ABSTRACT

This chapter examines Moses Mendelssohn's performative articulation of Bildung as a Shaftesburian and Spinozist neo-humanism pragmatically focused on the enlargement of the self's ethical vocabulary and deliberative resources. As a seminal Aufklarer who exemplified the promise of German-Jewish participation in German culture, the philosophically self-educated and belletristically inclined Mendelssohn continues to be interpreted as a case study in German-Jewish Bildung. Reinhart Koselleck emphasizes that the Bildung tradition presents people with an exuberant Rabelaisian critique of institutional acculturation. Koselleck's synthetic conceptual-historical approach omits the critical significance of particular thinkers such as Shaftesbury and Mendelssohn, rhetorically gifted theorists who gave Bildung its formative impress as an aesthetic humanism. Socrates's cultivated virtues demonstrate pace Rousseau that there can be no original benevolence, no innate regard for a common humanity, prior to cultured selfformation and the aesthetic humanism it presupposes. The German concept was partially shaped by Shaftesbury's neohumanist reprisal of the polymathic, conversationally inclined 'virtuoso' who abhors pedantry, humourlessness and didacticism.