Mendelssohn’s “Essential” and “Unessential” Destiny of Man

Moses Mendelssohn

Moses Mendelssohn (Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara)

What do you think Mendelssohn means by the terms “essential” and “unessential” destiny of man? See my Teaching Paper but venture your own ideas, too.

The essential destiny of man allows man to remain “a good and splendid creature,” and stay above “the level of the beast”; the essential destiny of man as citizen allows the constitution of the state to exist (Mendelssohn 55). Essential aspects of man are the things that make a person a man rather than a beast, and one of these aspects is enlightenment (Heller 2). The unessential aspects of man consist of religious, ethical, and artistic accomplishments and dispositions (Heller 2). In this either/or world, Mendelssohn also accounts for situations in which “the unessential destiny of man comes into conflict with the essential or nonessential destiny of citizen,” and argues that this conflict requires that rules be created to establish exceptions and decide collisions (55). Furthermore, he notes that the boundary that separates use from misuse is difficult but not impossible to find (Mendelssohn55).

Heller, Debbie. “Teaching Paper on Kant and Mendelssohn.” (2012). 1-3.

Mendelssohn, Moses. “On the Question: What is Englitenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 53-57.


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