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College of Arts & Sciences
Jewish Studies Program

Anne Pollok Lecture

Friday, January 30, 2009 -
3:30pm to 5:00pm

"A Hermeneutics of the Self"

Anne Pollok
Department of Philosophy, USC

Moses Mendelssohn’s late German writings confront the question of the place of Scripture and religious tradition within the individual’s task of self-formation (Bildung). I will argue that he offers an essential hermeneutical conception of the self that critically draws on a Spinozistic tradition of exegesis. Being forced to either prove Judaism as superior, or to convert, Mendelssohn conveys a hermeneutics that focuses on the dialectical move between an irreducible self to be formed from within itself – and the normative constraints it faces by religious as well as societal laws. In Jerusalem Mendelssohn holds that all these aspects should be seen under a essentially dynamic light which calls for new criteria of correct interpretation. In my talk, I address the role of religion and/or personal faith within this dynamic. I also seek to show that Mendelssohn’s theory can be read more convincingly if seen under the scope of Ernst Cassirer’s project of a Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. In its reformulation as a function of world-understanding and world-construction, personal faith as well as the ceremonial laws and traditions within Judaism gain a new role. Mendelssohn’s task could then be reformulated as a search for a method to strengthen the act of signification within one decisive sphere of human (self-)understanding.

 Place: Wardlaw 126

[Sponsored by Jewish Studies and Philosophy]

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