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CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTIONS: Self-Exemption in Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTIONS: Self-Exemption in Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm Among Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s most conspicuous interventions in the newly created discipline of philosophical aesthetics was his critique of those elements in the classical tradition, especially in modern neoclassicism, that seemed to him inhumanely rational, artificially cold, and timidly moralistic.1 His appraisal of emotional expression in the sculptural group Laocoön is the most well-known example of his distrust for what he sometimes referred to — offhandedly and somewhat imprecisely—as Stoicism. The great heroes of Homer, Sophocles, and Virgil (“the highest type that wisdom is able to produce or art reproduce”) are not Stoic characters.2 Achilles, Oedipus, and even Aeneas “express their pain and allow nature to honestly run its course” (810). Lessing dismisses Stoicism as fundamentally inauthentic, a philosophy for gladiators, for men paid to repress their anguish in public and make a spectacle of their restraint: I confess that I have little liking for the philosophy of Cicero in general, and least of all for the second book of the Tusculan Questions in particular where he dredges up the problem of enduring physical pain. One 1. For a discussion of the genesis and development of philosophical aesthetics, a term coined by the German Alexander Baumgarten in his http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTIONS: Self-Exemption in Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm

Common Knowledge , Volume 10 (2) – Apr 1, 2004

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2004 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0961-754X
eISSN
1538-4578
DOI
10.1215/0961754X-10-2-273
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Among Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s most conspicuous interventions in the newly created discipline of philosophical aesthetics was his critique of those elements in the classical tradition, especially in modern neoclassicism, that seemed to him inhumanely rational, artificially cold, and timidly moralistic.1 His appraisal of emotional expression in the sculptural group Laocoön is the most well-known example of his distrust for what he sometimes referred to — offhandedly and somewhat imprecisely—as Stoicism. The great heroes of Homer, Sophocles, and Virgil (“the highest type that wisdom is able to produce or art reproduce”) are not Stoic characters.2 Achilles, Oedipus, and even Aeneas “express their pain and allow nature to honestly run its course” (810). Lessing dismisses Stoicism as fundamentally inauthentic, a philosophy for gladiators, for men paid to repress their anguish in public and make a spectacle of their restraint: I confess that I have little liking for the philosophy of Cicero in general, and least of all for the second book of the Tusculan Questions in particular where he dredges up the problem of enduring physical pain. One 1. For a discussion of the genesis and development of philosophical aesthetics, a term coined by the German Alexander Baumgarten in his

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Apr 1, 2004

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