Kiss Endre

The concept of the "Inter-Enlightenment"

To understand the century Joseph von Sonnenfels' in the Mirror of Moses Mendelssohn's Jerusalem




We are moving in the sphere of a concept of Enlightenment, with which in addition to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment the universalized waves of Enlightenment should be identified also in the later history and philosophy. [1]

Moreover, it is worth talking about the "second",  the "third", etc. Enlightenment, we also try to consolidate a concept of the "Inter-Enlightenment".

These are all reflections on the Enlightenment, but these approaches are not identical with the important and necessary moments of a "self-reflection of the Enlightenment". The doubled evolution of the Enlightenment thinking in the dichotomy "rationalism - empiricism", as well as the broader aspects that look for distinguishing the Enlightenment "from above" from  that "from below" are further quite pertinent, while in most cases it is always about a simultaneity of both orientations.

The integration of the concrete models of Enlightenment into the historical reality of the "imperial" dimension of the eighteenth century still awaits. This act is not only required in a possible perfection of the genuinely historical research, but it also has up to now underestimated functional dimensions. For it was precisely the case that imperial struggles and rivalries, eager for an increasing rationality, led also to an increase in the promotion of the Enlightenment. Emphasizing this in an analysis of Sonnenfels (and Friedrich) is almost essential.

In 1783, Moses Mendelssohn published his Jerusalem or About the Religious Power and Judaism. He wrote this work in response to a 1782 anonymous published pamphlet, The Search for Truth and Right. Mendelssohn initially took this work for a text of Sonnenfels. [2]

At the center of our interest is that Mendelssohn, who thinks, the politician and philosopher, one of the most influential enlightened personalities of the neighboring empire, even Jew (albeit baptized) takes up his concepts. He defines himself in a unique communicative situation, from which - among other possibilities - he can also hope numerous positive evolutions for the Judaism and his own person.

The Mendelssohn, that should know Sonnenfels philosophically, was the thinker of the rational metaphysics in the eighteenth century. [3]

The basic phenomenon of the Enlightenment, the change in the contents of the human consciousness, is considered from the beginning as a linear process, without mentioning that the Enlightenment was the philosophical movement,that helped the idea of a linear evolution to be victorious in the philosophy and history reflection.[4] In the own history of the modern everyday consciousness, it means a fundamental modification, the importance of which can hardly be overestimated even today. It was the linearity of the Enlightenment that replaced the earlier, above all cyclical, historical statements of history on the whole and once and for all.

The Enlightenment is deeply connected with the linearity, but this linearity itself is the outflow of numerous other components.

Moreover, the relevant mutation for the whole history of the European thought also occurred, the comprehensive view of the historical linearity leaps as an "evidence" from the philosophical thinking into the everyday thinking - from now on, the history, the life of the society are regarded as "linear" and basically as an initially still closer not determined and also not yet defined permanent evolution, thus once again linear. This justifies the fundamental attitude of the everyday thinking toward a permanent progress.

However, the real linearity of the thinking and of the social processes can also be stopped - this creates the phenomenon that we would call "Inter-Enlightenment".

This juxtaposition of the stopped or otherwise missing concrete movement with sectors of the existing political and philosophical reality constitutes the reality of the Inter-Enlightenment, for the eventual absence of the current movement no longer withdraws the real phenomenon of the Enlightenment.

In his Travel Journal (1769), Herder gives a brilliant description of the phenomenon "Inter-Enlightenment": "France: its epoch of literature is made; the century Ludwichs (sic!) over; the Montesquieu, D'Alembert, Voltaire, Rousseau are also gone; one lives on the ruins; what do the heroidal peddlers and little comedy writers and song makers want to say now? The taste for encyclopaedias, dictionaries, excerpts, the spirit of the scriptures show the lack of original works. The taste for external foreign writings, the praise of the Journal étranger a.s.o. the lack of originals: in these the expression, the mark a.s.o must get lost. But if they are read, it is a sign that the mere value and nature of the thought is already abundant enough, in order not to have the word-beauty necessary. And since the French do so much and everything of the last, since according to their  expression, all is mainly garment of thought is all; since the Germans so much start from the phrases and favorite state of the French, and yet the despised Germans are nevertheless read, this is a great characteristic of the poverty, of the humble descent of the country; Marmontel, Arnaud, Harpe are small stubble, or budding autumn descendants: the big harvest is over”. [5]

One may ask, how was the hitherto still very young Herder on his study trip able to establish such a fundamental historical and historical-philosophical diagnosis. It also remains to ask why many later Herder's interpreters preferred to emphasize Herder's trains, which in their eyes were not or not very visibly enlightened, while they lost sight of the fact that it was precisely the very young Herder who discovered and described the period of the Inter-Enlightenment.

At this point, however, the distinctive heuristic advantages of introducing the concept of Inter-Enlightenment into the discussion become apparent, for it is obvious that the research and the interpretation have even to fight with a variety of conceptuality and in it also with one of the concepts of Enlightenment. [6]

The "Enlightenment from above" also forms the framework for the institutionalization of the science and the philosophy by the Royal Academy. Behind this largely systematic relationship, this whole series of historical determinations has however also to be accentuated, which was brought into motion by the dynastic wars of the century, practically and topically, by the "imperialism" of that time.

The figure of Friedrich often presents in the interpretation direct theoretical dimensions, we know several dozen relevant interpretations to be very seriously and structurally-typologically considered, which are seamlessly included in the broader discussion about the peculiarity of the German history.

So, the disciplines of anthropology, history, education, numerous natural sciences, political theory, the constitution, and so on, which are all philosophical, without being a "philosophy" in the full sense of the term, are considered as leading enlightened paradigms.[7] The conscious and goal-oriented work of the Scientific Societies is a very characteristic sign of the examined Inter-Enlightenment.

One of the most important challenges for Mendelssohn's rational metaphysics is the award of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1761, on which occasion he wrote his work "On the Evidence in the Metaphysical Sciences".

In 1761, both leading authors, Mendelssohn and Kant, are conscious of the fact, that the situation is an opportunity and, also independently of the results, a motor of the science. Thus, the statement also appears as communication and as social institution as an independent value of social significance.[8]

There is no doubt that the mediating chain from the foundations to the ethics for the rational metaphysics is a royal road because of the circumstances, while it cannot be in Kant an occasion to define exactly the own functional and systematic place of the ethics in the three critiques.

The royal road for Mendelssohn is developping from the emergence of the evident mathematical ideas, which can appear as particular cases of the metaphysics in the religion and as particular cases of the religion in the metaphysics - the way of these evident ideas is thus assured in the moral.

Ernst Cassirer reflects, that not all objects enable the application of the geometric method.[9]  With an excellent clarity, Mendelssohn formulates the most difficult problematic of any rational philosophy: Nothing is more difficult for the understanding than the transition from the concepts to the reality or to the state of reality. [10]

Mendelssohn's innovation consists in bringing together in a unit not only three philosophical concepts but also three historical periods of the philosophy. Surprisingly, this union of these individual conceptions of the problem of reason does not necessarily trigger the constraint to reject it as an eclectic conglomerate.

It becomes clear, that the fight against a continuation of the rational metaphysics will not compel Kant only to one revolution but also to several. This starting point also leads to the proud sentence in the First Introduction of the Critics of the Pure Reason, according to which the duality between metaphysics and criticism is the most central problematic of the philosophy.

In Jerusalem, Mendelssohn in reality replies to a certain Cranz, but nonetheless it is invariably meaningful to keep in mind that until the end, or at least for some time, he might have thought he was in direct contact with Sonnenfels. This assumption is all the more to be heeded, because Mendelssohn would hardly have undertaken such a fundamental and so complete description of the Judaism entering the Age of the Enlightenment without this possibly so significant contact with Sonnenfels.

The main tendency of the work reproduces the attack, that Mendelssohn should not suffer for the first time. This attack was clever and complex in every sense of the word, so that Mendelssohn always had to go to great lengths and skill to escape it. Apparently Mendelssohn also experiences the feeling of repetition, that of the "déjá vu", because he now reinterprets the whole situation into a game and immediately exposes the rules of the game. [11]

Mendelssohn therefore emphasizes in advance that the game is valid only in the case when all players comply with the rules of the game, which he has just announced. Even this exact, logically complete, coherent naming of the rules of the game (and especially in this explicit directness) must stand out in this emphatically clean form of the whole train of thought, which on the other side with high probability informs on Sonnenfels as one of the conversation partners.

"Every game has its rules, every competition has its laws" - these and only these principles are those according to which the referee judge has to judge.[12] Mendelssohn's procedure leaves both his antipodes in the discussion and also the reader (who in his own way necessarily also appears as a referee judge, perhaps he is even the true arbiter) prefer that process, during which they can adopt the right behavior in the discussion.

We must remember, that Mendelssohn is about trickery and delusion, about the initiation of a public discussion on the Judaism, at the end of which there may perhaps be the suspension or the suppression of the Jewish faith. Rules of the game in this discussion are therefore more than necessary, even if one can, on the other hand, imagine a Sonnenfels.

Updated said, it is about the clarification of the basic concepts, which are not necessarily those of a generally understood popular Enlightenment. Thus, one finds for instance[13], just to give an example, the relation of the state and the religion at the first place of the debate.

At the same time, the logical, theological and legal assumptions are called to clarify the essential determinations of the Jewish religion. Most of all, these clarifications make Cranz's attacks understandably obvious, but precisely because of the at least initially assumed Sonnenfels connection, they also make it possible for one of the most important statesmen of his time to convey the same clear-cut insights on the Judaism, in the consciousness or at least the assumption of which, that he also reflects on the regulation of the Jewish life in his kingdom. [14] It goes without saying that for the philosopher in any case it meant an extraordinary situation, if not a unique possibility.

These methodical, even at first glance kindly disposed or constructive accusations against Mendelssohn, however, deserve to be taken quite seriously also in the entire history of the enlightened Judaism, with its still openly unregulated and therefore uncertain relation to the state and emancipation.

On the one hand, Mendelssohn's position can be manipulated in such a way, that the Jewish religion, if it demands so little "belief contents", can jump to atheism or even christianization, while on the other side it is so manipulated, that if Mendelssohn adheres to the harshness and severity of the law religion, he must forfeit his face as Enlightened and man of tolerance, moreover, even the Jewish religion as a bundle of extremely harsh prescriptions and (as it is effectively thematized) a compendium of law must be created, which religious or spiritual contents are apparently totally suspended. [15]

Since Mendelssohn comes into the same situation three times publicly (Lavater, Cranz, Jacobi), the insight into the real difficulties of the emancipation of the Judaism must become more difficult. Thus it becomes clear, why he was trying so hard to clarify and announce on all sides the rules of the game, that it is here about a game to be taken very seriously - without mentioning that if the individual players do not respect the rules of the game, the whole discussion quickly contentwise falls apart, as it has often been in fact the case. [16]

Thus it becomes now again clear from this side, why the possible Sonnenfels connection was so important to Mendelssohn - the quite complex dilemmas of the Jewish emancipation might thus be made clear to that actor, who may actually be able to bring about historical decisions.

It deserves our interest, that Mendelssohn repeats at the beginning Cranz's (or possibly Sonnenfels') first attack (it is clear that this attack can easily classified also without any problem in the previously outlined type of attacks).

The question is addressed in this way: might there exist rights or legitimations, that could benefit those who have announced certain doctrines to those, who have appropriated these doctrines. Could therefore such deals, or contracts establish such legitimations, which might also incur coercive duties.

It is clear that these problems have to appear in a new light in the eighteenth century. It is about the multiple transformations of the religious power, which Mendelssohn exercises in the double narrowness: on the one hand the religious power would be directed against the Jews, in the other case, the religious power of the Judaism would be questioned for its concerns.

The strictness of the Judaism, cemented also in sentences, seems to provide Cranz with never-ending ammunition.

As a good player, Mendelssohn falls back upon the same rules of the game he just addressed. His analysis of the Jewish religion basically goes back to Spinoza, even if it is not always visible in detail.

After the analytical dissolution of the Jewish faith into three conceptual strata, Mendelssohn's train of thought goes beyond the concrete discussion with Cranz (possibly with Sonnenfels) and deploys as a valid overall description of  the Jewish religiosity in the medium of the Enlightenment and the upcoming civic reforms.

Mendelssohn emphasizes, that the doctrines and laws, attitudes and diverse actions were not fixed in writing, remained unchanged through all the revolutions of languages, customs, ways of life and relationships. The formal laws are laws, but they are also alive, they speak to the mind and the heart.

In his train of thought Mendelssohn prepares his interpretation of a world-historical transition, without that the importance of the complete description of the Jewish religiosity can hardly be adequately understood.

He draws the attention on the fact, that it was initially forbidden to write about the laws more than what God through Moses "told the nation". The writing down of the oral tradition was forbidden. To write on laws was to tear them down.

The recurrent references to the transition of the predominance of the oral to the written mediation of the tradition develops in the hands of the philosopher as a means to entice every crucial problem of the Jewish existence into the current interpretation.[17]

Whether these dimensions are addressed directly, indirectly or not at all to Sonnenfels, we can not decide today. It is however so much clear, that Mendelssohn clearly signals the imminent revolutionary turn, that will certainly change all the Jewish life and must also affect Sonnenfels.

A Judaism in possession of the art of printing becomes a different Judaism than before - this opens a front against the Jewish traditionalists, on the other hand, but also against the state, which can take them emancipatively.

In Mendelssohn's hands, the revolutionary leap of the art of printing combines with the whole concept of the Enlightenment itself. It is obvious that it could also be addressed as a message to Sonnenfels.

The oral communication prepares a kind of integration, the written another one. Through printed materials, the individual ethnic groups can be integrated at a much higher level in a state than through the oral communication. The physical limits of the oral communication are more than clear, in that sense the written communication has only artificial limits. The written communication is from the beginning the social public, in active as well as passive use.

With the announcement of this revolution Mendelssohn also assumes a seemingly paradoxical, almost contradictory position. However, this position is quite specific for the Inter-Enlightenment.

On the one hand, for Mendelssohn, this revolution appears as an accomplished fact, as something that has already completely changed the world. On the other hand, for him it is not just about a problematic of the future, but also about the preparation of a whole future. The perfect past and the open future are crossing in his person - a protagonist of Inter-Enlightenment stands in front of us!

Everything becomes "dead letter". We teach each other in writing. We recognize the nature and the other person in writing. Even the man of God reads a previously set text, the spirit of the living conversation (this sine qua non condition of the Jewish transmission of the religious tradition) disappears. Our social life consists in a correspondence, the young person grows with the help of books over the head of his parents.

Consequently, the rabbinic tradition is endangered under these circumstances. Since the oral conversation is the essence of the Jewish existence, there is a danger, if however in the age of the writing it is still held to the oral tradition, this must also be marginal! From now on, everything that is conveyed in writing becomes incomparably more effective than what is taught orally.

Mendelssohn's intellectual and practical position is thus made more difficult by the fact that the passage from the age of the oral communication to that of the written communication had also to mean for the Judaism at the same time a passage from the Yiddish to the German language. We consider that it was also a relevant moment for the integration and Enlightenment.

In Spinoza's footsteps, Mendelssohn describes the Jewish faith as a ceremonial and law religion. In it, the "opinions", as bearers of a correct consciousness, do not play that all-determining role, as it is the case in the Enlightenment growing out of  the Christianity. The commands of the Jewish religion may be strict, but they are in no contradiction with the reason and have no prescriptions, that require the believer to have certain beliefs.

The true Jewish Enlightenment therefore does not have the change of the value judgments in its core content, its true content is primarily the transition from the oral to the written tradition and on this basis the transition into the German public writing (in addition to which the Hebrew is also pursued).

Precisely in the second third of the eighteenth century (quite harmoniously in the context of the new writing and of the alarming retrospective on the time of the oral tradition), the full problematic of the extinct, historyless, and without any writing peoples and ethnic groups existing in the present arises for the Inter-Enlightenment with the Celts at the top. The leading insight of that time is that all peoples have become extinct, that they have lost their languages or could not form any state, that have not gone over to the written script and stayed at the oral tradition. This may also be considered as a motive to Mendelssohn's Enlightenment.


Conference paper

Der Begriff der „Inter-Aufklaerung”. Zum Verstaendnis des Jahrhunderts von Joseph von Sonnenfels. konf: Aufklaerung und Autoritaet. Zum Todestag von Joseph von Sonennfels. Wien, November 2, 2017.

[1] Without striving for completeness, mention should be made in this circle of Michael Benedikt's and his students' great project ("Repressed humanism - Delayed Enlightenment ..."), the band Enlightenment processes since the 18th century. Ed. Helmut Reinalter, 2006, as well as numerous other studies amongst others also of the author of these lines.

[2] The publication of an anonymous work opens up a broad field of projection for the author's determination; at the same time, such an event also functions as a philosophical test - for society betrays its ideas if, without knowing it, it neglects this or that philosopher as the true author , The most instructive case known to us was Fichte's anonymous pamphlet on the revelation, that took the philosophical community to a large extent for a Kantian Opus. 

[3] His major work on this topic is "About the evidence in the metaphysical sciences", which he presented on the occasion of the award of the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1761.

[4] Kiss, Endre, A mindennapi tudat tudományelméleti vizsgálata.{Alltagsbewusstsein in wissenschaftstheoretischer Sicht}. In: Mindennapi tudat: Etológia, filozófia, pszichológia. Értelmezési kérdések. {Everyday consciousness : ethology, philosophy, psychology}. Published by Tibor Balogh and Csaba Pléh. Szeged, 1997. P. 7-31. 

[5] S. See also the following further thoughts from the same text: "Who can resist the nature of things? The sage continues on his way to enlighten the human reason, and only shrugs his shoulders if other fools speak of this Enlightenment as a final purpose, as an eternity. Then one must refute the Diderotian and Swiss politicians, or, since this in the spirit of our time, since the anti-Rousseau's emanation reigns, it becomes a fable and even too soon would be of use and realization, think of the better. Every Enlightenment is never purpose, but always means; will it be so, it is the sign that it has ceased to be this, like in France… In France, one will soon be so far : if the Voltaire and Montesquieu will be dead : then one will make so long the spirit of Voltaire, Bossuet (sic!), Montesquieu, Racine, and so on. : until there is nothing left. Encyclopaedias are now already being made :  D'Alembert and Diderot themselves are being dropped off: and just this book, which is their triumph for the French, is for me the first sign of their decline. You have nothing to write, and you do abrégés, dictionnaires, histoires, vocabulaires, esprits, encyclopédies, etc. The original works fall away”.

[6] An example : Norbert Hinske, The basic ideas of the German Enlightenment. in : The philosophy of the German Enlightenment. Texts and presentation. Edited by Raffaele Ciafardone. German adaptation by Norbert Hinske and Rainer Specht. Stuttgart, 1990. (Philipp Reclam, jr.) P. 414. - It should be mentioned here that the term "Inter-Enlightenment" follows the model of the term "Inter-Modernity" by Veronika Spira (S. the book about Bulgakov's Master and Margarita: Bulgakov a Mester és Margarita című regényének multidiszciplináris értelmezése. 1989. (digitized : 2010.) {The multudisziplinary analysis of Bulgakov' Meister and Margarita}. In :

[7] Despite this disciplinary diversity and the recognized importance of any anthropological approach, we would not go as far as Raffaele Ciafardone, who states that "the anthropological problem is the crystallization point of the different motives in the thinking of the German Enlightenment." ("Introduction" in: The Philosophy of the German Enlightenment, loc. cit., p14).

[8] Mendelssohn's name is associated with the proverbial statement that philosophers have hitherto only written for "professors and schoolchildren," by which he understood precisely the lack of that ever more organized audience, that wanted to help the Academy  for its existence.

[9] "He (the spirit of the geometry - E.K.) begins with certain axioms, from which he draws conclusions, which truth can be proved through universal logical rules. The merit of this spirit consists in the clarity of its principles and the inevitability of its conclusions. But not all objects are accessible to such a procedure "S. Ernst Cassirer, Attempt on Humans. Introduction to a philosophy of the culture. Translated from English by Reinhard Kaiser. Hamburg, 1996 (Meiner), p. 29.

[10] "It would be utterly absurd to require from their (the mathematics-E.K.) teaching that by the dissection of a merely possible concept, the existence of a quantity should be proved ..." (ibid., 39).  

[11] The uniqueness, the truly unique logic of Mendelssohn's interpretation of Socrates is constructed by the rhythm of the attacks on Socrates ! This is all the more unique because in a decisive majority the last night or the last speech of Socrates is in the center of the presentation. Cf.. E.K., Világbölcsek önmeghatározása. Moses Mendelssohn and Johann Georg Hamann Szokrátesz-képe - Self-definition of World Philosophers. Moses Mendelssohn and Johann Georg Hamann on Socrates.In : Kaleidoscope. Művelődés-, Tudomány- és Orvostörténeti Folyóirat.

[12] The comprehensive picture of the game is utilized at a crucial place in the Socrates representation of Hamann! Such as Mendelssohn's dialogue on the Judaism now depends on whether or not the interlocuters adhere to the rules of the game, so does Socrates (in Hamann's representation) appear in Athens as someone who wants to clarify the rules of the game in advance. Thus Socrates "plays," the sophists must admit that they are playing wrong… (Cf.. E.K. Világbölcsek önmeghatározása. Moses Mendelssohn és Johann Georg Hamann Szokrátesz-képe - Self-definition of World Philosophers Moses Mendelssohn und Johann Georg Hamann on Socrates. A.a.O.

[13] Of course, we cannot at this point inform on all those concepts and problems that have already been mentioned analytically in the text of this thesis or are mentioned later.

[14] Possible suggestions from the Jerusalem in the tolerance capacity of Joseph II should also be explored at the micro level.

[15] Cf.. The Religion within the Limits of the Mere Reason. in. Kants, Werke, Volume 5. Edited by Rolf Toman. Cologne, 1995. 210-216. Also other Kant's thoroughly nuanced insights on Mendelssohn's Jerusalem appear in his letter to Mendelssohn of 16 August 1783, in which he emphasizes the attained proximity of the religion and the freedom of the conscience, and thus he affirms the attitude of universal Enlightenment, which is absolutely there in the possible attention to Sonnenfels and also goes beyond the concrete topic and religion and can become the general model. See this letter :

[16] The problematic of the Jewish emancipation is enormously complicated by the fact that the relation between Judaism and Christianity with those of Judaism and Enlightenment, Judaism and State, Judaism and Alienation, etc., can often be multiply  complicated, what is also linked with the fact, that the Enlightenment was originally a Christian society kept in mind, along with its living conditions. An appropriate example of how complex such a discussion can become is the problematic of the young Marx's work on the "Jewish question", which has been widely interpreted (and over-interpreted) until today.

[17] One of the most recent references to this fact s. Thomas Vesting, Legal Theory and the Media of Law. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2018 - Also in Mendelssohn's correspondence, this problematic comes up again and again.0.00