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Hume Studies Volume XXI, Number 2, November 1995, pp. 197-220 David Hume and Moses Mendelssohn MANFRED KUEHN Moses Mendelssohn was one of the most important German philosophers of the late German enlightenment.1 Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that he was one of the dominant forces on the German philosophical scene between 1755 and 1785. Especially his work in aesthetic theory and on the nature and role of sensibility was very influential, and it would be difficult to evaluate the development of German thought from Wolffian rationalism to Kantian idealism without paying close attention to Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn's exposed position gives special significance to his view on David Hume's philosophical importance. His voice carried great weight. Accordingly, whatever he had to say about Hume would certainly not only have been heard by other German philosophers, but it would certainly also have been taken very seriously. If only for this reason, it would be rather odd if what has recently been argued by Lothar Kreimendahl and Günter Gawlick were true, namely that Mendelssohn's view of Hume was "one of the few exceptions" among the Germans. Whereas most others dismissed Hume as a philosopher, he was genuinely interested in Hume's philosophical views.2 Yet, to say that Mendelssohn was an exception also means to say that his view on Hume was not influential. We would therefore need an explanation as to why he failed to have any effect in this particular case. Either his view of Hume's philosophy was rather different from the one assigned to him, or there must have been special circumstances that explain why his views on Hume's significance were not heard. Manfred Kuehn is at the Department of Philosophy, Purdue University, West Lafayette IN 47907-1360 USA. e-mail: kuehn@mentor.cc.purdue.edu 198 Manfred Kuehn I would like in this paper to investigate Mendelssohn's view of the nature of Hume's problem—at least in part—in order to show that Mendelssohn was not an exception in the way in which Kreimendahl and Gawlick view it. In particular, I shall argue that he did not take Hume seriously as a philosopher. Though his arguments are not without philosophical interest for a better understanding of Hume, they are entirely determined by his Leibniz-Wolffian background. It is true that Mendelssohn did not view Hume as an entirely negative skeptic and that he had a great deal of sympathy for Hume's analysis of causality. However, he appreciated Hume's view only in so far as he also thought that it was compatible with that of Leibniz. And he therefore also held that Hume had nothing to tell to the Germans that was both new and oÃ- philosophical significance. While Mendelssohn considered some of Hume's psychological investigations as important and interesting, he thought little of his philosophical theory. To show this, I shall first briefly characterize Mendelssohn's general philosophical intentions and the historical background against which his philosophy must be seen. Secondly, I shall discuss two of the most characteristic reactions Mendelssohn had to Hume, namely (i) a rather critical discussion of Hume's objections to induction in his paper "On Probability" and (ii) a rather uncritical use he makes of Hume's theory of association in attempting to refute Rousseau. Thirdly, I shall attempt to evaluate the significance Hume had for Mendelssohn, and finally I would like to raise the question as to whether Mendelssohn's view of the relationship between Leibnizian and Humean philosophy raises a real problem for Hume. Why Was Hume Important to Mendelssohn? It would be wrong to think that Mendelssohn was a radical innovator in philosophy. He was not important because he overturned traditional Wolffianism and revolutionized German philosophy. He was clearly not inclined to revolutionary activities of any kind. In fact, today he is often considered as one of the most important "neo-Wolffians." This group of philosophers represented perhaps the most conservative group of German philosophers during the period.3 Like Wolff, they believed not only that reason was the most fundamental human faculty, but also that it was the expression of the structure of an essentially...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 197-220
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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