Eberhard, Johann August (1739–1809)

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Johann August Eberhard, the German theologian and "popular philosopher," was born in Halberstadt. He studied theology at Halle, and became a preacher at Halberstadt in 1763 and at Charlottenburg in 1774. In 1778 Frederick II of Prussia appointed him professor of theology at Halle. Eberhard became a member of the Berlin Academy in 1786 and a privy councilor in 1805. He wrote on theology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, philology, and the history of philosophy.

Eberhard received a Wolffian education, but, under the influence of Moses Mendelssohn and Christian Friedrich Nicolai, he soon developed a personal point of view. As a popular philosopher, Eberhard was averse to abstract speculation and interested in natural theology, psychology, ethics, and aesthetics. He opposed enthusiasm, sentimentalism, and occultism, and favored the empirical approach.

In his Neue Apologie des Socrates (New Apology of Socrates; 2 vols., Berlin, 17721778) Eberhard denied that salvation depended on revelation, and asserted that there is no original sin and that a heathen could go to heaven. He rejected eternal punishment as a contradiction of its aimthe moral improvement of the sinner.

Eberhard's Allgemeine Theorie des Denkens und Empfindens (General theory of thinking and feeling; Berlin, 1776) was dominated by the thought of John Locke, and by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's Nouveaux Essais. Like Immanuel Kant and Johann Nicolaus Tetens, Eberhard vindicated sensation against the earlier tendency to stress reason; and like Kant, Tetens, and Johann Heinrich Lambert, he developed a thoroughgoing phenomenalism. He held that sensation is passive and supported Locke's view that all ideas derive from sensation. He claimed that sensing is a transition from thinking to acting.

Eberhard held that Beauty is not an objective characteristic of things, but an adequacy of the object to the representative power of the subject (a view he calledas Kant did later"subjective finalism"). Beauty excites this activity, and the aim of art is therefore the awakening of pleasurable passions (a doctrine rejected by Kant and later German aestheticians). The first appearance of aesthetic activity in man is represented, according to Eberhard, in children's play (a foreshadowing of Friedrich Schiller's aesthetics of play).

Eberhard, as editor of the Philosophisches Magazin from 1788 to 1791 and of the Philosophische Archiv from 1792 to 1795, published a large number of articles critical of Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft, most of them written by himself. He claimed that Kant's views were entirely derived from Leibniz, and that they were only a special kind of dogmatism. Kant answered Eberhard in his Ueber eine Entdeckung, nach der alle neue Kritik der reinen Vernunft durch eine ältere entbehrlich gemacht werden soll (Königsberg, 1790). It was one of the few times Kant deigned to answer unjustifiable criticism.


additional works by eberhard

Sittenlehre der Vernunft. Berlin, 1781.

Theorie der schonen Künste und Wissenschaften. Berlin, 1783.

Vermischte Schriften. 2 vols. Halle, 17841788.

Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie. Berlin, 1788.

Handbuch der Aesthetik. 4 vols. Halle: Hemmerde und Schwetschke, 18031805.

works on eberhard

Draeger, G. J. A. Eberhards Psychologie und Aesthetik. Halle, 1915.

Ferber, E. O. Der philosophische Streit zwischen I. Kant und J. A. Eberhard. Giessen, 1884.

Lungwitz, K. Die Religionsphilosophie Eberhards. Erlangen, 1911.

Nicolai, C. F. Gedächtnisschrift auf J. A. Eberhard. Berlin, 1810.

Giorgio Tonelli (1967)

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