In the eighteenth century, being both a Christian and a supporter of the Enlightenment was not easy, and this applies in a very particular way to the German clergyman, theologian and philosopher Johann Joachim Spalding (1714–1804). Widely known as the author of the bestseller, Die Bestimmung des Menschen, Spalding embodies some recurrent features of the German Enlightenment: he was educated and eventually served as a Lutheran pastor; read the works of Christian Wolff, and was fascinated with Anglo-Scottish moral sense philosophy, contributing crucially to its introduction into the German territories; and finally took a critical stance on the obscurantist politics of Frederick William II and his minister’s edict in religious matters. It comes as no surprise that he was credited with symbolic value by both allies and enemies, who saw him as a leading star or radical rebel, eager to modernise – or destroy – the dogmatic system of Protestantism. This essay aims to reconstruct Spalding’s efforts to realise this challenging task. To do so, it will provide a comprehensive overview of Spalding’s works, including minor and lesser known writings. Particular attention will be given to Spalding’s views on the aim of human life, the role of religion in attaining this, and the distinctive conception of philosophy at stake here. At the same time, Spalding’s definition of “enlightenment” (Aufklärung) will also be unpacked and carefully explored. In so doing, the article will offer a fresh and additional insight into one of the most fascinating epochs of Western thought and culture, which Spalding – once more – exemplifies paradigmatically.
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