[Mendelssohn's prize-winning essay was originally published under the title Über the Evidenz in den metaphysischen Wissenschaften in the collection published by the Prussian Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin in 1764 under the title Dissertation qui a remporté le prix proposé par l'Académie des sciences et belles-lettres de prusse sur la nature, les espèces et les degrés de l'évidence. Avec les pièces qui ont concouru. The official abridgement composed in French (the official language of the Academy) is also to be found in the same collection. The present translation is based on the French text of the abridgement found in Fichant (1973), pp. 105-17, which is, in turn, based on Moses Mendelssohn: Schriften zur Philosophie, Aesthetik und Apologetik (edited by Moritz Brasch), Vol. I, pp. 45 ff.]
The abstract which I am going to read has been drawn up in order to give an idea of this dissertation of those of our colleagues who are unable to read it in the original German. The abstract will display the author's arguments and the chief characteristics of his work, drawn up with all the exactitude of which I am capable.
If we compare the fate of literature and the fine arts with that of philosophy, we shall see, on the one hand, lasting monuments which the passage of time cannot erode, and, on the other, a perpetual flux of sentiments, a vast ruin of systems destroyed by systems. The ancients have left us immortal writings, architectural remains and pieces of sculpture which we still regard as masterpieces. Our poets, our artists, our orators limit their ambition to copying them, and they have rather failed to match them than surpassed them. The glory of Homer has survived for so many centuries, while that of Aristotle, who was for so long the God of the Schoolmen, has almost been eclipsed. Would it not seem mat the principles of taste are more sure and less subject to change than those of reason?
However, the changes themselves which philosophy has undergone, do honour to the spirit of man; these changes are so many advances towards perfection, so many new regions discovered in the empire of truth.