God is Good
God is Good
The Harmony between Judaism and Enlightenment Philosophy
This chapter explores Mendelssohn's early thought. While Frederick the Great's enlightened absolutism should have presented Jews with greater opportunities for social advancement and equal rights, this was stymied by Frederick's adherence to medieval stereotypes of Jews as superstitious and unethical. Addressing Jewish contemporaries, Mendelssohn uses Maimonides' authority to legitimate cultural pursuits outside of Judaism. But Mendelssohn is disturbed by Maimonides' ambivalent attitude towards central theistic concepts such as divine providence and the immortality of the soul. While Maimonides is the greatest medieval Jewish philosopher, Spinoza is the greatest modern Jewish philosopher. Addressing his Christian contemporaries, Mendelssohn defends Spinoza as a model of Jewish cultural attainment. While Mendelssohn rejects Spinoza's atheism, he claims that Spinoza made crucial contributions to the enlightened theism of the German philosophers Leibniz and Wolff who advanced religious philosophy beyond its medieval forms by philosophically grounding Judaism's fundamental insight into God's providential goodness.
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