Feuerbach in Context: A Philosophical Reassessment

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 1-1-2004


Campus Only

Submission Type


Degree Name





McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Thomas Rockmore

Committee Member

Daniel Selcer

Committee Member

Ronald Polanksy


alienation, Anthropology, AtheismustStreit, Atheist, Bayle, Critique of Hegel, Das Wessen des Christentums, De Ratione, dialectic, Dorguth, Engels, Essence of Christianity, Essence of Religion, Feuerbach, Fichte, Frederick Engels, Gattung, Gattungswessen, Gedanken uber tod und unterblickheit, Geist, German idealism, Globalization, God, God in exile, Hegel, Hegelians, HEINRICH Heine, infinite, I-Thou relationship, Kant, Karl Barth, Karl Daub, Karl Marx, Karl Rozenkranz, Martin Buber, Marx, Minerva the goddess, Moses Hess, Phillip Marheineke, projection, projection theories, Schelling, secularization, species being, Spirit, Stirner, The Essence of money, The future of humanity, Thoughts on Death and Immortality, Wartofsky, Young Hegelians


Between 1828 and 1872, Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach published a series of works that brought him into the very center of the philosophical and theological debate of his time. Frederick Engels wrote that the "enthusiasm was general; we all became at once Feuerbachians" Richard Wagner hailed him as the "ideal exponent of the radical release of the individual from the thralldom of accepted notions." Karl Marx went to great lengths to criticize, reformulate, and adopt his ideas. "Feuerbach's… insights have been absorbed and transformed, [not only in the works of] Marx, [but also in those of] Freud, Dewey, and Lukacs." "Feuerbach's radical critique of religion has been adopted with almost indecent fervor by radical theology itself, as a way of saving God for mankind and of rescuing religion from total irrelevance to this world. Sartre, Marcel and Buber have taken over Feuerbach's I-Thou as the touchstone of the relation of self to other. The existential psychology and psychiatry of Rogers, Laing, and others had repeated and elaborated the theory and the implicit therapy of Feuerbachian psychology."

The intervening period has obscured Feuerbach's importance. When he is mentioned at all, it is mainly in a perfunctory manner, as a mere stepping stone, or as a bridge from Hegel to Marx. According to Feuerbach, God and truth, the purported objects of philosophy and religion were not the real objects of philosophy and religion. Rather, when decoded and unmasked, the real object of both turns out to be human being. Since human beings are intrinsically social, the realization of this anthropological content relates naturally to realizing the needs of the social group, whose freedom and fulfillment is seen as the elimination of the sources of religious alienation. This dissertation aims at presenting a radically fresh view of Feuerbach substantially original and different from the usual way this under-appreciated thinker is portrayed. This dissertation will be arguing that at the core of Feuerbach's thought are two central themes or concerns: the first epistemological and the second, ontological. By the first concern, I mean that which could be gleaned and constructed from his writings as amounting to the outline of a theory of knowledge. The second, or ontological concern, refers to Feuerbach's theory of being in which he inverts the usual understanding of the relationship between being and thought, mind and reality, thus uncovering a principal thread of modern thought: the principle of immanentism. In the first instance, Feuerbach, for the most part follows Hegel in holding that the relation of the thinking subject to its proper object is possible if and only if the subject and object (of knowledge) are of the same nature. However, for Feuerbach, only the senses, and not thought, gives us an object or thing in the true sense, " thus stressing the primacy of sensuousness in knowledge. "The secret of immediate knowledge, " Feuerbach says, is "sensation." One of the tasks of this dissertation will be to clarify why Feuerbach, who came to maturity in the midst of German idealism, turns to empiricism as a source of knowledge, and what he has in mind in basing his view of knowledge on sensation and how this resultant view relates to the standard view of empiricism. Reading Feuerbach in context, this dissertation will focus on the way he makes use of Hegel, with special emphasis on his claim to show the structural identity between speculative philosophy and religion. I shall examine for instance how, according to Feuerbach, the ideal of human nature as developed by philosophy, could, in conjunction with the ethical force of secularized religion, in principle, transform human life. Feuerbach, in rejecting religious dualism and proclaiming the transcendent value of the human species, takes the first genuine step beyond the thought of Hegel, who had already recognized the independence of man, but had not worked out its consequence.

The main point of this dissertation is to take the measure of Feuerbach's contribution. Now the contribution of any thinker, major or minor, can only be understood within the context of the ongoing discussion. I will be contending that if Feuerbach is to be correctly grasped and understood, he must be situated in the context and against the background of the nineteenth century philosophical, religio-political and social ferment, particularly with respect to Hegel and against the wider historical background.

It is arguable that Feuerbach, who thought of himself as opposing and breaking with Hegel, in fact misunderstood his relation to his great predecessor. For in carrying Hegel's insight further than Hegel, Feuerbach does not so much oppose or break with Hegel as move further down a path opened by his great German predecessor. To use Engels' terminology, it was Feuerbach who first shows us the way out of German idealism. Of course, this last claim will need substantiation. It cannot be understood as Engels understands it, as simply pointing out how to go beyond philosophy of any kind. If, as I believe, Feuerbach does not leave Hegel behind, but rather works out some of his basic ideas, then at most Feuerbach leaves a certain kind of philosophy behind while remaining largely or even wholly within the philosophical tradition of his time.

Against this background, the coming to grip with Feuerbach's thought has three components; the first is the elaboration of the sense in which Feuerbach reacts against Hegel's position, or against a false appearance, in a word an important but finally basic misinterpretation, of Hegel's position. The second component is the way in which Feuerbach has been understood by Karl Marx and Marxism. This entails determining whether Marx's reading of Feuerbach is a fair assessment of Feuerbach's view. And since Marx is especially interested in the relationship between Feuerbach and Hegel, this undertaking again relates to Hegel. Consequently, the third component to this study is a re-examination of Feuerbach's role as a particularly important historical intermediary who mediates between Hegel and Marx on the one hand within the context of his time, and on the other, according to the terms which finally define for us his (Feuerbach's) contribution to the philosophical tradition. The first chapter of this dissertation will be a brief review of recent and current state of Feuerbach scholarship. I will appraise the work done in Feuerbach studies thus far, and indicate their various strong points and shortcomings.

In the second chapter of this work, I will delineate the idealist legacy and Hegelian context of Feuerbach's thought from its beginning in Kant's critical philosophy, through its major transformation in the thoughts of Fichte and Schelling, and culminating in the synthesis of Hegel.

The third chapter, will spell the historical context of Feuerbach's thought in the development of the idealist legacy in some of the details of the movement and personages against the backdrop of the social, political, and religious upheavals in nineteenth century Europe in general, and especially in nineteenth century Germany. I shall do this by calling attention to the nineteenth century religio-political and social turmoil in Germany, which serves as a crucible in the rise of German idealism in general, from its inception in the Kantian Critical philosophy through some of its key figures like Fichte and Schelling to its culmination in Hegel as the epitome of its expression. I am aware that context may, and could be a constraining ground, but when context is taken in all its multi-dimensionality, it does not allow any single aspect or dimension to usurp the privilege of mediating truth or reality. So chapter three concludes with a contextual examination of the emergence of Feuerbach in the midst of the disintegration of the Hegelian School from a historical, religious, philosophical, political, and social perspectives against the prevalent simplified version that had been given currency by Engels primarily in his work Ludwig Feuerbach And the Outcome of Classical German Idealism and The German Ideology authored by both Marx and Engels.

In Chapter four, I will make an examination of Feuerbach's epistemology from De ratione, his doctoral dissertation, through his history of Modern Philosophy to his Critique of Hegelian philosophy. In Chapter five, I will show how the later Feuerbach's critique of religion in the Essence of Christianity is really about concept formation, which also serves as rung on the ladder towards a critique of philosophy as metaphysics, or abstract theology, in turn, another rung towards the reduction of religion and philosophy to anthropology. This chapter will place emphasis on Feuerbach's attempt to distance himself from Hegel through the development of an empiricism that leads to a materialist humanism. Feuerbach's empiricism will be examined in relation to the standard view of empiricism especially as found in the British empiricist: Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.

Max Stirner, Karl Marx, and Frederick Engels all criticized Feuerbach. Chapter six will examine these critiques especially as to be found in Stirner's (The Ego and Its Own), Marx's Theses on Feuerbach, Marx and Engels' The German Ideology, and Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach and The outcome of Classical German Idealism as well as from some selected texts of Marxists like the Hungarian György Lukács. I shall attempt here to decipher the intent behind such varied, but passionate critiques of Feuerbach. Also, in chapter six, I will examine Feuerbach's ontology of human nature (species being) and its relation to Nature.

Chapter seven concludes this study by indicating Feuerbach's enduring significance and continuing relevance to thought, as well as pointing to some suggested application of certain elements of his philosophy, especially his Species-ontology.





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