Reading Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise was interesting. I read the first couple of chapters aloud. Lessing was a talented writer. His play reminds me qualitatively of Shakespeare’s work. As a literary work it is worthy of better analysis than mine. I am not sure that it is especially relevant today philosophically for understanding more than the history of literature; if it is, the primary value is as an early work of abstract existential analysis (18th century).
The Ring Parable is part of the play. It may be said to be central and the central point for the play and occurs in the third of five acts. The leading dramatis personae are Nathan, Saladin, the Templar, and Nathan’s daughter Recha. There are a few supporting characters. The play involves two interwoven themes and perhaps a greater unifying theme. The plotting is excellent and pace of story development excellent with increasing disclosure and revelation right unto the end.
I have a different philosophical point of view about language, theology, philosophy and history than did Lessing or skeptics that a priori dismiss the veracity of religions with an assumption of equality (like algebra literals) in order to be tolerant. I regard language as data used to communicate information. It has an epistemological role in the way pointillism has in painting for semiotic value for others and for oneself. One does not to be Mihail Tal to evaluate chess positions over-the-board. Quick wits and deep learning helps win games. Evaluating religious veracity is comparable to chess. Lessing uses the analogy. It is perhaps the underlying truth for Lessing about things-an interesting game. Some pawns are not very thoughtful, have deep biases inertially and can only move forward in space-time while rulers (Queens and etc.) have more complex possibilities like the King’s Gambit.
I don’t tend to regard religious content as a literary narrative or history as incapable of providing the possibility of confirming or falsifying religious content. Neither would I place all religions upon an equal abstract footing without the prospect for objective evaluation of inherent true meaning any more than I would say that physical theories cannot be evaluated or confirmed for accuracy, or historical essays for accuracy. Lessing didn’t have the benefit of much of the scholastic material available today for critical analysis in the field of comparative religion. It is easy to read the Talmud and Cabala, Koran and Pentateuch in addition to the New Testament, The Tales of Gilgamesh, of Pure Land Buddhism, Shinto, The Analects of Confucius and Lao Tzu and think about the content and how it fits into history. One can read the Bhagavad Gita and Buddha’s noble eightfold path and consider how military and social structure have a co-evolutionary dialectic with religiosity. The Ring Parable is used to consider three religions as bacteria in petri dishes of equal value for research and of implicit use for inoculation against social psychological maladies that may or may not work and that could only be found to have worked or not after a thousand years of generations reproducing. The great doctor examiner at the Level Four religious facility could examine the three dishes of bacteria for himself then and find how the inoculations had worked out.
Of course some or all of the religion-bacteria could have been placebos. If the Doctor-god had an evil streak; possibly Zoroastrian or even the Demi-Urge of Arthur Schopenhauer, the inoculation may really have been a malevolent virus (that is my inference about false religions being allowed to be created).
Lessing’s play nearly turns out to be a tragedy with the Templar interested in wedding Nathan’s daughter who really was adopted and is the Templar’s sister, yet luckily for Nathan who might have been burned by the Christian patriarch for kidnapping a Christian child (he didn’t-the infant was given by the Patriarch’s friar who was a friend of the father of the kid who was a Templar killed in war who in turn was given the child when the mother died), Saladin who was the slaughterer of Crusaders and filled Acre with their blood had spared the life of the young Templar after capturing him because he looked like his diseased brother and turned out to be a son of his dead brother, Saladin and the wise Nathan were able to clear matters up to all the interested parties. They learned that they were all inter-related and so should love one another.
Blood and adoption are thicker than religion, yet maybe not baptismal water. Infant baptism was another issue of the era (and still is). Illiteracy was also a large issue in the era of the Crusades yet most people couldn’t read about the problems it presented to society in that time.
Feudalism and social organization around religion, land and loyalty to rulers didn’t place a great need on individuals besides clerics being literate. Only slowly did literacy arise after the invention of the printing press. In Germany during the second year of book publishing 400 copies of the Bible went out and the numbers went up markedly each year. That was hundreds of years after the conclusion of the crusades though.
Today the widespread profusion of cheap scholastic material hasn’t coincided with a necessary increase in social wisdom so far as to overcome the domination of certain thematic directions given by the preference of the most wealthy. Nathan was quite wealthy as was Saladin. Today they might be billionaires. Those with worldly wealth may place philosophical and spiritual concerns as minor concerns. Today, Sunday, Google feature hand prints of paint made with little dinosaurs. That is a rather evolutionary anti-religion theme for a Sabbath day; one of a zillion trivial and sometimes sharp jibes against Christianity and people of faith generally.
Maybe the best value of Lessing’s Ring Parable is in its facility for forming an abstract way of viewing major concepts and hence all concepts. Knowledge is conditional and comprised of data and some is accurate and meaningful and other not so. Pierce’s [pragmatic approach applied to epistemology might be in one form evaluated by the actual use of it. Can a map for instance actually lead one to water to drink in a desert; can Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ actually lead one to salvation, etc. Europe in Lessing’s time was a tensioned, boundaried collective of cells with membranes jostling about the body. I believe Sartre wrote much of the Critique of Dialectical Reason after visiting the Soviet Union. He had been a prisoner of war; like the Templar and was liberated by his captors. A collection of his essays was named; ‘Between Existentialism and Marxism’. I think he felt the same sort of tension East-West as Lessing felt of Europe, beliefs,epistemology and war in the abstract.
Prejudices are a belief about data. Data is however conditional and its validity follows its use. Consider writing artificial intelligence programs without prejudices or pre-written modules that perform various functions. They are the equivalent of automobile engine parts and it is difficult to get anywhere in a vehicle without them. Prejudices are like actualized D.N.A. and stem cells that have taken form into becoming a body that can’t morph into something else. Good programs can be made to adapt to new information though and perhaps even rewrite code. Human bodies have a tougher time with that although Bruce Jenner tried for some reason. Philosophers need to have some concepts in language that work, as must all language have structure to carry meaning. One needs to know what it is that one knows and its relevance for one’s personal being.
One may develop personal values about moral issues that are simply a matter of will, and that is valid if one knows that it is personal will though one may wonder why one wills something. One needs to construct data values with as much accurate content as possible (in physics or mathematics for instance) if logic and language are to be of practical utility for-oneself and for-others. It is wrong to leave everything in a Symphonists paradigm and deny the value of data constructs altogether as if words could not present accurate word-pictures of the world of experience more often than not (if it is less often than 51% language would be rather challenging to use for much besides making good sounds like music).
In Lessing’s story the Ring Parable might give Saladin a better insight into Nathan’s character. Its a nice story yet no other people heard it and the narrative plays out as it would have as fate or god would have it. I d not think it brought Saladin to act differently. In a sense he seems to be Nathan’s brother in wisdom already. It’s too bad that the west never actually gave a Kurdish homeland to the Kurds as they were promised after the end of the First World War. A small piece of Syria would be a place to start. Saladin’s brother Assad fought as a Templar himself, and lost his life and his order Acre too. People of Germany in the 1930s did not view things in a terribly religious way and the romanticism and skepticism may have led to the holocaust and the annexations of the Sudetenland and as much of Eastern Europe as possible. That was about money, race and super-power; winners and losers. Saladin didn’t care much about money in the play. In real life maybe he was not so detached from wealth and public accounts.