1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Eberhard, Johann Augustus

EBERHARD, JOHANN AUGUSTUS (1739–1809), German theologian and philosopher, was born at Halberstadt in Lower Saxony, where his father was singing-master at the church of St Martin’s, and teacher of the school of the same name. He studied theology at the university of Halle, and became tutor to the eldest son of the baron von der Horst, to whose family he attached himself for a number of years. In 1763 he was appointed con-rector of the school of St Martin’s, and second preacher in the hospital church of the Holy Ghost; but he soon afterwards resigned these offices and followed his patron to Berlin. There he met Nicolai and Moses Mendelssohn, with whom he formed a close friendship. In 1768 he became preacher or chaplain to the workhouse at Berlin and the neighbouring fishing village of Stralow. Here he wrote his Neue Apologie des Socrates (1772), a work occasioned by an attack on the fifteenth chapter of Marmontel’s Belisarius made by Peter Hofstede, a clergyman of Rotterdam, who maintained the patristic view that the virtues of the noblest pagans were only splendida peccata. Eberhard stated the arguments for the broader view with dignity, acuteness and learning, but the liberality of the reasoning gave great offence to the strictly orthodox divines, and is believed to have obstructed his preferment in the church.

In 1774 he was appointed to the living of Charlottenburg. A second volume of his Apologie appeared in 1778. In this he not only endeavoured to obviate some objections which were taken to the former part, but continued his inquiries into the doctrines of the Christian religion, religious toleration and the proper rules for interpreting the Scriptures. In 1778 he accepted the professorship of philosophy at Halle. As an academical teacher, however, he was unsuccessful. His powers as an original thinker were not equal to his learning and his literary gifts, as was shown in his opposition to the philosophy of Kant. In 1786 he was admitted a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences; in 1805 the king of Prussia conferred upon him the honorary title of a privy-councillor. In 1808 he obtained the degree of doctor in divinity, which was given him as a reward for his theological writings. He died on the 6th of January 1809. He was master of the learned languages, spoke and wrote French with facility and correctness, and understood English, Italian and Dutch. He possessed a just and discriminating taste for the fine arts, and was a great lover of music.

Works:—Neue Apologie des Socrates, &c. (2 vols., 1772–1778); Allgemeine Theorie des Denkens und Empfindens, &c. (Berlin, 1776), an essay which gained the prize assigned by the Royal Society of Berlin for that year; Von dem Begriff der Philosophie und ihren Theilen (Berlin, 1778)—a short essay, in which he announced the plan of his lectures on being appointed to the professorship at Halle; Lobschrift auf Herrn Johann Thunmann Prof. der Weltweisheit und Beredsamkeit auf der Universität zu Halle (Halle, 1779); Amyntor, eine Geschichte in Briefen (Berlin, 1782)—written with the view of counteracting the influence of those sceptical and Epicurean principles in religion and morals then so prevalent in France, and rapidly spreading amongst the higher ranks in Germany; Über die Zeichen der Aufklärung einer Nation, &c. (Halle, 1783); Theorie der schönen Künste und Wissenschaften, &c. (Halle, 1783, 3rd ed. 1790); Vermischte Schriften (Halle, 1784); Neue vermischte Schriften (ib. 1786); Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie, &c. (Halle, 1788), 2nd ed. with a continuation and chronological tables (1796); Versuch einer allgemeinen-deutschen Synonymik (Halle and Leipzig, 1795–1802, 6 vols., 4th ed. 1852–1853), long reckoned the best work on the synonyms of the German language (an abridgment of it was published by the author in one large volume, Halle, 1802); Handbuch der Aesthetik (Halle, 1803–1805, 2nd ed. 1807–1820). He also edited the Philosophisches Magazin (1788–1792) and the Philosophisches Archiv (1792–1795).

See F. Nicolai, Gedächtnisschrift auf J. A. Eberhard (Berlin and Stettin, 1810); also K. H. Jördens, Lexicon deutscher Dichter und Prosaisten.