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Hermann Samuel Reimarus

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Hermann Samuel Reimarus (December 22, 1694 - March 1, 1768), a German philosopher and writer, was born at Hamburg.

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Biography

He was educated by his father and by the scholar JA Fabricius, whose son-in-law he subsequently became. He studied theology, ancient languages, and philosophy at Jena, became Privatdozent in the university of Wittenberg in 1716, and in 1720-21 visited the Netherlands and England. In 1723 he became rector of the high school at Wismar in Mecklenburg, and in 1727 professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages at his native city's high school. Although he was offered more lucrative positions by other schools, he held this post until his death.

His duties were light, and he employed his leisure in the study of philology, mathematics, philosophy, history, political economy, science and natural history, for which he made large collections. His house was the center of the highest culture of Hamburg, and a monument of his influence in that city still remains in the Haus der pairiotischen Gesellschaft, where the learned and artistic societies partly founded by him still meet. He had seven children, only three of whom survived him-the distinguished physician Johann Albrecht Heinrich, and two daughters, one of them being Elise, Lessing's friend and correspondent. He died on March 1 1768.

Publications

Reimarus's reputation as a scholar rests on the valuable edition of Dio Cassius (1750-52) which he prepared from the materials collected by JA Fabricius. He published a work on logic (Vernunftlehre als Anweisung zum richtigen Gebrauche der Vernunft, 1756, 5th ed., 1790), and two popular books on the religious questions of the day. The first of these was a collection of essays on the principal truths of natural religion (Abhandlungen von den vornehmsten Wahrheiten der natürlichen Religion, 1755, 7th ed., 1798); the second (Betrachtungen über die Triebe der Thiere, 1760, 4th ed., 1798) dealt with one particular branch of the same subject.

Philosophical position

His philosophical position is essentially that of Christian Wolff. But he is best known by his Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes (carefully kept back during his lifetime), from which, after his death, Lessing published certain chapters under the title of the Wolfenbüttel Fragments. The original manuscript is in the Hamburg town library; a copy was made for the university library of Göttingen, 1814, and other copies are known to exist. In addition to the seven fragments published by Lessing, a second portion of the work was issued in 1787 by CAE Schmidt (a pseudonym), under the title Uebrige noch ungedruckte Werke des Wolfenbütlelschen Fraginentisten, and a further portion by DW Klose in Niedner's Zeitschrift für historische Theologie, 1850-52. Two of the five books of the first part and the whole of the second part, as well as appendices on the canon, remain unprinted. But DF Strauss has given an exhaustive analysis of the whole work in his book on Reimarus.

The standpoint of the Apologie is that of pure naturalistic deism. Miracles and mysteries are denied, and natural religion is put forward as the absolute contradiction of revealed. The essential truths of the former are the existence of a wise and good Creator and the immortality of the soul. These truths are discoverable by reason, and are such as can constitute the basis of a universal religion. A revealed religion could never obtain universality, as it could never be intelligible and credible to all men. Even supposing its possibility, the Bible does not present such a revelation. It abounds in error as to matters of fact, contradicts human experience, reason and morals, and is one tissue of folly, deceit, enthusiasm, selfishness and crime. Moreover, it is not a doctrinal compendium, or catechism, which a revelation would have to be. What the Old Testament says of the worship of God is little, and that little worthless, while its writers are unacquainted with the second fundamental truth of religion, the immortality of the soul. The design of the writers of the New Testament, as well as that of Jesus, was not to teach true rational religion, but to serve their own selfish ambitions, in promoting which they exhibit an amazing combination of conscious fraud and enthusiasm. It is important, however, to remember that Reimarus attacked atheism with equal effect and sincerity, and that he was a man of high moral character, respected and esteemed by his contemporaries.

Analysis

Modern estimates of Reimarus may be found in the works of B Pünjer, Otto Pfleiderer and Harald Høffding. Pünjer states the position of Reimarus as follows: "God is the Creator of the world, and His wisdom and goodness are conspicuous in it. Immortality is founded upon the essential nature of man and upon the purpose of God in creation. Religion is conducive to our happiness and alone brings satisfaction. Miracles are at variance with the divine purpose; without miracles there could be no revelation" (Pünjer, History of Christian Philosophy of Religion since Kant, Engl. trans., pp. 550-57, which contains an exposition of the Abliandlungen and Schutzschrift).

Pfleiderer says the errors of Reimarus were that he ignored historical and literary criticism, sources, date, origin, etc., of documents, and the narratives were said to be either purely divine or purely human. He had no conception of an immanent reason (Philosophy of Religion, Eng. trans., vol. i. p. 102). Høffding also has a brief section on the Schutzschrift, stating its main position as follows: "Natural religion suffices; a revelation is therefore superfluous. Moreover, such a thing is both physically and morally impossible. God cannot interrupt His own work by miracles; nor can He favour some men above others by revelations which are not granted to all, and with which it is not even possible for all to become acquainted. But of all doctrines that of eternal punishment is most contrary, Reimarus thinks, to true ideas of God, and it was this point which first caused him to stumble" (History of Modern Phil., Eng. trans. (1900), vol. ii. pp. 12, 13).

Further reading

See the "Fragments" as published by Lessing, reprinted in vol. xv. of Lessing's Werke, Hempel's edition; D. F. Strauss, H. S. Reimarus und seine Schutzschrift für die vernünftigen Verehrer Gottes (1862, 2nd ed. 1877); Charles Voysey, Fragments from Reimarus (London, 1879) (a translation of the life of Reimarus by Strauss, with the second part of the seventh fragment, on the "Object of Jesus and his Disciples"); the Lives of Lessing by Danzel and G. E. Guhrauer, Sime, and Zimmern; Kuno Fischer, Geschichte der neuern Philosophie (vol. ii. pp. 759-72, 2nd ed. 1867); Eduard Zeller, Geschichte der deutschen Philosophie (2nd ed., 1875, pp. 243-46).


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