1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Feuerbach, Ludwig Andreas
FEUERBACH, LUDWIG ANDREAS (1804–1872), German philosopher, fourth son of the eminent jurist (see below), was born at Landshut in Bavaria on the 28th of July 1804. He matriculated at Heidelberg with the intention of pursuing an ecclesiastical career. Through the influence of Prof. Daub he was led to an interest in the then predominant philosophy of Hegel and, in spite of his father’s opposition, went to Berlin to study under the master himself. After two years’ discipleship the Hegelian influence began to slacken. “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 Erlangen with the study of natural science. His first book, published anonymously, Gedanken über Tod und Unsterblichkeit (1830, 3rd ed. 1876), contains an attack upon 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 Abälard 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 proved “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” in flagrant contradiction to the distinctive features of contemporary civilization. This attack is followed up in his most important work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841), which was translated into English (The Essence of Religion, by George Eliot, 1853, 2nd ed. 1881), French and Russian. Its aim may be described shortly as an effort to humanize theology. He lays it down that man, so far as he is rational, is to himself his own object of thought. Religion is consciousness of the infinite. Religion therefore is “nothing else than the consciousness of the infinity of the consciousness; or, in the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his object the infinity of his own nature.” Thus God is nothing else than man: he is, so to speak, the outward projection of man’s inward nature. In part 1 of his book he develops 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 shows that in every aspect God corresponds to some feature or need of human nature. “If man is to find contentment in God, he must find himself in God.” 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 man. Hence arise various mistaken beliefs, such as the belief in revelation which not only injures the moral sence, 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, a piece of religious materialism of which “the necessary consequences are superstition and immorality.” In spite of many admirable qualities both of style and matter the Essence of Christianity has never made much impression upon British thought. To treat the actual forms of religion as expressions of our various human needs is a fruitful idea which deserves fuller development than it has yet received; but Feuerbach’s treatment of it is fatally vitiated by his subjectivism. Feuerbach denied that he was rightly called an atheist, but the denial is merely verbal: what he calls “theism” is atheism in the ordinary sense. Feuerbach labours under the same difficulty as Fichte; both thinkers strive in vain to reconcile the religious consciousness with subjectivism.
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 had not the qualities of a popular leader. During the period of the diet of Frankfort 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). After a long period of decay he died on the 13th of September 1872.
Feuerbach’s influence has been greatest upon the anti-Christian theologians such as D. F. Strauss, the author of the Leben Jesu, and Bruno Bauer, who like Feuerbach himself had passed over from Hegelianism to a form of naturalism. But many of his ideas were taken up by those who, like Arnold Ruge, had entered into the struggle between church and state in Germany, and those who, like F. Engels and Karl Marx, were leaders in the revolt of labour against the power of capital. His work was too deliberately unsystematic (“keine Philosophie ist meine Philosophie”) ever to make him a power in philosophy. He expressed in an eager, disjointed, but condensed and laboured fashion, certain deep-lying convictions—that philosophy must come back from unsubstantial metaphysics to the solid facts of human nature and natural science, that the human body was no less important than the human spirit (“Der Mensch ist was er isst”) and that Christianity was utterly out of harmony with the age. His convictions gained weight from the simplicity, uprightness and diligence of his character; but they need a more effective justification than he was able to give them.
His works appeared in 10 vols. (Leipzig, 1846–1866); his correspondence has been edited with an indifferent biography by Karl Grün (1874). See A. Lévy, La Philosophie de Feuerbach (1904); M. Meyer, L. Feuerbach’s Moralphilosophie (Berlin, 1899); E. v. Hartmann, Geschichte d. Metaphysik (Leipzig, 1899–1900), ii. 437-444: F. Engels, L. Feuerbach und d. Ausgang d. class. deutsch. Philos. (2nd ed., 1895). (H. St.)