It was Das Wesen des Christenthums (1841; The Essence of Christianity) that gave Feuerbach an intense though brief prestige in the 1840s, and this book, together with the fact of his influence on the young Marx, is the main source of contemporary interest in Feuerbach’s work. However, his numerous essays are forceful, entertaining, and often philosophically interesting. Some achieved a certain fame or notoriety of their own, and many are effective expressions of his main philosophical position—his critique of religion, authoritarianism, and dualistic philosophy in the name of concrete, corporeal human life.
Feuerbach’s preferred form of essay was the book review, allowing him to engage in the polemics he clearly relished. In the years 1835–45, particularly, he wrote a flurry of reviews which take advantage of contemporary intellectual controversies or minor publications to stake out his own philosophical position. The books under review are works not only of pure philosophy and the history of philosophy, but also of medicine, theology, and devotional literature. Feuerbach’s reviews do not shy away from blasphemy, as when he compares the beauty of the Virgin Mary to the charms of a Bavarian barmaid—“Über den Marienkultus” (1842; On the cult of Mary). Nor does he hesitate to use the harshest insults, as in “Kritik des ‘Antibegel’” (1835; Critique of “Anti-Hegel”), an early pamphlet in which he defends Hegel against C.F.Bachmann: “Herr Bachmann’s views on thinking display his thoughtlessempirical standpoint in all its crassness and barbarity. With a real enthusiasm for dunderheads and cretins, he writes…”
Notably, within a few years of writing “Kritik des ‘Antihegel’,” Feuerbach himself was to become a virulent antiHegelian and espouse a materialism quite close to the position expressed by Bachmann. Thus, while the flamboyant tone of Feuerbach’s writing is a constant, the content of his opinions undergoes significant change. Yet he himself might argue that the contradictions to be found in his thought are evidence of depth rather than of carelessness. In his 1836 review of Johann Eduard Erdmann’s Geschichte der neueren Philosophie (History of Modern Philosophy), Feuerbach cites paradoxical lines from Goethe, Petrarch, and Corneille, and asks: “Doesn’t pain, the tragic moment, consist in the presence of two opposed predicates together in one and the same subject? Isn’t the principle of the concurrence of opposites the characteristic principle of living modern philosophy, as against the dead, formal Scholasticism of the Middle Ages…?”
While Feuerbach writes for intellectuals, his fight against “dead, formal” thought and prose leads him to use vivid, colloquial language sprinkled with emphatic typography, exclamation points, and question marks. Above all, he has a flair for direct and catchy phrases. This aphoristic trait is often combined with a sense of humor, as when he writes in the long essay “Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Philosophie” (1839; Contribution to the critique of Hegelian philosophy), “Hegel’s mind is a logical—or more precisely, I would say, an entomological mind.”
Feuerbach puts his gift for aphorisms to good use in “Vorläufige Thesen zur Reform der Philosophie” (1842; Preliminary theses on the reform of philosophy). This text distills Feuerbach’s thought in a series of aphorisms ranging from a sentence to a paragraph. The style recalls Luther’s 95 theses, invites Marx’s famous “Theses on Feuerbach” (wr. 1845), and anticipates Nietzsche in its economical style, its prophetic tone, and its subject matter. Feuerbach’s briefer aphorisms here are thought-provoking and memorable. For example: “What there is, as it is—truth expressed truly—appears superficial; what there is, as it is not—truth expressed untruly, backwards—appears deep.” This thesis illustrates and expresses Feuerbach’s love of the plain statement that cuts to the core of things. In 1843 Feuerbach was to write an entire short book in this genre, Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft (Principles of the Philosophy of the Future).
Feuerbach’s aphoristic gift does not always protect him against effusive passages which string together long lists of adjectives. His talent is also a liability, as it can lead him into sloganeering. A case in point is his most famous (or infamous) one-liner, from “Die Naturwissenschaft und die Revolution” (1850; Natural science and the revolution), a review of a book by the physiologist Moleschott: “Man is what he eats.” (In German, this is an irresistible pun: Der Mensch ist was er isst.) This essay verges on self-parody when it concludes that the 1848 revolution failed in Germany because of the nutritional deficiencies of the German staple, potatoes—the country can find its true salvation in a diet of beans. Such statements drew scornful satire from Feuerbach’s contemporaries. But Feuerbach relished the notoriety of his phrase, and even incorporated it into the title of his piece of 1862., “Das Geheimnis des Opfers, oder der Mensch ist was er isst” (The
mystery of sacrifice, or man is what he eats). The phrase in question exemplifies a pattern of hyperbole in Feuerbach’s writings: he is given to identifying now one feature, now another as the sole “essence” of some phenomenon.
In general, while Feuerbach’s essays should never be taken too literally, their exuberance and their flashes of wit give them real rhetorical impact.
Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach. Born 28 July 1804 in Landshut, Bavaria. Studied at the Ansbach Gymnasium, Munich, 1817–22; theology under Theodor Lehmus at the University of Heidelberg, from 1823; theology and philosophy under Hegel and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher at the University of Berlin, 1824; natural sciences at the University of Erlangen, from 1826. Lecturer in the history of modern philosophy, University of Erlangen, 1829–35. Married Berta Löw, 1837. Lived in wife’s family’s castle near Bruckberg, 1837–60, then moved to Rechenberg, near Munich, 1860–72.
Lectured in Heidelberg, 1848–49. Died in Nuremberg, 13 September 1872.
Essays and Related Prose
Gedanken über Tod und Unsterblichkeit, aus den Papieren eines Denkers, edited by Johann Adam Stein, 1830; revised edition, 1847; as Thoughts on Death and Immortality, from the Papers of a Thinker, translated by James A.Massey, 1980
Abälard und Heloise, oder, Der Schriftsteller und der Mensch: Eine Reihe humoristischphilosophischer
Aphorismen (aphorisms), 1834
Gmndsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft, 1843; as Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, translated by Manfred H.Vogel, 1966
Das Wesen des Glaubens im Sinne Luthers, 1844; as The Essence of Faith According to Luther, translated by Melvin Cherno, 1967
Vorlesungen über des Wesen der Religion: Nebst Zusätzen und Anmerkungen (Sämtliche Werke, vol. 8), 1851; as Lectures on the Essence of Religion, translated by Ralph Manheim, 1967
The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings, translated by Zawar Hanfi, 1972
Other writings: Das Wesen des Christenthums (1841, revised 1843, 1849; The Essence of Christiamty), Das Wesen der Religion (1846; The Essence of Religion), histories of modern philosophy (1833, 1837), a book on Pierre Bayle (1838), and other works on philosophy, religion, and Greek mythology.
Collected works editions: Sämtliche Werke, edited by Wilhelm Bolin and Friedrich Jodl, 10 vols., 1903–11; Gesammelte Werke (East German Academy of Sciences Edition), edited by Werner Schuffenhauer, 1967–(in progress).
Cherno, Melvin, “Feuerbach’s ‘Man Is What He Eats’: A Rectification,” Journal of the History of Ideas 24, no. 3 (1963): 397–406
Duquette, David A., “From Disciple to Antagonist: Feuerbach’s ‘Critique of Hegel’,” Philosophy and Theology 3 (Winter 1988): 183–99
Kamenka, Eugene, The Philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970
Wartofsky, Marx W., Feuerbach, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977
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