The religion of reason revisited: Monotheism and tolerance in Moses Mendelssohn, Immanuel Kant, and Hermann Cohen
Erlewine, Robert Adam
Doctor of Philosophy
This study brings the work of three thinkers of the Enlightenment---particularly the German-Jewish Enlightenment: Moses Mendelssohn, Immanuel Kant, and Hermann Cohen (as heir to the Enlightenment)---to bear on recent discussions about the structural intolerance inherent in the worldview largely shared by the Abrahamic monotheisms. I use recent scholarship on monotheism to highlight the inadequacies of the philosophical accounts of tolerance and pluralism by the thinkers Jurgen Habermas and Jean-Francois Lyotard, which pay insufficient attention to the unique challenges posed to these principles by monotheistic religions. I argue that the problems inherent in monotheistic intolerance are better addressed by the earlier philosophical ruminations of Mendelssohn, Kant, and Cohen. These three Enlightenment thinkers are able to preserve the tense dialectic inherent in the monotheistic worldview while mitigating the violence of its agonistic tendencies by synthesizing the logic operative in monotheistic religions, what I have termed 'scriptural universalism' with a very different logic, what I have termed 'rational universalism.' The exclusivist structures of scriptural universalism such as election, idolatry, and historical mission engender an agonistic relationship with those outside of the monotheistic community. Rational universalism however is more broadly inclusive in that it appeals to all human beings by virtue of their capacity to reason. By synthesizing scriptural universalism with rational universalism, these thinkers reconfigure the basic structures of the monotheistic worldview, appealing to the faculty of reason intrinsic in all human beings rather than relying solely on revelation via a particular set of Scriptures. As a result, with varying degrees of success, Mendelssohn, Kant, and Cohen are able to ameliorate the violence bound up with monotheistic intolerance while nevertheless preserving monotheism's basic structures, a feat contemporary, secular thinkers of tolerance are unable to accomplish. While Mendelssohn and Kant contribute substantially to the development of this trajectory of thought, ultimately Cohen presents not only the most cogent conception of a monotheistic worldview freed of violence and hostility towards the Other, but one that remains viable in the contemporary intellectual climate.
Philosophy of Religion; Philosophy