Imagination and critique in the work of Johann Georg Hamann
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionMishkan : a Forum on the Gospel and the Jewish People. 2019, 80, 68-82
Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) is a fascinating person. He was well trained in languages and literature, but had no formal position at an institution of learning. Still, he was well known and respected among his contemporary intellectuals and had close personal relationships with many of them. He was fluent in English, a rare gift among 18th century Germans, and he was for that reason familiar with Enlightenment philosophy as performed on both sides of the English Channel. For his own part, however, he remained convinced that the biblical and Lutheran convictions he had appropriated in his youth were the more consistent world view. He was thus able to engage Enlightenment philosophy from a deeply held Christian conviction in a way that still makes sense today. The leading Jewish Enlightenment philosopher in Germany was Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the grandfather of the great composer. Hamann and Mendelssohn knew each other well and had quite a close relationship. That did not stop Hamann from publishing a rather sharp critique of Mendelssohn’s book Jerusalem oder über religiöse Macht und Judenthum (Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism), which was published in 1783. The content and implications of this critique is the main subject of this article. Before looking at the book Hamann wrote against Mendelssohn, however, I will present an outline of his thought, particularly focussing on his understanding of the role of the imagination.