The success of Ludwig Feuerbach’s book Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity, 1854) raised expectations for more from the philosopher. He was seen as the heir to his teacher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose work he had analyzed, using the Hegelian dialectical method, in the light of a universal need for religious belief. He was looked to for a new philosophy to replace that of his great predecessor, and he wrote Principles of the Philosophy of the Future to satisfy those expectations.
Feuerbach believed that philosophy needed to escape the abstractions of transcendental Idealism that philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, and Hegel had constructed. In addition, philosophy needed to incorporate the skepticism of modern atheist philosophers from David Hume to Arthur Schopenhauer. Finally, the new philosophy should take into account the successes of empiricism, sensationism, and materialism in the natural sciences of physics, geology, chemistry, biology, and human physiology. At the same time that Feuerbach was critiquing Idealist speculative philosophy, empiricism was leading to the positivism of John Stuart Mill in England, Auguste Comte in France, and, through biology, to the philosophy of Herbert Spencer in England and Eduard von Hartmann in Germany. These later movements intensified intellectual focus on the psychology of individual human experience and on the sociology of human experience in groups. A stirring of cries for political freedom, which would erupt in the rebellions of 1848, excited minds anxious for philosophical justifications and ideological commitments to principles of political and economic liberty. Feuerbach’s new philosophy engaged the challenges of these tendencies of thought.