Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas

views updated Jun 27 2018


German philosopher; b. Landshut, July 28, 1804; d. Rechenberg, near Nürnberg, Sept. 13, 1872; a proponent of atheistic humanism, he prepared the way for Karl Marx's dialectical and historical materialism with his criticisms of Hegelian philosophy.

Feuerbach originally embarked upon a theological course of studies, but abandoned this to study philosophy under hegel in Berlin. For a short time he taught at the University of Erlangen, then withdrew from the faculty after he was discovered and criticized as author of an anonymous work, Gedanken eines Denkers über Tod und Unsterblichkeit (1830), which denied the immortality of the soul. He then retired to an estate in the country, where his wife's affluence allowed him to lead a life of private study.

Initially a fervent Hegelian, Feuerbach soon became convinced that Hegel's philosophy is too idealistic and does not pay sufficient attention to man in his physical environment. In an article in the Hallische Jahrbücher (1839) that was to determine the further development of left-wing Hegelianism, he attacked Hegel's idealism for spiritualizing nature and taking away its proper reality. According to Hegel, nature has no concrete reality in itself: it is a mere estrangement of the Absolute Spirit. For Feuerbach, the relation between idea and concrete reality is to be reversed; rather than seek the explanation of man in a superhuman, immaterial "Idea," as Hegel did, philosophy should look for the origin of all ideology in man's concrete, material reality.

In his major work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841), Feuerbach applied this principle to the special case of religion. Man in his relation to nature is the first and ultimate reality. But in religion man projects his own nature into an imaginary world above him. To an illusionary Being he ascribes qualities that rightly belong to the human species as a whole; all the attributes predicated of God are therefore derived from man's own nature. The cause of this self-estrangement Feuerbach finds in man's consciousness of his individual limitation. Unable to face limitations that humiliate him personally, man blames the entire human nature for them and attributes the perfections of the species to a Supreme Being. The task of Feuerbach's anthropology is to restore to man all the qualities he has estranged from himself in religion, and to make him aware of the fact that he is his own God.

In an article published in 1842, Vorläufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie, Feuerbach extended his critique of religion to all speculative philosophy, particularly Hegelianism. Philosophy is in fact a pseudotheology, and Hegel's Idea fulfills the same function as God in religion: it places the essence of man outside man. This article, as well as Das Wesen des Christentums, profoundly influenced Marx in his interpretation and use of the Hegelian dialectic. In his later work Feuerbach gradually evolved toward materialism; more and more he came to see man as a physical being whose thoughts and feelings are determined by his material living conditions. Later, Marx would criticize this materialism in the Theses on Feuerbach and distinguish his own, more dialectical position from Feuerbach's.

Historically Feuerbach remains an important figure because he was the first philosopher in the Christian world openly to defend humanistic atheism, and also because his work has influenced the development of Marxism more than that of any other thinker except Hegel. His theory on the origin of religion is simplistic and has been abandoned today. His criticism of Hegel is based on a misunderstanding of Hegel's Idea, which is not solely logical or spiritual, as Feuerbach assumes, but the self-development of reality as well as thought.

See Also: hegelianism and neo-hegelianism; materialism, dialectical and historical.

Bibliography: l. a. feuerbach, Sämtliche werke, ed. w. bolin and f. jodl, 10 v. (Stuttgart 195960); The Essence of Christianity, tr. g. eliot (New York 1957). w. b. chamberlain, Heaven Wasn't His Destination: The Philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach (London 1941).

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Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach

views updated Jun 11 2018

Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach

The German philosopher Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872) is noted for his criticism of orthodox religion. It may be said that he humanized God while deifying man.

Ludwig Feuerbach was born on July 28, 1804, in Landshut, Bavaria. He studied at the University of Heidelberg and then switched from theology to philosophy and moved to the University of Berlin, where he became a diligent student of G. W. F. Hegel. In 1828 he received his doctorate at the University of Erlangen.

Feuerbach's first publication was an essay entitled Thoughts about Death and Immortality (1830). Because it was so controversial at that time to deny the immortality of the soul, he published his work anonymously. In the following years he tried unsuccessfully to obtain a professorship. Even his scholarly books were of no help: From Bacon to Spinoza (1833), Leibniz (1836), and Pierre Bayle (1838). In 1839 his criticism of Hegel became evident. Later he vigorously began his criticism of religion.

Feuerbach's primary work is The Essence of Christianity (1841), one of the first attempts at understanding religion from a strictly human point of view. He holds that the sources of religion are human wishes, imagination, feelings, emotions, and, above all, man's desire to elucidate his own essence. Accordingly, Feuerbach sees in God the purified essence of man himself and the unlimited ideal of man's capabilities. He insists that religion is necessary for man's search for himself and that it separates man from the animals. Furthermore, he concedes that among all religions Christianity has a special mandate, seen in the doctrine that God became man. However, for him it was not God who became man; in fact, it is man who intends to conceive his own real essence in Jesus Christ. Consequently, Feuerbach suggests that theology and Christology should be transmuted into anthropology, into a theory about the divine nature of man.

Besides shaking the foundation of theology, Feuerbach outlined the principles of new ways of philosophizing: Preparatory Theses on the Reform of Philosophy (1842) and Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1843). In these he explained that the basis of philosophy is not reason and abstraction but human sensuality, sexuality, and emotions. He was one of the first in modern times to emphasize the problem of communication; hence, he understood the human ego as a relation to another human being, to a "thou."

In 1844 Feuerbach revised The Essence of Christianity. Further writings clarified his position, among them The Essence of Faith according to Luther (1844) and The Essence of Religion (1846). Because of his strong criticism of religion he was never given opportunity to join any faculty in Germany. He lived in an idyllic retreat at Bruckberg and in 1857 published his Theogony. He died at Rechenberg on Sept. 13, 1872.

Further Reading

Feuerbach's life and thought are examined in Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1895; trans. 1934); William B. Chamberlain, Heaven Wasn't His Destination (1941); and Martin Buber, Between Man and Man (1947). Recommended introductions to various aspects of Feuerbach's writings are Karl Barth's introductory essay to Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (1957) and Manfred H. Vogel, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1965). □