The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas
Edition of 1920. See also Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FEUERBACH, foi'ĕr-bäH, Ludwig Andreas, German philosopher: b. Landshut, Bavaria, 28 July 1804; d. 13 Sept. 1872; the fourth son of the illustrious jurist, Paul Johann Anselm Feuerbach. After a secondary education he studied divinity at Heidelberg and Berlin, but fell under the sway of Hegel and took his doctor's degree in philosophy. After a brief period as privatdozent in Erlangen, he became persona non grata on account of an heretical pamphlet embodying ‘Thoughts on Death and Immortality.’ From a follower of Hegel he developed rapidly into an out-and-out free-thinker and democrat. Besides a more technical ‘History of Modern Philosophy’ and a monograph on Leibnitz he wrote reviews and essays for the most radical periodical of the time, Arnold Ruge's Jahrbücher. In 1841 appeared his most significant work ‘The Essence of Christianity’ (translated by George Eliot), which won him a place among the foremost advanced thinkers of the day. He entered into correspondence with Karl Marx and is indeed regarded by Socialists as a precursor of their classic authorities. He sympathized with the revolutionary uprising of 1848 but took no active part beyond delivering a course of lectures to the Heidelberg students on the “Essence of Religion.” During the dark period of reaction his prestige waned but he continued his researches into the nature of religion, producing in 1857 the ‘Theogonie,’ in which unfulfilled desire was defined as the core of religious feeling. Financial failure threatened him in 1860, but the loyalty of his friends saved him from actual want and in the last few years of his life he was once more able to attack in a volume on ‘God, Freedom, Immortality,’ the religious problems to which he had so persistently devoted himself.

Feuerbach was not a systematic philosopher and became progressively more averse to metaphysics, developing an affection for the methods of natural science and a popular, vivid style, though at times marred by diffuseness and dithyrambs. As an absolutely honest and uncompromising champion of free-thought and political liberalism he exerted a tremendous influence both on Socialists and natural scientists of the materialistic school. He has been appropriately compared to a powerful ferment. Richard Wagner, Ferdinand Lassalle and Gottfried Keller are among those who were deeply stirred by his writings. Feuerbach's philosophy of religion is remarkable for the bold assumption of a purely psychological point of view, while historical problems and social factors (as Marx pointed out) are ignored. The neglect of concrete historical conditions distinguishes his method of approach from that of Strauss, while his concentration on individual psychology required supplementing by modern sociological and ethnological considerations. Nevertheless, the insistence on the purely human rather than metaphysical aspects of the problem marked an epoch-making departure in the history of the subject. His essays on ‘The Necessity of a Reformation of Philosophy,’ ‘Preliminary Theses,’ and ‘Principles of a Philosophy of the Future’ (1842-43) are remarkable anticipations of modern pragmatism with the emphasis on democratic aspirations.

Bibliography. — Bolin, Wilhelm, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach, seine Wirken und seine Zeitgenossen’ (Stuttgart 1891); Grün, Karl, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach in seinem Briefwechsel und Nachlass’ (Leipzig 1874); Jodl, Friedrich, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach’ (Stuttgart 1904); Kohut, Adolph, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach’ (Leipzig 1909).

Robert H. Lowie,
American Museum of Natural History.