The Problem of the Enlightenment: Strauss, Jacobi, and the Pantheism Controversy

By Janssens, David | The Review of Metaphysics, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Problem of the Enlightenment: Strauss, Jacobi, and the Pantheism Controversy


Janssens, David, The Review of Metaphysics


Denn was die Philosophen sogar ein wenig nachsehend und parteiisch gegen Enthusiasten und Schwarmer macht, ist, dass sie, die Philosophen, am allermeisten dabei verlieren wurden, wenn es gar keine Enthusiasten und Schwarmer mehr gabe. Lessing, Uber eine zeitige Aufgabe

I

IN HIS FIRST BOOK, LEO STRAUSS PROVIDES the reader with an interesting clue to one of the sources of his groundbreaking critical study of the Theological-Political Treatise. While identifying the guiding question of his undertaking, he also points out its pedigree:

   Even if all the reasoning adduced by Spinoza were compelling,
   nothing
   would have been proven. Only this much would have been proven: that
   on the basis of unbelieving science, one could not but arrive at
   Spinoza's
   results. But would this basis itself thus be justified? It was
   Friedrich
   Heinrich Jacobi who posed this question, and by so doing lifted the
   interpretation
   of Spinoza--or what amounts to the same thing--the criticism
   of Spinoza on to its proper plane. (1)

This statement is both literally and figuratively singular: the only reference to Jacobi in the whole book, unaccompanied by any mention of its source, it makes us wonder about the importance of this author for Strauss's endeavour. A renowned critic of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) singled out Spinoza as one of the main targets of his attacks. (2) Similarly, in Spinoza's Critique of Religion, Strauss casts doubt on the legitimacy of Spinoza's attack against revealed religion, thereby also questioning the foundations of the Enlightenment. In a discerning review of the book, his contemporary Gerhard Kruger noted that in Spinoza's Critique of Religion, "there is concealed a fundamental philosophic discussion of the problem of the Enlightenment." (3) If this interpretation is sound, then from a merely formal point of view the procedure followed by Strauss closely resembles that of Jacobi: to address the problem of the Enlightenment by means of a critical assessment of Spinoza. (4)

However, even if Strauss's critique of Spinoza may be said to take its cue from Jacobi, it is not clear whether the latter's influence reaches beyond this initial impulse, nor is it clear to what extent. Recently it has been suggested not only that Spinoza's Critique of Religion is "by its own account, `Jacobian' in orientation," but also that "the Jacobian dilemma and the critique of rationalism [remained] fundamental for Strauss's perspective" throughout his career. (5) Moreover, these assumptions carry an implicit criticism, to the extent that Strauss may be said to be heir to the irrationalism, conservatism, and authoritarianism attributed to the anti-Enlightenment with which Jacobi is commonly associated. (6) This paper will attempt to show that such assessments are in need of qualification. It will be argued that even if a certain affinity between Strauss and Jacobi can be shown to exist, this affinity is far more complex than it seems.

In order to bring out this complexity, a closer look will be taken at those writings in which Strauss discusses Jacobi. To begin, there is his doctoral dissertation, which, although he later disparaged it as "a disgraceful performance," nevertheless merits closer investigation. (7) A comprehensive account, moreover, must broaden the inquiry. After the completion of Spinoza's Critique of Religion, Strauss worked as a coeditor of the Jubilee Edition of Moses Mendelssohn's collected works. As a part of this employment, he conducted research into the so-called Pantheism Controversy. This debate was launched by Jacobi, with Moses Mendelssohn as its principal addressee, and initially concerned the philosophical legacy of the thinker and writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. However, it soon developed into a full-blown debate concerning the foundations and the legitimacy of the Enlightenment, involving such prominent contemporaries as Johann Georg Hamann, Immanuel Kant, Karl Reinhold, and Johann Gottfried Herder. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Problem of the Enlightenment: Strauss, Jacobi, and the Pantheism Controversy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.