Ludwig Feuerbach Introduction

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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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Ludwig Feuerbach 1804-1872

German philosopher and theologian.

Once heralded as the foremost radical thinker of mid-nineteenth-century Germany, Feuerbach is now generally viewed as a transitional figure between the speculative idealism of G. W. F. Hegel and the historical-dialectical materialism of Karl Marx. Advocating a humanist, empiricist, and naturalist philosophy, Feuerbach offered a revolutionary critique of religion in his most influential work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity), in which he asserted the divinity of humankind in place of God and sought to elevate anthropology to the level of theology. Later, in his Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft (1843; Principles of the Philosophy of the Future), Feuerbach envisioned the coming dominance of politics and the natural sciences, which he suggested would largely displace philosophy in modern culture. His proclivity toward aphorism, evidenced by his sometimes misconstrued declaration that “man is what he eats” (which has been taken as an affirmation of his thoroughgoing materialism), and his strong influence on Marxist thought have long contributed to reductive perceptions of Feuerbach. By the twentieth century, formal reassessments of Feuerbach's work had indicated not only the historical significance of his critiques of religion and philosophical idealism, but also the profound influence of his thought on modern theology and social science.

Biographical Information

Feuerbach was born in Landshut, Bavaria (now part of Germany) in 1804. His father, Paul Johann Anselm Feuerbach, was a renowned liberal jurist who composed Bavaria's 1913 Penal Code. In 1805, Feuerbach's parents moved to Munich, where he grew up and attended school. Entering Heidelberg University in 1823, Feuerbach left after only one year, transferring to the University of Berlin in order to study under theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher and attend lectures by Hegel, the great German philosopher of the era. After gaining official acceptance at Berlin in 1824 and hearing both men speak, Feuerbach discovered that philosophy was more congenial to his thought than theology. Financial difficulties precipitated by the cancellation of his stipend forced him to transfer again to the University of Erlangen. Unable to complete his studies due to a continued lack of funds, Feuerbach returned to Ansbach (near Munich), where he finalized his dissertation. The work, entitled De ratione, una, universali, infinita (1828), won the admiration of his professors at Erlangen, who granted him a doctoral degree as well as a lecturing position in philosophy at the university. Feuerbach's academic career, however, was short-lived. His anonymous publication of Gedanken über Tod und Unsterblichkeit (1830; Thoughts on Death and Immortality) failed to conceal his identity. Once it was determined in the notably conservative and authoritarian political climate of 1830s Germany that he was the author of this decidedly anti-religious and potentially revolutionary text, Feuerbach's prospects of promotion to full professorship were obliterated. Dissatisfied with his status as a lecturer, Feuerbach left his position at Erlangen in 1832, but he found it impossible to secure an academic post elsewhere. He nevertheless continued to pursue his philosophical projects, writing several histories of modern, empiricist philosophy, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie von Bacon von Verulam bis Benedict Spinoza (1833), Darstellung, Entwicklung und Kritik der Leibnitz'schen Philosophie (1837) and Pierre Bayle (1838). At the urging of his friends, he lectured briefly at Erlangen between 1835 and 1836, but he otherwise refused to work without the possibility of promotion. In 1837, Feuerbach married Berta Löw. Her share of a porcelain factory in Bruckberg, where the couple were to relocate, proved their principal means of financial support for the next two decades. Meanwhile, Feuerbach's publication of Über Philosophie und Christenthum in...

(The entire section is 1,765 words.)