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Lessing and toleration

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLessing and the German Enlightenment
EditorsRitchie Robertson
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherVoltaire Foundation
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780729410755
PublishedSep 2013

King's Authors


Religious toleration, powerfully advocated in the early Enlightenment by
Spinoza, Locke and Bayle, and later by Voltaire, found its most enduring
expression in Lessing’s Nathan der Weise. This essay argues that Lessing's uderstanding of toleration was was more fragmented and pragmatic, and less philosophically coherent or sustainedly pluralistic, than most scholars have assumed. Appearing to uphold both the possibility of multiple religious truths and the authority of universal reason, Lessing's approached toleration primarily as a pragmatic search for ways in which religious communities can coexist. Nathan’s lack of distinctively Jewish features implies that Lessing, rather than anticipating pluralism, shared the conventional eighteenth-century view that Jews should abandon distinctiveness as the price of assimilation.

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