1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Reimarus, Hermann Samuel
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Reimarus, Hermann Samuel
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REIMARUS, HERMANN SAMUEL (1694-1768), German philosopher and man of letters, was born at Hamburg, on the 22nd of December 1694. He was educated by his father and by the famous scholar J. A. 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 Holland and England. In 1723 he became rector of the high school at Wismar in Mecklenburg, and in 1727 professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages in the high school of his native city. This post he held till his death, though offers of more lucrative positions were made to him. His duties were light, and he employed his leisure in the study of philology, mathematics, philosophy, history, political economy, natural science and natural history, for which he made large collections. His house was the centre of the highest culture of Hamburg, and a monument of his influence in that city still remains in the Haus der patriotischen 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 the 1st of March 1768.
Reimarus's reputation as a scholar rests on the valuable edition of Dio Cassius (1750-52) which he prepared from the materials collected by J. A. 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. His philosophical position is essentially that of Christian Wolff. But he is best known by his Apologie oder Schutzschrift für die vernunftigen Verehrer Gottes (carefully kept back during his lifetime), from which, after his death, Lessing published certain chapters under the title of the Wolfenbüttel Fragments (see Lessing). The original MS. 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 C. A. E. Schmidt (a pseudonym), under the title Uebrige noch ungedruckte Werke des Wolfenbüttelschen Fragmentisten, and a further portion by D. W. 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 D. F. 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.
Modern estimates of Reimarus may be found in the works of B. Pünjer, O. Pfleiderer and H. Höffding. 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 Abhandlungen and Schutzschrift). Pfleiderer says the errors of Reimarus were that he ignored historical and literary criticism, sources, date, origin, &c., 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). H. Höffding 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).
See the “Fragments” as published by Lessing, reprinted in vol. xv. of Lessing's Werke, Hempel's edition; D. F. Sttauss, H. S. Reimarus und seine Schutzschrift für die vernunftigen Verehrer Gottes (1862, and 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); Zeller, Geschichte der deutschen Philosophie (2nd ed., 1875, pp. 243-46).