The Fiery Brook

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Fiery Brook: Selected Writings [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Ludwig Feuerbach, trans. Zawar Hanfi, part of the Radical Thinkers series.

Feuerbach Hanfi The Fiery Brook

Editor/translator Hanfi considers Feuerbach valuable solely as a precursor to Marx, a perspective which certainly limits the usefulness of Hanfi’s extensive introduction. The selections in this volume are quite worthwhile, however. Five out of eight are first ever published translations into English, and they include programmatic essays covering the span of Feuerbach’s intellectual work from his first breaks with Hegel (“Toward a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy” 1839) until 1844. Although Hanfi doesn’t remark it, the latter year is significant in being the year in which Feuerbach’s writings were subjected to withering public criticism from Max Stirner. This volume thus neglects the significantly different (and to my mind, even more interesting) positions of the later Feuerbach developed in The Essence of Religion and its sequels. It does, however, include the essays “Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy” and “Principles of the Philosophy of the Future,” which show Feuerbach’s emergence from his anti-Hegelian analytic phase into a new work of synthesis and positive theory on atheistic, “sensuous” grounds. These two essays are in an aphoristic form that presages the work of Nietzsche, and they expound in part the anthropotheistic principle that is at the core of my interest in and sympathy for Feuerbach. 

The early, anti-Hegelian pieces are often rather muddled, and this feature evidently stems from a stylistic limitation (later overcome) to attempt always to present flawed and obsolete philosophies from their own “point of view,” to “let each phenomenon speak for itself.” (179 n.) The constructive progress of Feuerbach’s views is evident, due to the chronological arrangement of the contents of this collection, and the recapitulation involved in the final “Fragments Concerning the Characteristics of My Philosophical Development.” The preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity is far more incisive and persuasive than the introduction to the first. 

Even in the “Preliminary Theses on the Reform of Philosophy” there is much unwelcome (to my mind) valorization of pain and suffering. In the later works, this gives way to an emphasis on enjoyment and love. Throughout, once Feuerbach has broken with the “theologians and speculative fantasts,” he emphasizes the reciprocity of humanity with sensual nature, and the sovereignty of man–however unwitting–over the God he has created. 

“The new and only positive philosophy … is the thinking man himself” (169). It is “certainly based on reason as well, but on a reason whose being is the same as the being of man; that is, it is based not on an empty, colorless, nameless reason, but on a reason that is of the very blood of man” (239). “Truth is man and not reason in abstracto; it is life and not thought that remains confined to paper, the element in which it finds and unfolds its existence” (249). “Truth does not exist in thought, nor in cognition confined to itself. Truth is only the totality of man’s life and being” (244, all italics in originals). 

There is much development evident in the writings collected here, but the book ends on an appropriate note: “”What am I? Is that your question? Wait until I am no more.” (296) He still had “more” to him, as subsequent decades and major works would show, even if they are not addressed by this volume.