Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Man in Particular

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing suggested there are two approaches to the study of man.

Either one considers man in particular or in general. Of the first approach one can hardly say it is the noblest pursuit of man. What is it to know man in particular? It is to know fools and scoundrels . . . .The case is quite different with the study of man in general. Here he exhibits greatness and his divine origin. Consider what enterprises man accomplishes, how he daily extends the limits of his understanding, what wisdom prevails in his laws, what ambition inspires his monuments.[1]

This quote came to me many years after encountering the struggle myself, yet not knowing how to articulate it. I believe it is the distraction of man in particular that keeps us from valuing man in general, which would, in turn, lead us back to man in particular with greater love and patience.


[1] Lessing, Schriften, ed. Lachmann-Muncker, Vol. V, p. 143, quoted and referenced in Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951), 216.