- Werke, and: Vol. 1, Schriften zum Spinozastreit (1998), and: Vol. 2, Schriften zum transzendentalen Idealismus (2004), and: Vol. 3, Schriften zum Streit um die göttlichen Dinge und ihre Offenbarung (2000)
The new critical Jacobi Werke Ausgabe (JWA), accompanied by four volumes of the still incomplete Briefwechsel (in progress at Frommann-Holzboog Publishers since 1981), is a masterpiece of research on Jacobi, early German Idealism and early Romanticism. Now [End Page 491] available are Volumes I, II and III. Volume I (1998) carries the title Schriften zum Spinozastreit and contains Jacobi's Spinozabriefe in the three editions of 1785, 1789, and 1819, Wider Mendelssohns Beschuldigungen of 1786, and the Vorbericht (Preface) of the third edition of the Spinozabriefe of 1819. The running text of all writings contains all editions, variant readings clearly identifiable with page references in the margins, subscripted to identify the various editions. This method enables the identification of various disputes which Jacobi provoked and in which his writings played a role. The Anhang, appendix, to all texts contains a) a list of abbreviations, and b) the editorial principles used and also a description of the circumstances leading to the writing of the texts. But the bulk of the Anhang of each volume is c) the "Kommentar," the commentary. It provides the key to the highly nuanced and, without guidance, the often cryptic allusions and references of Jacobi's texts. This commentary (separately bound in Volumes I and II) really brings Jacobi's work to life. The end of the Anhang contains d) a bibliography of all works mentioned not only by Jacobi himself but also emerging in the literary debate unlocked by the commentary, as well as e) an extensive index of names. Volume II (2004) is Schriften zur Transzendentalphilosophie, and contains David Hume of 1787, the Sendschreiben an Fichte, Ueberflüssiges Taschenbuch, both of 1799, and other essays such as Three Letters to Köppen of 1803. Volume III (2000) is Schriften zum Streit um die Göttlichen Dinge and contains mainly the famous essay Von den Göttlichen Dingen of 1811 plus three other writings. This book deals with the controversy between Schelling and Jacobi while both were at Munich. Other major works of Jacobi, such as the novel Allwill, are to follow in later volumes.
This critical edition of Fr. H. Jacobi (1743–1819) definitively revises the standard interpretation of the man and his work. The standard interpretation (advocated by such figures as Fr. Schlegel, Moses Mendelssohn, and H. Heine) views his thought as promoting irrationalism, specifically a religious irrationalism of faith, taking form in "personalism." Heine spoke of Jacobi as a "whiney old biddy." Fr. Schlegel characterized Jacobi's salto mortale as the "leap into the arms of divine mercy," promoting an irrational "philosophical non-philosophy" (KFSA XVIII 13, Nr. 101). Schlegel criticized Jacobi at the very end of in his Woldemar Review of 1796 thus: "So (Jacobi's) Woldemar is really an invitation to meet God . . ., and (his) theological masterpiece ends, as do all moral excesses, with a salto mortale . . . into the abyss of divine mercy" (Früher Idealismus und Frühromantik PlS I.1, ed. W. Jaeschke [Hbg: Meiner, 1995], 270). Carl Philipp Moritz credited Jacobi with "fanaticism and superstition."
In contrast, Jacobi himself was quite critical of this characterization of his thought, especially in the Sendschreiben of 1799, and earlier in his Briefe. Jacobi already in 1786 thought it was "outrageous" for Mendelssohn to suggest he surrenders a philosophy of reason in favor of the Christian faith, or worse. He addresses this problem, which is still today the dominant view of the "irrationality" of his "leap," with admirable clarity in his letter to Neeb of May 30, 1817: "I do not at all advocate a head-first...