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[First Hebrew Ed.] Moses Mendelssohn
This listing is an independent item not part of any collection
First Hebrew edition. , 52 ff., 180:110 mm., wide margins, usual light age staining. A very good copy loose in the original paper wrappers. rare - no copy in most major collections.
Phaedon, Mendelssohn's chief philosophical work. It addresses the question of the immortality of the soul and is modeled on Plato's dialogue of the same name. As early as 1760 Mendelssohn had expressed the wish to translate and rewrite Plato's text in the light of modern psychology. He was encouraged in this project by his correspondence with Thomas Abbt (1738–1760), a professor at the University of Frankfort, about the destiny of man and the soul and its fate after death. Mendelssohn develops his thesis along Leibnizian lines: An infinite number of souls or monads constitutes the inner substance of the universe. Things that perish do not cease to exist; they are dissolved into their elements. The soul must be such an element or substance, rather than a compound, since it is the soul which imposes a unifying pattern on the diverse and changing elements of the body. Hence it is neither weakened by age nor destroyed by death. However, this line of argument demonstrates only that the soul is imperishable but not that it will retain its consciousness in a future state. That it will possess its consciousness is guaranteed by the goodness of God, who has implanted in man the idea that his soul is immortal. To assume that this notion is deceptive would be incompatible with God's goodness and justice. "If our souls were mortal, reason would be a dream.... We would be like animals destined only to seek food and to perish." Mendelssohn's belief in the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, though developed as doctrines of the universal religion of reason, are in harmony with the dominant views of Jewish tradition. He differs from Jewish tradition, however, in his conception of free will. Inasmuch as every act of will must have a cause or motive, human freedom, if defined as an uncaused act, is logically impossible. Man's will can be free only in the sense that it is determined or aroused by a recognition of the good. But if man is not truly free, the sinner cannot be responsible for his misdeeds; why then should he be punished? Mendelssohn answers that divine retribution is not an end in itself; it is the means of purging the sinner to prepare him for life in the world to come. Divine justice is superseded by divine goodness, which never excludes man permanently from the bliss of eternal life. Mendelssohn's general philosophical position was soon challenged by Kant and his successors, whose critical idealism negated the presuppositions of the Enlightenment philosophy.
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