Lessing and the Enlightenment

His Philosophy of Religion and Its Relation to Eighteenth-Century Thought

By Henry E. Allison

Subjects: Philosophy Of Religion, Philosophy, History Of Philosophy, German Studies, Religion
Paperback : 9781438468020, 250 pages, February 2018
Hardcover : 9781438468037, 250 pages, February 2018

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Table of contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition

1. The Historical Background
I. English Rational Theology and Deism
II. Pierre Bayle and the Enlightenment
III. Leibniz and the German Aufklärung

2. Lessing's Philosophical and Theological Development
I. The First Period—1748–55
II. The Second Period—1755–60
III. The Breslau Years—1760–65

3. Lessing versus the Theologians
I. Lessing versus Neology
II. Lessing and Reimarus
III. Reactions to the Fragments
IV. Goeze's Attack
V. Lessing's Counterattack

4. Lessing's Philosophy of Religion and Its Leibnizian Roots
I. The Problem
II. The Solution
III. The Exemplification

Appendix A. Lessing's Conception of Revelation as Education
Appendix B. Lessing's Spinozistic Exercises

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 Beyond these, his correspondence, and a few fragmentary essays unpublished during his lifetime, we have his famous drama of religious toleration, Nathan the Wise, and his philosophical-historical sketch, The Education of the Human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.

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.