Feuerbach’s teaching came as, perhaps, the 2nd attempt to deify Subject in the philosophy of Modern Times. The 1st one had been made by J. G. Fichte, who had tried to exalt It to the status of “Absolute Ego”, which had subsequently urged G. W. F. Hegel to reinterpret the Latter as the “Absolute Mind”. Feuerbach opposed any “supernatural”, including idealistic, interpretations of Subject and proposed to deify Human the way He is. In doing so, however, Feuerbach ran into another extreme: he would interpret Subject not as Human Proper, but as “Human Race” emerging from the depths of Nature. It was exactly this “earthly” interpretation of Subject that would be taken up and elaborated by K. Marx, who would reinterpret It as a developing “Absolute Body”, reaching rationality with the emergence of “Human Society”.
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach was born on July 28th,1804, in the city of Landshut (Lower Bavaria) into a family rich in talent. His father was a prominent lawyer, uncle, a mathematician, and his nephew was to become a famous painter.
While attending a classical school, Ludwig showed a clear religious tendency and even studied Hebrew, so as to read the Bible in the original. In 1823, he entered the faculty of theology at the University of Heidelberg. There, the young Feuerbach became keen on Hegel’s teaching and “traded theology for philosophy”. He transferred to the University of Berlin in order to listen to the lectures delivered by the master himself.
It should be noted that, although Feuerbach was not at all a revolutionary, he was, perhaps, the first classical philosopher into whose life politics would intrude from his very youth. He was under police surveillance for his participation in the student movement, while his brother was taken to prison. Subsequently, Feuerbach’s works were heavily censored, some of them banned, and his house was once searched.
In 1826, Feuerbach submitted his thesis “De ratione una, universali, infinita” (On the single, universal, and infinite Mind) to the University of Erlangen, after which he began lecturing there. However, his lecturing did not last long.
In 1830, Feuerbach anonymously published his first book “Thoughts on death and immortality”. In it, he repudiated the idea of the immortality of the soul as “egotism” and argued that true immortality can only be reached in Mind. Besides, he contended that the idea of personal immortality obstructed a fully lived life. That still could be tolerated. But Feuerbach indiscreetly supplemented his book with satirical epigrams ridiculing some fundamental Christian tenets. As a result, the book was confiscated, while Feuerbach, having acknowledged his authorship, was stripped of the right to teach.
At one time, Feuerbach felt like emigrating. But he was short of money for a journey. So, he kept engaging in scientific work in his homeland and even managed to publish several books on the history of philosophy. In 1837 he got married and settled in a village near Nuremberg, where he lived practically without break for almost a quarter of a century. During that time he contributed to the liberal journal “The Halle Yearbooks for German Science and Art.” The journal was published by the so called “Young Hegelians” who tried to interpret Hegel in a “revolutionary” spirit and regarded Feuerbach as their “rising star”. The journal would be repeatedly attacked by the German authorities and finally became printed in Paris with Karl Marx as an editor.
At the same time, Feuerbach’s criticism of his teacher’s philosophical doctrine was gaining strength. As had been the case with Aristotle and Plato, “a foal kicks his mother”. Differences between Feuerbach and Hegel concerning religion had already shown. Whereas Hegel had tactfully “integrated” religion into the development of his Absolute Spirit, Feuerbach, well in the vein of the Enlightenment, insisted that traditional religion should be completely done away with.
In 1839, Feuerbach’s essay “Towards a critique of Hegel’s philosophy” came out. In it, an outright criticism of the Hegelian teaching “from below”, on the part of Matter, was undertaken. Thus, Feuerbach was destined to eliminate a bias formed in philosophy as to the question of the origin of Nature towards Mind. It is exactly by his mouth that Nature’s outraged Body cried out, saying: “I am primary”.
This criticism was also reflected in a manifesto, “Principles of the philosophy of the future”, where Feuerbach declared the creation of a new philosophy that proceeds from “sensuality”, from “material reality”, from the impact on our sense organs of the objects of the “external world.” Under such an approach, the “Universal Mind” is relegated to the mere abstraction of the minds of individual material beings.
And yet, what Feuerbach put forward was, strictly speaking, not philosophical materialism. Paradoxical as it was, it was again a religion – this time, it was some “materialistic humanism”, or the religion of Man. It appears that, in fact, philosophy had always been to Feuerbach a form of religion, and he sought in it not so much Truth, as Salvation. Hegel’s philosophy satisfied this need only for some time and turned out to be just the “religion of Mind”, which could bring saturation to his mind, not heart.
The above-mentioned ideas were elaborated by Feuerbach in his most famous book “The essence of Christianity” issued in 1841. It appears that Feuerbach’s “true God” is Man. Or, rather, not just Man, but the “Human Species”. Therefore, according to Feuerbach, the “religion of Man” should become the only “true religion”.
Where, in Feuerbach’s view, do “false” religions, like Christianity or philosophical idealism, come from? These, he argues, arise as a result of the “estrangement” and “externalization” of individual human qualities or even the entire “generic essence” of Man.
What then are the causes of such an estrangement? Feuerbach supposes it to be an indispensable stage on the way to the “right” awareness by Man of His Essence. “Religion, – he writes, – is the first, oblique self-consciousness of Man”. The same way as Absolute Spirit cognizes Itself by externalizing Itself in the finite world, the finite spirit cognizes itself by externalizing itself in the idea of God, becoming subsequently aware that such an estrangement is only a way by which the human spirit discloses its essence.
According to Feuerbach, the factors preventing Man from becoming aware of his “generic essence” in the “right” way include ignorance, dread of the elemental forces of Nature, and also the misery of Man’s “earthly” existence. So, in the image of a Deity people’s unfulfilled desires and unmet expectations are reflected: God is what Man wants to be.
Feuerbach proposes to “illume life with religious significance” and make love for Man its corner stone. “Sacred is friendship, sacred is property, sacred is marriage, sacred is the good of every man”, – he declares. Feuerbach puts forward a new, “true” religion on the banner of which the slogan is written “homo homini Deus est” (man is a God to man). In fact, Feuerbach calls for what Jesus Christ has earlier called for, that is “love your neighbour”. But, unlike Christ, Feuerbach argues that one can do without God and urges love of one’s neighbour as a value “in itself”, since he or she is the supreme Product of Matter.
Thus, the philosopher Feuerbach by no means repudiates religion. On the contrary, he is convinced of the necessity of it. Such a stance may be partly justified though, since the truth of religion consists in the fact that What Truly Exists is ultimately God. But, for all that, Nature is not God. And the deification of Matter, that is, Nature’s Body, is no better than the deification of (Its) Mind. So, this philosophical materialist might well be reproached for inconsistency. The sources of Feuerbach’s teaching may be traced back to pantheism, while its continuation can be found in our Russian God-seeking and God-building.
On the other hand, Feuerbach’s teaching is not so innocuous, because the actual deification of Matter does occur, one way or another. And, in the process, the picture turns out to be not so mellow, as Feuerbach could imagine it to be. The “materialistic God” is far from being Love. When “becoming flesh”, He displays not only positive, but also most disgustful “human” qualities, all this assuming the form of a specific religious cult requiring its own worship and sacrifices, which showed in full in Russia’s history.
Feuerbach welcomed the revolutionary events of 1848 in Europe. He went to Frankfurt, where he took part in the first German parliament. In parallel, he gave lectures on the origin of religion in Heidelberg. But, discouraged by the failure of the Frankfurt Parliament and the political reaction that ensued, he retreated to his village.
In 1860, Feuerbach’s financial situation dramatically deteriorated. He had to move to another place, also near Nuremberg, and he spent his declining years in poverty. During that time, he was steadily evolving from his materialism “with human face” towards an unvarnished socialism. He studied Marx’s “Das Kapital” and even joined the German Social Democratic Workers’ Party.
Feuerbach died on September 13th, 1872, after a serious of strokes and was buried in Nuremberg.
So, to the question “Is there life after Hegel?” Feuerbach responded in the affirmative. Life goes on, history goes on. Therefore, one should do something, one should change something. As idealism, philosophy had been completed. It meant that Truth was to be found in other realms of Nature, for instance, in human history. Not long before his death, Feuerbach made the following confession:
“My first desire was to make philosophy an all-human activity. But the one who ever embarks on this path, will eventually come to the necessity to make man the subject of philosophical activity and reject philosophy itself; for it will in as far become an all-human activity, as it ceases to be philosophy. In the old days, thinking was my life’s objective; now, however, life is the object of thinking to me. Creating people, not books – that is what true philosophy is all about”.
Only one more step is left from here to the “revolutionary transformation of reality”, suggested by Marx.
But Feuerbach never made this step. The crucial discovery made by Feuerbach is that the philosophical Subject, revealed by Kant and Fichte, is effectively Human, and not at all Mind, and that Mind is effectively Human Mind. Deification of Human implied here is the origin of such an ideology as “humanism”. Yes, it is that very “abstract humanism” repudiated by Monarchists, Communists, Nazis, and even Liberals, which, however, has reached its manifestation in the “human rights issue”, thanks to which capital punishment is abolished, and “crimes against humanity” are condemned, thanks to which one sometimes can see the “human face” showing through the intrusive “images of Nature”.
But, having declared Subject to be Human, Feuerbach still fails to recognize Human as a stage in God’s development and, again, strives to infer Human from Nature, and even from Matter. This is where Feuerbach’s error (or, rather, “historical limitedness”) shows. He would criticize idealism for estranging from Human His Mind. At the same time, he loses himself in the arms of materialism, which estranges from Human His Body.
And yet, while descending from idealism to materialism, Feuerbach, strictly speaking, failed to reach the bottom and stopped at the point of (theoretical) Man. It was Marx who really finalized the above transition and managed to determine Man, proceeding from Matter, that is, as a set of individuals driven, ultimately, by “material” requirements and cemented, ultimately, by “material” relationships. Thence, the supreme manifestation of Matter there will be not Human, but “Proletarian”.