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  • 12/22/2004

Hermann Samuel Reimarus

Germanphilosopher and writer


December 22,1694 -March 1,1768)

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, becamePrivatdozent 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 theHaus 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.


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 ofChristian Wolff. But he is best known by hisApologie 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 theWolfenbüttel Fragments. The original manuscript is in theHamburg town library; a copy was made for the university library ofGِttingen, 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 titleUebrige noch ungedruckte Werke des Wolfenbütlelschen Fraginentisten, and a further portion by DW Klose in Niedner'sZeitschrift 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. ButDF Strauss has given an exhaustive analysis of the whole work in his book on Reimarus.

The standpoint of theApologie is that of pure naturalisticdeism. 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 theOld Testament says of the worship ofGod 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 theNew Testament, as well as that ofJesus, 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.

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