Our neighbors observe and we explain: Moses Mendelssohn's critical encounter with Edmund Burke's aesthetics

Tom Furniss

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This essay traces the impact of Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757/59) on the evolution of German aesthetic theory in the second half of the eighteenth century, concentrating in particular on a close reading of the series of articles on aesthetics that Moses Mendelssohn published between 1755 and 1761. The essay argues that Burke's distinction between the sublime and the beautiful, his attempt to generate an empirical physiological aesthetic theory, and his radical severance of the links between aesthetics and ethics fundamentally challenged the rational metaphysical grounds of German aesthetic theory, provoking Mendelssohn into generating a series of creative but incompatible responses that both constituted a significant elaboration of German aesthetic theory and led into an impasse that only Kant could surmount.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-354
Number of pages28
JournalEighteenth Century
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • Mendelssohn
  • lessing
  • Burke
  • Kant
  • German reception of Burke’s aesthetics
  • the sublime and the beautiful
  • German rational metaphysics
  • British empiricism
  • aesthetics
  • ethics

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