisor
Biemann, Asher
Jones, Paul
Abstract
G. E. Lessing’s later theological writings have long been understood as a precursor to the German historicist philosophies prevalent throughout the 19th century. In this essay, I attempt to unearth the ironical features of essays such as "The Education of the Human Race" and "A Rejoinder" in order to highlight Lessing’s open-mindedness towards revealed religion. Rather than interpreting Lessing’s work as indicative of a project whereby he assimilates Judaism and Christianity into an outline of Europe’s historical progression towards secularism, I argue that the agnostic Lessing revisits the writings of Benedict de Spinoza and Moses Maimonides for the purpose of offering Christian orthodoxy a sound defense of religion against Enlightenment philosophy and biblical criticism. In remaining open to the possibility of revealed religion, Lessing’s arguments in favor of religion allow him to point to the limitations of human reason, as well as to underscore the shortcomings of Enlightenment philosophy. Furthermore, I wish to demonstrate Lessing’s importance for contemporary scholarship by tracing the influence of his theological essays on major 20th century thinkers, such as Hermann Cohen, Karl Barth, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Leo Strauss.
Language
English
Published
University of Virginia, Department of Religious Studies, M.A., 2014
Published Date
2014-04-15
Degree
M.A.
Collection
Libra ETD Repository
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