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Thomasius (Thomas), Christian (1655–1728)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA077-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 21, 2019, from

Article Summary

Christian Thomasius’ stature as the ‘founder’ of the German Enlightenment has been the source of much debate. His many essays dealing with issues in moral enlightenment and law reform (bigamy, witchcraft, torture, heresy, adultery, the use of the vernacular and so on) certainly single him out from other seventeenth-century writers. He was the public philosopher par excellence, a suitable match for August Hermann Francke, the great public theologian. Both men spent most of their career in Halle (in Brandenburg), and it was there that Francke institutionalized pietism, just as Thomasius propagated secular natural law theory. Despite many tensions, pietism and modern natural law thereby fused into a social duty-ethics that was of the greatest importance in shaping the modern Prussian state. The basis for natural law was God’s will and it was the attempt to follow this law that made humanity a moral species. Since humankind could not have any certain knowledge of the content of God’s law, the natural powers of the mind would have to be relied upon, and Thomasius’ thought was an investigation into the nature and social effect of these powers. His best-known result was a series of linked divisions between law and morality, between public and private spheres, between external and internal obligation, and between action and intention.

Citing this article:
Haakonssen, Knud. Thomasius (Thomas), Christian (1655–1728), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA077-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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