What God Does Not Possess: Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of Imperfection

In: The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy

Abstract

This paper proposes that Moses Mendelssohn’s Morning Hours be viewed as the final chapter in a philosophy of imperfection that Mendelssohn had been developing over the course of his life. It is further argued that this philosophy of imperfection is still of philosophical interest. After demonstrating that the concept of imperfection animates Mendelssohn’s early work, this paper turns towards the specific arguments about imperfection Mendelssohn made in the midst of the pantheism controversy—in particular, the claim that human imperfection attests to an independent existence. Simply put: God knows human imperfection, but does not possess it. Therefore, there is a sense in which humans, because of our imperfections, are distinct from God. It is shown that, at least in part, Mendelssohn’s entry into the pantheism controversy, and his willingness to engage even his recently departed friend Lessing in argument, is part of his strategy to preserve his philosophy of imperfection.

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