Principles of the Philosophy of the Future Analysis

Ludwig Feuerbach


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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.


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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.

Modern Speculative Philosophy

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In the first section, modern speculative philosophy is found to originate in the thought that replaces God with Reason. To the theistic philosopher, God is an object of Reason; to the speculative philosopher, Reason, or Thought, is its own object. Hegel and other speculative Idealist philosophers had rescued God from the obscurities of mystery, but at the same time they produced a basic contradiction of absolute thought with nothing to think about—not even itself.

This process of speculative philosophy began with René Descartes, who first abstracted mind from sensation and matter. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz showed that the only limitation of mind was matter, beyond which mind must advance. After Leibniz, mind became absolute and idealized as the ground of ideas whose objectivity was purged of sensuousness. Things ceased to exist except as thoughts: Matter is mind. Kant’s limited idealism, empirically based and subordinating the appearances of matter to the shaping powers of mind, yielded place to the ideas of Fichte, who resolved the contradictions into activity of the Ego.

Baruch Spinoza’s pantheism unified appearance and truth, affirming nature as divine and mind as matter. Feuerbach sees pantheism as consistent with theism and compares Spinoza to the biblical Moses. The next step in this developing philosophy is to reveal that materialists are rationalists because, in pantheism, matter is elevated to reason, and reason is idealism. The object, matter, is the same as the subject, reason. Therefore, idealism reveals itself as the truth of pantheism. The priority of Being lies in the subject itself after all, and Fichte, for whom God is the Ego itself, advanced philosophy from Spinoza and Kant by showing that outside Ego, there is no God. Feuerbach calls Fichte the messiah of modern speculative philosophy because Fichte rescued Ego from theism, but he did so without preserving the attributes of extension and materiality. Hegel would reclothe the Ego with these attributes, but he would do so at the cost of creating a new contradiction. Thus, Feuerbach completed his move from a critique of religion, through a critique of philosophy, to a confrontation with Hegelian Idealism itself.

Questioning Hegelian Idealism

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The fundamental principle of Hegelian philosophy is that Being is ideal. Even matter is mind at its boundary, merely a limit to be overcome by the dialectical process of Becoming. The only activity of a thinking Being is to think, and this thinking is a process of liberation from the boundaries that confine its fullest expression. The paradox is that these boundaries are self-generated even as Being overcomes them in the process of Becoming. Feuerbach identified the contradiction as a logical one in which Being posits itself as nonbeing and the self as other, in what Hegel called self-alienation of spirit. Matter is nothing less than “not-mind,” which is posited by mind itself out of itself. Mind negates itself in the process of becoming itself. To become something, everything must first be nothing.

Feuerbach sees through this contradiction to find that essence is nothing less than existence set free from the limits of nature. Hegel had, in effect, made Thought into a divine and absolute Being. Hegelian philosophy was little more than rationalized theology. The next logical step, to Feuerbach, was to place Thought where it began, in the consciousness and experience of the individual human being. Feuerbach would strip Hegel of the old theological mistakes that had set God off as distinct and separate from humanity, because Hegel had done the same thing in his system of abstracting Ideal Thought. Once relocated where it belongs, Thought (as well as...

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The New Philosophy

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The power for this philosophical liberation is in the experience of sensation as a feeling of need. Idea is sensation, and sensation is truth. Sensuous beings affect one another as “I” to “Thou.” Abstract philosophy had dissolved this dependence, denied the ground for self-awareness from the presence and pressure of others. Being for the new philosophy is a being of the senses, perception, feeling, and love. Materialism is the real existence of human beings, who are made conscious of material reality by their own dependence on matter, of objects and others, through the senses. Human needs, including thought itself, make themselves felt through the senses. Matter is a mode of consciousness that has independent reality established by the needs and desires of consciousness itself. Hegelian and speculative philosophy had proposed the Infinite as the ontological source of the finite; the new philosophy would reverse this, to assert that the Finite is the source of the infinite. In the human is infinity.

That infinity has been disguised by imagination in a cultural process of mystification. Even though material reality presents itself with immediacy, it cannot immediately be recognized by the uneducated person. This is the result of an ideological conditioning by religious and political institutions that are the historical products of theistic and idealistic philosophies. The new philosophy has, therefore, to negate those ideological forces, purge the...

(The entire section is 495 words.)


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Additional Reading

Barth, Karl. “Feuerbach,” in Protestant Thought: From Rousseau to Ritschl: Being the Translation of Eleven Chapters of ‘Die Protestantische Theologie im 19 Jahrhundert.’ Translated by Brian Cozens. New York: Harper, 1959. Barth sees through Feuerbach’s philosophical skepticism and atheism to recognize and appreciate the philosopher’s love of theology.

Brudney, Daniel. Marx’s Attempt to Leave Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. This book shows the influence Feuerbach had on Karl Marx’s work.

Harvey, Van A. Feuerbach and the Interpretation of Religion. Cambridge, London: Cambridge University Press, 1995. An extended essay in appreciation of Feuerbach’s contributions to the modern philosophy of “suspicion,” that is, religious skepticism. Although the book is limited by its theme, it provides valuable insights into Feuerbach as a philosopher whose impetus was determined by religious concerns and theological training. The book also illuminates the value of Feuerbach as a contributor to existentialism, with some similarities to Søren Kierkegaard, and as an influence on the development of psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis.

Hoffding, Harold. A History of Modern Philosophy: A Sketch of the History of Philosophy from the...

(The entire section is 422 words.)