A study of the thought of a large and neglected group of German thinkers, this work traces their encounter with the ideas and ideal of the Enlightenment during the period 1740-1790 and concentrates upon the nature of their historical consciousness. As such the work addresses itself to two basic issues in the interpretation of the Enlightenment: to what degree can one speak of the unity of the Enlightenment and to what extent can the Enlightenment be characterized as “modern.” The author attempts to revise the traditional interpretation of the Enlightenment as an age insensitive to the postulates of modern historical thought and to dissolve the alleged opposition of the Enlightenment to later intellectual developments such as Idealism. He argues that German Enlightened thinkers generated the general presuppositions upon which modern historical thought is founded. At the same time it is argued that the Enlightenment was not a unitary movement. Rather each phase of it had its unique elements and each made its own contributions to Enlightenment thought as a whole. In the process an attempt is made to illuminate the forms of thought, the mental climate, and the different intellectual milieux in which German thinkers operated. The author shows that the German Enlightened thinkers were confronted by two opposing intellectual traditions, German Pietism and rationalism. In attempting to reconcile both without submerging one into the other they turned to historical speculation and learning. The themes discussed were the relation between religious and rationalistic assumptions, the transformation of the concepts of religion and law, the interaction between aesthetic and historical thought, the creation of a theory of understanding to support the new idea of history, the use of causation in historical analysis, and the rediscovery of the Middle Ages. Mr. Reill thus presents us with a number of thinkers whose importance and sophistication have been virtually ignored. He shows how they anticipated the work of more famous thinkers of the nineteenth century and establishes the conceptual similarities between thinkers generally thought to be more different than alike. This title is part of UC Press's Voices Revived program, which commemorates University of California Press’s mission to seek out and cultivate the brightest minds and give them voice, reach, and impact. Drawing on a backlist dating to 1893, Voices Revived makes high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship accessible once again using print-on-demand technology. This title was originally published in 1975.