1902 Encyclopedia > Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach

Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach
German philosopher

LUDWIG ANDREAS FEUERBACH, (1804-1872), fourth son of the eminent jurist (see next article [ PAUL JOHANN ALSELM VON FEUERBACH ]), was born at Landshut in Bavaria on the 28th of July 1804. Like other members of his family, he evinced a religious turn of mind from an early age, and he matriculated at the university of Heidelberg with the intention of study-ing divinity. His ardour, however, was soon diverted to metaphysical pursuits ; he repaired to Berlin, became an auditor of Hegel, and, in spite of his father's vehe-ment opposition, devoted himself to the career of a teacher of philosophy. The history of his life henceforward is that of his gradual emancipation from the yoke he had thus imposed upon himself. Even his first work, Thoughts on Death and Immortality (1830), exhibits the marked divergence between his mental characteristics and those of the Hegelian school The conclusion, indeed, is Hegelian, but the author's method is dogmatic rather than dialectical, his cast of thought mystical, his phraseology original, animated with humour and pathos, and strikingly concrete. His negation of personal immortality rendered him obnoxious to the Government, and frustrated his endeavours to obtain a professorship. His embarrassed manner and awkward delivery debarred him from success as a private tutor and lecturer. After some years of disappointment he renounced the attempt to gain a livelihood by philosophy, and married a lady whose scanty dower, derived from a share in a small manufactory, included free apartments in the castle of Bruckberg, and the use of a vegetable garden and shooting in the adjacent woods. In these idyllic circumstances the philosopher supported his family for nearly a quarter of a century,—learning, as he declared, more from his peasant associates than he had learned at the university. " Berlin opened my mouth, Bruckberg my eyes." During his early struggles and the period of his betrothal he had produced his History of Modern Philosophy, a series of criticisms of leading thinkers from Bacon to Leibnitz, and his monograph on Pierre Bayle, whom he sets forth as the type of the antithesis between faith and knowledge. His rupture with Hegelianism was first indicated in his Critique of Hegel (1839). It was grounded on his growing aversion to mere verbal juggles, and his strengthening conviction that philosophical research must be based upon the investigation of actual phenomena. The enthusiast for metaphysics had ceased to be a metaphysician, and had become the mouthpiece of a reaction the more remarkable from its independence of the contem. poraneous development of physical science. The phenomena with which Feuerbach dealt were nevertheless wholly psychological. Those referring to the religious sentiment formed the subject of his next and most celebrated work, The Essence ( Wesen) of Christianity (1841). In this famous treatise Feuerbach shows that every article of Christian belief corresponds to some instinct or necessity of man's nature, from which he infers that it is the creation and embodiment of some human wish, hope, or apprehension. The same process of interpretation is applied to natural religion in his essay on that subject (1845), and in his lectures delivered at Heidelberg during the revolutionary troubles of 1848 and 1849. This period of anarchy promised for a moment to bring Feuerbach prominently before the world; the inglorious collapse of the revolution gave an irrecoverable blow to his influence. Notwithstand-ing his own very reserved attitude, he had become identified in the public mind with the agitators who had made a watchword of his name, and unjustly participated in their discredit. He returned to Bruckberg, and occupied himself partly in scientific research, partly in the composition of his last important work, the Theogony (1857). Days of tribu-lation were now in store for him. Driven from his retreat at Bruckberg by the failure of the manufactory on which he had so long depended, too proud to implore aid, and incapable of writing for mere bread, he would have suffered the extremity of want but for the unsolicited contributions of a few friends, assisted shortly before his death by a public subscription. His intellectual faculties were impaired by successive strokes of paralysis, and he had ceased to take any active interest in human affairs when he expired on September 13, 1872.

Feuerbach is a remarkable figure in the history of modern thought. As a philosopher, he personifies at once the intellectual bankruptcy of mere verbal metaphysics, and the reaction towards empiricism based on the actual observation of nature and society. He reaches substantially the same conclusions as the modern professor of physical science, but by a different path, and independently re-produces the scientific spirit of Positivism, with a total suppression of its sacerdotal element. As a writer on religion his position is ambiguous. Following up the hint of one of the oldest Greek philosophers, he demonstrates that religious ideas have their counterparts in human nature, and assumes that they must be its product, " All theology is anthropology." It does not seem to have struck him that the proposition might equally well be inverted, and might afford scope for a problem as insoluble as that concerning the priority of the owl and the egg. His principal work, however, is rather remarkable for depth and truth of feeling than exactness of reasoning; it wears indeed a semblance of logical consecutiveness, but consists essentially of a series of aphorisms, enunciated dogmatic-ally, somewhat in the manner of Emerson. Ethically, his system has done much good by its lofty views of human nature, and the consecration with which it dignifies the most ordinary passages of human life; and not a little harm by the encouragement which an anthropocentric theory necessarily affords to excessive individual pretensions, and thus indirectly to political and social discontent. Its strongest points are its vigorous grasp of reality, embodi-ment of ideal aspirations in familiar forms, healthy optimism, and recognition of the value of everything human as such. "Only in action," said Feuerbach, "do we feel ourselves free." " Let us concentrate ourselves on what is real; and great men will revive, and great actions return." " Health is more than immortality." His anta-gonism to the idea of personal immortality is one of his most distinctive traits, Dut here as elsewhere he deals with the problem solely from the psychological side. Hence he can neither be classed with materialists nor immaterialists; and, with all his frank honesty and uncompromising energy of language, the same duality of attitude characterizes his position throughout. He is from one point of view irreligious, from another deeply religious, logical and mystical, positive and speculative, academically cultured and a man of the people.
Feuerbach's personal character was highly estimable, fully conformed to the philosophic ideal in simplicity, independence, disinterestedness, and fidelity to conviction. His erudition is extensive and accurate. He possessed no brilliant or superficially attractive qualities; his manner was shy and embarrassed, and his literary composition tardy and laborious. His style, nevertheless, is sufficiently clear and even epigrammatic to make him a popular writer in his own country, but hardly in any other. His chief work, though translated by the first of living English prose writers, produced little impression in England. Out of Germany he will be most esteemed by those who have attained his results by other processes, and most memorable as an instance of the empirical spirit of modern physical science asserting itself in the region of abstract speculation, with little assistance from scientific study.

Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity has been translated into the principal European languages ; the English version is by George Eliot. His correspondence has been edited, with a confused and imperfect biography, by Karl Grün (Leipsic, 1874). (R. G.)

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