Ludwig Feuerbach

Last updated

Ludwig Feuerbach
Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach.jpg
Born(1804-07-28)28 July 1804
Died13 September 1872(1872-09-13) (aged 68)
Education University of Heidelberg (no degree)
University of Berlin
University of Erlangen
(Ph.D./Dr. phil. habil., 1828)
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Anthropological materialism [1]
Secular humanism [2]
Young Hegelians (1820s)
Main interests
Philosophy of religion
Notable ideas
Religion as the outward projection of human inner nature
Feuerbach sig.svg

Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach (German: [ˈluːtvɪç ˈfɔʏ̯ɐbax] ; [3] [4] 28 July 1804 – 13 September 1872) was a German philosopher and anthropologist best known for his book The Essence of Christianity , which provided a critique of Christianity that strongly influenced generations of later thinkers, including Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, [5] Sigmund Freud, [6] Friedrich Engels, [7] Richard Wagner, [8] and Friedrich Nietzsche. [9]


An associate of Left Hegelian circles, Feuerbach advocated atheism and anthropological materialism [1] Many of his philosophical writings offered a critical analysis of religion. His thought was influential in the development of historical materialism, [5] where he is often recognized as a bridge between Hegel and Marx. [10]

Life and career

Feuerbach was the third son of the eminent jurist Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, brother of mathematician Karl Wilhelm Feuerbach and uncle of painter Anselm Feuerbach. [10] Feuerbach's other brothers were almost all distinguished in scholarship or science:

He also had three sisters:


Feuerbach matriculated in the University of Heidelberg in 1823 with the intention of pursuing a career in the church. [10] Through the influence of Karl Daub he was led to an interest in the then predominant philosophy of Hegel and, in spite of his father's opposition, enrolled in the University of Berlin in 1824 in order to study under the master himself. After 2 years, the Hegelian influence began to slacken. Feuerbach became associated with a group known as the Young Hegelians, alternately known as the Left Hegelians, who synthesized a radical offshoot of Hegelian philosophy, interpreting Hegel's dialectic march of spirit through history to mean that existing Western culture and institutional forms—and, in particular, Christianity—would be superseded. "Theology," he wrote to a friend, "I can bring myself to study no more. I long to take nature to my heart, that nature before whose depth the faint-hearted theologian shrinks back; and with nature man, man in his entire quality." These words are a key to Feuerbach's development. He completed his education at the University of Erlangen (he matriculated there in 1827) with the study of natural science. He earned his doctorate from Erlangen on 25 July 1828 with his thesis De infinitate, unitate, atque, communitate, rationis (On the Infinitude, Unity, and Universality of Reason), while he habilitated there in November 1828 with his thesis De ratione una, universali, infinita (The One, Universal, and Infinite Reason). [11]

Early writings

His first book, published anonymously, Gedanken über Tod und Unsterblichkeit (1830), contains an attack on personal immortality and an advocacy of the Spinozistic immortality of reabsorption in nature. These principles, combined with his embarrassed manner of public speaking, debarred him from academic advancement. After some years of struggling, during which he published his Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (2 vols., 1833–1837, 2nd ed. 1844), and Abelard und Heloise (1834, 3rd ed. 1877), he married in 1837 and lived a rural existence at Bruckberg near Nuremberg, supported by his wife's share in a small porcelain factory.

In two works of this period, Pierre Bayle (1838) and Philosophie und Christentum (1839), which deal largely with theology, he held that he had proven "that Christianity has in fact long vanished not only from the reason but from the life of mankind, that it is nothing more than a fixed idea."

Das Wesen des Christentums (The Essence of Christianity)

His most important work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841), was translated by Mary Ann Evans (later known as George Eliot) into English as The Essence of Christianity .

Feuerbach's theme was a derivation of Hegel's speculative theology in which the Creation remains a part of the Creator, while the Creator remains greater than the Creation. When the student Feuerbach presented his own theory to professor Hegel, Hegel refused to reply positively to it.

In part I of his book Feuerbach developed what he calls the "true or anthropological essence of religion." Treating of God in his various aspects "as a being of the understanding", "as a moral being or law", "as love" and so on. Feuerbach talks of how humankind is equally a conscious being, more so than God because humans have placed upon God the ability of understanding. Humans contemplate many things and in doing so they become acquainted with themselves. Feuerbach shows that in every aspect God corresponds to some feature or need of human nature. As he states:

In the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own nature.

Ludwig Feuerbach Ludwig feuerbach.jpg
Ludwig Feuerbach

Instead, Feuerbach concludes, "If man is to find contentment in God, he must find himself in God."

Thus God is nothing else than human: he is, so to speak, the outward projection of a human's inward nature. This projection is dubbed as a chimera by Feuerbach, that God and the idea of a higher being is dependent upon the aspect of benevolence. Feuerbach states that, "a God who is not benevolent, not just, not wise, is no God", and continues to say that qualities are not suddenly denoted as divine because of their godly association. The qualities themselves are divine therefore making God divine, indicating that humans are capable of understanding and applying meanings of divinity to religion and not that religion makes a human divine.

The force of this attraction to religion though, giving divinity to a figure like God, is explained by Feuerbach as God is a being that acts throughout humans in all forms. God "is the principle of [man's] salvation, of [man's] good dispositions and actions, consequently [man's] own good principle and nature." It appeals to humankind to give qualities to the idol of their religion because without these qualities a figure such as God would become merely an object, its importance would become obsolete, there would no longer be a feeling of an existence for God. Therefore, Feuerbach says, when humans remove all qualities from God, "God is no longer anything more to him than a negative being." Additionally, because humans are imaginative, God is given traits and there holds the appeal. God is a part of a human through the invention of a God. Equally though, humans are repulsed by God because, "God alone is the being who acts of himself."

In part 2, he discusses the "false or theological essence of religion", i.e. the view which regards God as having a separate existence over against humankind. Hence arise various mistaken beliefs, such as the belief in revelation which he believes not only injures the moral sense, but also "poisons, nay destroys, the divinest feeling in man, the sense of truth", and the belief in sacraments such as the Lord's Supper, which is to him a piece of religious materialism of which "the necessary consequences are superstition and immorality."

A caustic criticism of Feuerbach was delivered in 1844 by Max Stirner. In his book Der Einzige und sein Eigentum ( The Ego and His Own ), he attacked Feuerbach as inconsistent in his atheism. The pertinent portions of the books, Feuerbach's reply, and Stirner's counter-reply form an instructive polemic (see external links).

After 1848

During the troubles of 1848–1849 Feuerbach's attack upon orthodoxy made him something of a hero with the revolutionary party; but he never threw himself into the political movement, and indeed lacked the qualities of a popular leader. During the period of the Frankfurt Congress he had given public lectures on religion at Heidelberg. When the diet closed he withdrew to Bruckberg and occupied himself partly with scientific study, partly with the composition of his Theogonie (1857).

In 1860 he was compelled by the failure of the porcelain factory to leave Bruckberg, and he would have suffered the extremity of want but for the assistance of friends supplemented by a public subscription. His last book, Gottheit, Freiheit und Unsterblichkeit, appeared in 1866 (2nd ed., 1890). In 1868 he read the first volume of Marx's Capital and joined the Social-Democratic Party. [12] After a long period of decline, he died on September 13, 1872. He is buried in Johannis-Friedhof Cemetery in Nuremberg, which is also where the artist Albrecht Dürer is interred.

Philosophical work

Essentially the thought of Feuerbach consisted in a new interpretation of religion's phenomena, giving an anthropological explanation. Following Schleiermacher’s theses, Feuerbach thought religion was principally a matter of feeling in its unrestricted subjectivity. So the feeling breaks through all the limits of understanding and manifests itself in several religious beliefs. But, beyond the feeling, is the fancy, the true maker of projections of "Gods" and of the sacred in general.


Critical reception

According to Mathilde Blind:

Unlike his countrymen, whose writings on these subjects are usually enveloped in such an impenetrable mist that their most perilous ideas pass harmlessly over the heads of the multitude, Feuerbach, by his keen incisiveness of language and luminousness of exposition, was calculated to bring his meaning home to the average reader. [13]


Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were strongly influenced by Feuerbach's atheism, although they criticised him for his inconsistent espousal of materialism. [5] Recently, Feuerbach was reinterpreted as one of the forerunners of modern media theory. [14]

See also


  1. 1 2 Axel Honneth, Hans Joas, Social Action and Human Nature, Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 18.
  2. Robert M. Price, Religious and Secular Humanism – What's the difference?
  3. Dudenredaktion; Kleiner, Stefan; Knöbl, Ralf (2015) [First published 1962]. Das Aussprachewörterbuch [The Pronunciation Dictionary] (in German) (7th ed.). Berlin: Dudenverlag. pp. 367, 566. ISBN   978-3-411-04067-4.
  4. Krech, Eva-Maria; Stock, Eberhard; Hirschfeld, Ursula; Anders, Lutz Christian (2009). Deutsches Aussprachewörterbuch [German Pronunciation Dictionary] (in German). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 507, 711. ISBN   978-3-11-018202-6.
  5. 1 2 3 Nicholas Churchich, Marxism and Alienation, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990, p. 57: "Although Marx has rejected Feuerbach's abstract materialism," Lenin says that Feuerbach's views "are consistently materialist," implying that Feuerbach's conception of causality is entirely in line with dialectical materialism."
  6. 1923-2015., Gay, Peter (1988). Freud: A Life for Our Time (1st ed.). New York: Norton. pp. 28–29. ISBN   0393025179. OCLC   16353245.
  7. Engels, Friedrich (1903), Feuerbach: The Roots of the Socialist Philosophy, C.H. Kerr & Co., Chicago, p. 5
  8. Wagner, Richard (1850), The Artwork of the Future, Otto Wigand, Leipzig, p. 7
  9. Higgins, Kathleen (2000), What Nietzsche Really Said, Random House, NY, p. 86
  10. 1 2 3 Harvey, Van A., "Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  11. Francesco Tomasoni, Ludwig Feuerbach: Entstehung, Entwicklung und Bedeutung seines Werks, Waxmann Verlag, 2015, p. 58.
  12. Nürnberger Nachrichten , Wed. July 28, 2004, Kulturteil p. 1.
  13. Blind, Mathilde (1883). "IV. Translation of Strauss and Feuerbach—Tour on the Continent". George Eliot. p. 47.
  14. Mikhail A. Kurtov (2019). “Whence the Means?” Ludwig Feuerbach and the Origin of Media Theory. Russian Studies in Philosophy. 57. pp. 128–154.

Related Research Articles

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel German philosopher

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher and an important figure of German idealism. He achieved recognition in his day and—while primarily influential in the continental tradition of philosophy—has become increasingly influential in the analytic tradition as well. Although Hegel remains a divisive figure, his canonical stature in Western philosophy is universally recognized.

Max Stirner German philosopher

Johann Kaspar Schmidt, better known as Max Stirner, was a German philosopher who is often seen as one of the forerunners of nihilism, existentialism, psychoanalytic theory, postmodernism, and individualist anarchism. Stirner's main work, The Ego and Its Own, also known as The Unique And Its Property, or, literally, The Individual and His Property, was first published in 1845 in Leipzig and has since appeared in numerous editions and translations.

The Ego and Its Own is an 1844 work by German philosopher Max Stirner. It presents a radically nominalist and individualist critique of Christianity, nationalism, and traditional morality on one hand; and on the other, humanism, utilitarianism, liberalism, and much of the then-burgeoning socialist movement, advocating instead an amoral egoism. It is considered a major influence on the development of anarchism, existentialism, nihilism, and postmodernism.

Immanuel Hermann Fichte German philosopher

Immanuel Hermann Fichte was a German philosopher and son of Johann Gottlieb Fichte. In his philosophy, he was a theist and strongly opposed to the Hegelian School.

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling German philosopher

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, later von Schelling, was a German philosopher. Standard histories of philosophy make him the midpoint in the development of German idealism, situating him between Johann Gottlieb Fichte, his mentor in his early years, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, his one-time university roommate, early friend, and later rival. Interpreting Schelling's philosophy is regarded as difficult because of its evolving nature.

German idealism Predominant philosophical movement in Germany around 1800

German idealism was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s, and was closely linked both with Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment. The best-known thinkers in the movement, besides Kant, were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the proponents of Jena Romanticism. August Ludwig Hülsen, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Arthur Schopenhauer also made major contributions.

Joseph Dietzgen german philosopher

Peter Josef Dietzgen was a German socialist philosopher, Marxist and journalist. Joseph was born in Blankenberg in the Rhine Province of Prussia. He was the first of five children of father Johann Gottfried Anno Dietzgen (1794–1887) and mother Anna Margaretha Lückerath (1808–1881). He was, like his father, a tanner by profession; inheriting his uncle's business in Siegburg. Entirely self-educated, he developed the notion of dialectical materialism independently from Marx and Engels as an independent philosopher of socialist theory. His publications had major influences on Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Revolution of 1917, which are rarely commented on today. Ludwig Feuerbach's works had a great influence on his early theories. He had one son, Eugene Dietzgen.

<i>The Essence of Christianity</i> book

The Essence of Christianity is a book by Ludwig Feuerbach first published in 1841. It explains Feuerbach's philosophy and critique of religion.

Influences on Karl Marx are generally thought to have been derived from three sources, namely German idealist philosophy, French socialism and English and Scottish political economy.

Julius Schaller was a German philosopher born in Magdeburg.

Religious alienation is a term some use to describe how religion creates an impediment to human self-understanding.

Friedrich Feuerbach German philosopher

Friedrich Heinrich Feuerbach was a German philologist and philosopher. In the 1840s he played an important role disseminating materialist and atheist philosophy.

Karl Theodor Ferdinand Grün German journalist, political theorist and socialist politician

Karl Theodor Ferdinand Grün, also known by his alias Ernst von der Haide, was a German journalist, philosopher, political theorist and socialist politician. He played a prominent role in radical political movements leading up to the Revolution of 1848 and participated in the revolution. He was an associate of Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Feuerbach, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin and other radical political figures of the era. Though less widely known today, Grün was an important figure in the German Vormärz, Young Hegelian philosophy and the democratic and socialist movements in nineteenth-century Germany. As a target of Marx's criticism, Grün played a role in the development of early Marxism; through his philosophical influence on Proudhon, he had a certain influence on the development of French socialist theory.

Marxist–Leninist atheism, also known as Marxist–Leninist scientific atheism, is the irreligious and anti-clerical element of Marxism–Leninism, the official state ideology of the Soviet Union. Based upon a dialectical-materialist understanding of humanity's place in nature, Marxist–Leninist atheism proposes that religion is the opium of the people, meant to promote a person's passive acceptance of his and her poverty and exploitation as the normal way of human life on Earth in the hope of a spiritual reward after death; thus, Marxism–Leninism advocates atheism, rather than religious belief.

<i>Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy</i> 1886 book by Friedrich Engels

Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy is a book published by Friedrich Engels in 1886.

Young Hegelians A group of German intellectuals who reacted to and wrote about Hegels ambiguous legacy

The Young Hegelians, or Left Hegelians (Linkshegelianer), or the Hegelian Left, were a group of German intellectuals who, in the decade or so after the death of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in 1831, reacted to and wrote about his ambiguous legacy. The Young Hegelians drew on his idea that the purpose and promise of history was the total negation of everything conducive to restricting freedom and reason; and they proceeded to mount radical critiques, first of religion and then of the Prussian political system. They rejected anti-utopian aspects of his thought that "Old Hegelians" have interpreted to mean that the world has already essentially reached perfection.

Marxist philosophy Philosophy influenced by Marxist political thought

Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are works in philosophy that are strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory, or works written by Marxists. Marxist philosophy may be broadly divided into Western Marxism, which drew out of various sources, and the official philosophy in the Soviet Union, which enforced a rigid reading of Marx called dialectical materialism, in particular during the 1930s. Marxist philosophy is not a strictly defined sub-field of philosophy, because the diverse influence of Marxist theory has extended into fields as varied as aesthetics, ethics, ontology, epistemology, theoretical psychology and philosophy of science, as well as its obvious influence on political philosophy and the philosophy of history. The key characteristics of Marxism in philosophy are its materialism and its commitment to political practice as the end goal of all thought. The theory is also about the hustles of the proletariat and their reprimand of the bourgeoisie.

Hegelianism Philosophy based on the work of G. W. F. Hegel

Hegelianism is the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel which can be summed up by the dictum that "the rational alone is real", which means that all reality is capable of being expressed in rational categories. His goal was to reduce reality to a more synthetic unity within the system of absolute idealism.

Dialectical materialism strand of Marxism

Dialectical materialism is a philosophy of science and nature developed in Europe and based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Marxist dialectics emphasizes the importance of real-world conditions, in terms of class, labor, and socioeconomic interactions. This is in contrast to the Hegelian dialectic, which emphasized the idealist observation that human experience is dependent on the mind's perceptions. Marx supposed that these material conditions contained contradictions which seek resolution in new forms of social organization.

Theses on Feuerbach literary work

The "Theses on Feuerbach" are eleven short philosophical notes written by Karl Marx as a basic outline for the first chapter of the book The German Ideology in 1845. Like the book for which they were written, the theses were never published in Marx's lifetime, seeing print for the first time in 1888 as an appendix to a pamphlet by his co-thinker Friedrich Engels. The document is best remembered for the epigrammatic 11th thesis and final line: "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it."