Kantian Journal

2014 Issue №3(49)

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Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy in the “codes of hope” discourse of the Enlightenment



This article considers Lessing’s theatrical project of establishing a German National theatre aimed at founding a “school of morality” in Hamburg. In the 18th century, Hamburg was considered a stronghold of freedom in the opposition between the two forms of being — the feudal and burgher’s ones — having become a capital of the new system of values. Philosophy and arts served as a means in this struggle against dogmatism and feudal absolutism. In this atmosphere, a newconceptual culture emerged. This culture, warmly welcomed by the society, rested on reason, virtue, justice, and tolerance, which reflected the common attitudes of burgher Germany towards apparently natural human inclinations. It contradicted both Augustine’s teaching of human corruption and Hobbes’s misanthropic anthropology. This German sensitivity served as the basis for Lessing’s philosophy of hope. Lessing’s “code of hope”, whose ideas developed in the “pre-critical” period of the Elightenment is based on trust in human sensibility, within which, probably unconsciously, in the conditions of newly established autonomy, he discovers the heteronomous orientation of the “compassion” and “fear” existentials underlying his theory of catharsis. In Lessing’s system, these “vertically” positioned psychological states prove to be bridges to nature, in which he seeks the truth. It explains his theory of realism in Hamburg Dramaturgy, which differs radically from Kant’s philosophy.Lessing’s theory of art is characterized by aesthetic hope for the sensible ability of people to unite in moral intersubjectivity through existential purification in the realm of beauty. This hope is based on Lessing’s pantheistic belief in the unbreakable unity between nature and the truth manifested in the code of the category of the beautiful. In the stress field between the rust of greed and the gold of sensible heart, Lessing relies on the pedagogical power of catharsis of morals under the influence of true art.


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