Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach

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Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas


Born July 28, 1804, in Landshut, Bavaria; died Sept. 13, 1872, in Rechenberg, near Nuremberg. German materialist philosopher and atheist.

Feuerbach was the son of the jurist P. J. A. von Feuerbach. After graduating from the local Gymnasium, he entered the theology faculty of Heidelberg University in 1823. Dissatisfied with dogmatic orthodoxy, he moved from Heidelberg to Berlin, where he attended lectures by Hegel, and it was under his influence that Feuerbach’s views were formed. After graduating from the University of Berlin in 1828, Feuerbach defended at Erlangen University a dissertation entitled “On Individual, Universal, and Infinite Reason,” which on the whole reflected the spirit of Hegelian idealism. By this time, however, Feuerbach already differed with Hegel with regard to religion in general and the Christian religion in particular, which, Feuerbach was convinced, was incompatible with reason and truth. After defending the dissertation, Feuerbach became a privatdocent at Erlangen University, where, beginning in 1829, he gave a course in Hegelian philosophy and the history of modern philosophy. In 1830, Feuerbach published anonymously Thoughts on Death and Immortality, in which he rejected the idea of the soul’s immortality. Feuerbach’s authorship was established, the book was confiscated, and he lost his right to teach.

Feuerbach, however, did not abandon his scholarly work. In a three-volume work on the history of 17th-century philosophy, Feuerbach, still essentially adhering to Hegelian positions, devoted more attention to the materialist philosophers and atheists and evaluated highly their contribution to the development of scientific thought. In 1836, Feuerbach married and for 25 years he almost never left the village of Bruckberg, where his wife was co-owner of a small pottery factory. In 1859 the factory went bankrupt and Feuerbach moved to Rechenberg, where he spent the last years of his life in severe indigence.

Feuerbach wholeheartedly welcomed the Revolution of 1848. However, he did not take an active part in political life; even as a deputy to the Frankfurt Assembly in 1848, he remained politically passive. In the last years of his life, Feuerbach displayed great interest in social and economic problems; he studied K. Marx’ Das Kapital and in 1870 joined the Social Democratic Party.

Feuerbach’s principal works include A Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy (1839), The Essence of Christianity (1841), Principles of the Philosophy of the Future (1843) and Preliminary Theses for a Reform of Philosophy (1842).

Feuerbach’s life constituted an uncompromising struggle against religion. In contrast to the Hegelian philosopny of religion, Feuerbach regarded philosophy and religion as world views that were mutually exclusive. The reason for the vitality of religious beliefs, according to Feuerbach, is not only deceit, which relies on ignorance; the true reason for religion’s existence is rooted in human nature and in man’s living conditions. Feuerbach perceived the source of religious illusions in man’s sense of dependence, limitedness, and impotence with respect to the elements and forces that were not subject to his will. The impotence seeks an outlet in hope and consolation borne of fantasy—in this way the concept of gods arises as the source for realizing human hopes. God, according to Feuerbach, while a projection of the human spirit, is alienated from man and is objectivized; not only is autonomous existence ascribed to god, but he is transformed from being a creation of man into being man’s creator and into the original source of everything extant. Thus man himself is made dependent on the “supreme being” he has invented.

Religion, in Feuerbach’s view, paralyzes man’s aspiration for a better life in the real world and for a transformation of this world; in place of this aspiration, religion leaves man with a submissive and patient expectation of a future supernatural requital. In rejecting religious worship, Feuerbach offered the worship of man, which he clothed in the religious form of the deification of man. Feuerbach viewed his axiom “man is god to man” as an antidote to theistic religion.

Feuerbach’s criticism of religion grew into criticism of philosophical idealism, which culminated in his acceptance of materialism in 1839. After becoming convinced of the kinship between idealism and religion, Feuerbach engaged in combat against the consummate form of idealism: German classical idealism and its culmination, Hegel’s philosophy. The principal flaw of idealism, according to Feuerbach, was the identification of existence with thought. “Mental existence is not real existence. . . . The image of this existence outside thought is matter, a substratum of reality” (Izbrannye filosofskie proizvedeniia, vol. 1, Moscow, 1955, pp. 175, 176). Feuerbach’s philosophy is based on the principle that “existence is the subject, thought is the predicate” (ibid., p. 128).

In the theory of cognition, Feuerbach continued the line of materialist sensationalism. Giving priority to experience as the source of knowledge, he stressed the mutual connection between sensate contemplation and thought in the process of cognition.

The heart of Feuerbach’s doctrine is that man is “the sole, universal, and supreme subject of philosophy” (ibid., p. 202). Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism proceeds from a view of man as a psychophysiological being. Man, according to Feuerbach, is a material object and simultaneously a thinking subject. From this standpoint, Feuerbach rejected simplistic and mechanistic materialism. At the same time, Feuerbach’s anthropological approach was based on a biological and not a social interpretation of human nature. This is the boundary that Feuerbachian, as well as all pre-Marxian, materialism could not surmount, inasmuch as it did not extend the materialist interpretation to the sphere of social life. Feuerbach’s anthropological approach as a whole did not go beyond the framework of metaphysical materialism. In opposing Hegelian idealism, Feuerbach also rejected Hegel’s dialectic, failing to see the possibility of another, nonidealist dialectic.

Feuerbach’s world view culminated in his doctrine of morality, which was based on the “unity of I and thou.” In Feuerbach, the system of social relations is replaced by the concepts of species and interpersonal communication. The pursuit of happiness, viewed as the driving-force of human will, entails a consciousness of moral duty, since “I” can neither be happy nor exist altogether without “thou.” The pursuit of one’s own happiness transcends egotism, and is unattainable without human unity. Feuerbach’s ethical doctrine had a progressive significance, owing to its humanistic, democratic, and antireligious character. However, devoid of a historical-materialist foundation, his ethics, like his atheism, failed to lead to an awareness of the need to transform social existence as a real condition of achieving human happiness. Another limitation of his ethics was the metaphysical character of Feuerbach’s ethical theory, which “is designed to suit all periods, all peoples, and all conditions, and precisely for that reason it is never and nowhere applicable” (F. Engels, see K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 298).

The historic importance of Feuerbach’s philosophical and antireligious ideas is strikingly apparent since his materialism became the point of departure for the formation of the philosophy of Marxism. More than 40 years after Marx’ criticism in “Theses on Feuerbach” of the narrowness of Feuerbachian materialism, Engels wrote: “We are left with an unpaid debt of honor: full recognition of the influence that Feuerbach, in our period of Sturm und Drang, exerted on us to a greater extent than any other philosopher since Hegel” (ibid., p. 371).


Gesammelte Werke, vols. 1–16. Berlin, 1967–75. Edited by W. Schuffenhauer.
In Russian translation:
Izbrannye filosofskie proizvedeniia, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1955.
Istoriia filosofii, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1974.


Marx, K. “Tezisy o Feierbakhe.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Engels, F. Liudvig Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii. Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Konspekt knigi Feierbakha ‘Lektsii o sushchnosti religii’.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29.
Lenin, V. I. “Konspekt knigi Feierbakha ‘Izlozhenie, analiz i kritika filosofii Leibnitsa’.” Ibid.
Jodl, F. Liudvig Feierbakh: Ego zhizn i uchenie. St. Petersburg, 1905. (Translated from German.)
Deborin, A. M. L. Feierbakh. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Istoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1943. Chapter 7.
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Jankowski, H. Etyka L. Feuerbacha. Warsaw, 1963.
Schuffenhauer, W. Feuerbach und der junge Marx. Berlin, 1965.
Schmidt, A. Emanzipatorische Sinnlichkeit: L. Feuerbachs anthropologischer Materialismus. Munich, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.