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.
Feuerbach begins with a review of the history of modern speculative philosophy. In the course of his review, he applies his method of inversion, whereby he turns predicates into subjects and vice versa. He had employed this tactic in The Essence of Christianity, where he demonstrated that the subject “God” is really a predicate by reversing “God is love” to “Love is God.” This revealed that God is nothing less than an idealized abstraction of very human features. In his review of modern philosophical history, Feuerbach reverses the subject “Being” with predicates such as “necessity” and “infinity” to show that philosophy’s Being is human consciousness hypostatized as an object. The method of inversion serves a process of reduction. The Absolute Being of the Idea is reduced to the consciousness of an individual human, dependent for existence on a community of human beings in material nature. These were positions Feuerbach had been developing from his earliest publications. Hegel taught him how to undo Hegel’s own philosophy and, at the same time, to advance the dialectic to a new level of synthesis.
The structure and organization of Principles of the Philosophy of the Future have the Hegelian characteristic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. There are sixty-five, often aphoristic statements, or paragraphs, which easily divide into three parts: The first eighteen are a historical review of modern philosophy as the humanization of God; the middle twelve (nineteen through thirty) constitute a focused critique of Hegel’s culminating philosophy; and the last thirty-five propose a new philosophy. The second part is the antithesis, or negation, of the first: modern philosophy is the negation of theology, which is negated by Hegel as a displaced theology with a new contradiction. The third part is the negation of the negation, or synthesis, producing a new affirmation: The new philosophy is the realization of Hegelian philosophy without contradictions.
(The entire section contains 2354 words.)
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