1902 Encyclopedia > Paul Johann Alselm von Feuerbach

Paul Johann Alselm von Feuerbach
German jurist

PAUL JOHANN ANSELM VON FEUERBACH, (1775-1833), a distinguished writer on criminal law, was born at Jena, November 14, 1775. In his infancy the family removed to Frankfort, and he received his early education at the gymnasium of that town. At the age of seventeen, he went to the university of Jena ; and, his path in life not yet being fixed, his active mind eagerly sought after knowledge in all fields. He familiarized himself with the Greek and Roman classics, especially with the poets; and when the common need compelled him to work for bread as well as for knowledge, his choice fell, under the influence of Reinhold's teaching, on divine philosophy. Limiting his worldly wants to the utmost, he devoted himself heart and soul to the research of truth in its higher fields, and at twenty he had already made his mark as a powerful thinker by various philosophical essays. The influence of these early studies is apparent in the great works on which his special reputation rests.

But his attention was soon concentrated on the subject to which his life was to be devoted, the science of legislation. He now sat at the feet of Schaubert and Hufeland, and the study of natural law and of jurisprudence excited in him a genuine enthusiasm. The early essays of his student years bore the impress of one of those mighty minds by which beneficent revolutions are wrought, and which open new paths to the race. In 1795 he obtained his degree of doctor in philosophy; and published one of his firstlings, as he calls it, an essay on the only possible arguments against the existence and the value of natural law. The same year he married. In 1796 he published a Critique of Natural Law as prepara-tion {Propädeutik) for a Science of Natural Law. This was followed in 1798, by his Anti-Hobbes, a dissertation on the limits of the civil power, and the right of resistance on the part of subjects against their rulers, and his Untersuchungen über das Verbrechen des Hochverraths. In 1799 he obtained his degree of doctor of laws, and received permission to deliver a course of academical lectures. These attracted many hearers, and soon won for him the rank of a master in his science.

At the same time appeared an important work, which established his reputation, the Revision der Grundsätze und Gy'undbegriffe des peinlichen Rechts. In this treatise he first set forth his new theory of punishment, the intimidation theory, which was further developed and applied in the Bibliothek für die peinliche Rechtswissen-schaft, a work produced by Feuerbach in conjunction with Grolman and Von Almendingen, and published in 1800-1801, and was systematically and thoroughly expounded in his famous Lehrbuch des gemeinen in Deutschland geltenden peinlichen Rechts (1801), of which the fourteenth edition appeared in 1847. In these works Feuerbach shows him-self not only a great thinker and discoverer of truth, but also a gifted teacher and luminous expositor, capable of giving to principles a scientific form, and investing them with the grace and elegance of the highest literary art. His works were a powerful protest against vindictive punishments, and contributed largely to the subsequent humane reformation of criminal laws. Nor was the ex-ample of his style without influence on later writers on law. In 1801 Feuerbach was appointed professor at the univer-sity of Jena; but many offers were made to him, and in the following year he accepted a chair at Kiel. This he held for two years, lecturing on the law of nature, criminal law, the institutes, the pandects, and hermeneutics.

But, disappointed at not finding so numerous, sympathizing, or promising an audience as he had expected, he removed in 1804 to the university of Landshut. He was also named aulic councillor, and was commanded by the king, Maxi-milian Joseph, to draw up a project of penal law for Bavaria. His position, however, was rendered painful and annoying by the jealousies and dislike of some of his fellow pro-fessors, who instigated the students to burlesque and ridicule him, and he resigned his chair.

He was then called to Munich with the rank of privy referendary in the department of justice, and in 1808 was created privy councillor.

Meanwhile appeared his Critique on Klein-schrod's project of criminal law (1804); and the practical reform of penal legislation in Bavaria was begun under his influence in 1806 by the abolition of torture. In 1808 appeared the first volume of his Merkwürdige Criminal-falle, completed in 1811—a work of deep interest for its application of psychological considerations to cases of crime, and intended to illustrate the inevitable imperfec-tion of human laws in their application to individuals. In his Betrachlungen über das Geschworenengericht (1812) Feuerbach declared against trial by jury, maintaining that the verdict of a jury was not adequate legal proof of a crime. Much controversy was aroused on the subject, and the author's view was subsequently to some extent modified.

His labours on the penal law being completed, the project was submitted to rigorous examination, and, receiving ultimately the royal sanction, was promulgated in 1813 as the Bavarian penal code. The influence of this code, the embodiment in logical form of Feuerbach's enlightened and humane views, was immense. It was at once adopted as the model and basis for new codes for . Wiirtemberg and Saxe-Weimar; it was adopted in its entirety in the grand-duchy of Oldenburg; and it was translated into Swedish by order of the king. Several of the Swiss cantons reformed their codes in con-formity with it. Feuerbach had also undertaken to prepare a civil code for Bavaria, to be founded on the Code Napoleon. This was afterwards set aside, and the Codex Maximilianus adopted as a basis, But the project did not become law.

During the war of liberation (1813-1814) Feuerbach showed himself an ardent patriot, and published several political brochures, which, from the writer's position, had almost the weight of state manifestoes. One of these is entitled Ueber Deutsche Freiheit und Vertretung Deutscher Vólker durch Landstande (1814).

In 1814 Feuerbach was appointed second president of the court of appeal at Bamberg, and three years later he became first president of the court of appeal at Anspach. In 1821 he was deputed by the Government to visit France, Belgium, and the Bhine provinces for the purpose of investigating their juridical institutions ; and in 1825 he published, as the fruit of this visit, his treatise Ueber die Gerichtsverfassung und das gerichtliche Verfahren Frankreichs,

In his later years he took a deep interest in the fate of Kaspar Hauser, which had excited so much attention in Europe ; and he was the first to publish a critical summary of the ascertained facts, under the title of Kaspar Hauser: ein Beispiel eines Verbrechens am Seelenleben (1832). Shortly before his death appeared a collection of his Kleine Schriften (1833). Feuerbach, still in the full enjoyment of his intellectual powers, died suddenly at Frankfort, while on his way to the baths of Schwalbach, May 29, 1833.

In 1852 was published the Leben und Wirken Am. von Feuerbachs, 2 vols., consisting of a selection of his letters and journals, with occasional notes by his fourth son Ludwig, the dis-tinguished philosopher (noticed above [LUDWIG ANDREAS FEUERBACH]). (w. L. E. C.)

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