Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German philosophy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German philosophy


a philosophical work by F. Engels, devoted to the question of Marxist philosophy’s relation to one of its theoretical sources, classical German philosophy, and especially to the doctrines of G. Hegel and L. Feuerbach. The work offers a systematic exposition of the principles of dialectical and historical materialism. It was written in the beginning of 1886, after the publication of the Danish philosopher C. N. Starcke’s Ludwig Feuerbach (Stuttgart, 1885). V. I. Lenin considered that Engels’ Ludwig Feuerbach, together with the Communist Manifesto and Anti-Duhring, was “a handbook for every class-conscious worker” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, p. 43).

In the first chapter, discussing the philosophical revolution in Germany, Engels describes Hegelian philosophy as the culmination of classical German philosophy and of all prior philosophical development and as one of the theoretical sources of Marxism, and he traces the disintegration of the Hegelian school. Analyzing the contradiction between the revolutionary and conservative aspects of Hegelian philosophy, between Hegel’s dialectical method and his dogmatic system, Engels shows that the historical significance and revolutionary character of Hegelianism lay in its development of dialectics.

In the second chapter, revealing the essence of materialism and idealism, Engels states that the principal question of philosophy is the relation between being and consciousness. He identifies the two aspects of this question (the primacy of being and the knowability of the world), divides philosophy into the two great camps of materialism and idealism, criticizes agnosticism, and emphasizes the role of social experience in knowledge and philosophy’s dependence on the development of science and material production. Criticizing the shortcomings of the method of metaphysical materialism, Engels shows the limitations of 18th-century French materialism—its mechanistic and metaphysical nature and its idealistic conception of history.

In his third chapter Engels attacks Feuerbach’s idealistic conception of history as manifested in his philosophy of religion and ethics.

The fourth chapter outlines the main concepts of dialectical materialism and particularly the materialist view of history. The rise of dialectical materialism constituted a revolutionary turning point in philosophy. Engels shows the transformation of dialectics into materialist dialectics and of materialism into dialectical materialism, which is consistently applied in understanding society and its history. Engels defines materialist dialectics as the science of the general laws of development and of universal relations in nature, society, and thought and contrasts it with metaphysics. He notes that in understanding the interrelationship of natural processes, three great discoveries were of decisive significance: the discovery of the cell and of the transformation of energy and the rise of Darwinism. Turning to an analysis of society and of the laws of its development, Engels characterizes human activity as the distinctive feature of social development, reveals the true, material moving forces of history concealed behind man’s idealistic motives, shows the causes of the rise of classes and of class struggle, evinces the correlation between economics and politics and between the base and the superstructure, and provides a philosophical analysis of the state, law, philosophy, and religion. He also points out the change in the subject of philosophy in the course of its development.

Ludwig Feuerbach was originally published in the theoretical journal of German Social Democracy, Die Neue Zeit (Stuttgart, 1886, nos. 4-5). It was next published as a pamphlet with a preface by Engels (dated Feb. 21, 1888) and an appendix by Marx entitled “Theses on Feuerbach” (Stuttgart, 1888). A Russian translation by G. F. L’vovich, with numerous deviations from the original text, was published in 1889 in the St. Petersburg journal Severnyi vestnik (nos. 3-4) under the title “The Crisis of the Philosophy of Classical Idealism in Germany.” The Emancipation of Labor group published a complete Russian translation by G. V. Plekhanov in Geneva in 1892, and a second edition with a preface by Plekhanov came out in Geneva in 1905. A French translation by L. Lafargue, which had been approved by F. Engels, was published in 1894 in the Paris journal L’Ere nouvelle (nos. 4-5). A Bulgarian translation (from the Russian) came out in Bulgaria in 1892, a Ukrainian translation in L’vov in 1899, an Italian translation in Rome in 1902, and an English translation in Chicago in 1903.

Ludwig Feuerbach is one of the best-known Marxist works and has been published in almost all European countries and in other parts of the world in dozens of languages. In the USSR the work has been published as a separate book 121 times in 33 languages, both of the peoples of the USSR and foreign languages, with a total of 4,806,000 copies (as of Jan. 1, 1971).


Engels, F. I. Blokhu, 21-22 sent. 1890. (Letter.) In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 37, p. 396.
Engels, F. V. la. Shmuilovu, 7 fevr. 1893. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 39, p. 22.
Engels, F. V. Borgiusu, 25 ianv. 1894. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 39, p. 176.
Plekhanov, G. V. F. Engel’su, 25 marta 1893. (Letter.) In K. Marx, F. Engel’s i revoliutsionnaia Rossiia. Moscow, 1967. Pages 648-49.
Lenin, V. I. “Tri istochnika i tri sostavnykh chasti marksizma.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, p. 43. (See also Index, part 2, p. 351.)
Rozental’, M. O proizvedenii F. Engel’sa “Ludwig Feuerbach i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii.” Moscow, 1952.
Baller, E. A. Proizvedenie F. Engel’sa “Ludwig Feuerbach i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii.” Moscow, 1960.
Biletskii, E. E. U istokov marksistskoi filosofii. Moscow, 1965. Pokrovskaia, V. I., and V. I. Svintsov. O rabote F. Engel’sa “Ludwig
Feuerbach i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii.” Moscow, 1965.


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