Tag Archives: Ludwig Feuerbach

The Philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach [Amazon, Local Library] by Eugene Kamenka.

Kamenka The Philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach

Kamenka’s book is a very clear and thorough overview of Feuerbach’s work. It presumes the unavailability of Feuerbach in English translation, so it provides many summaries and much in the way of direct quotation. Kamenka is highly sympathetic to Feuerbach, and (correctly, I think) considers him a crucial precedent to multiple trends in nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy, but Kamenka doesn’t overlook Feuerbach’s failings. In fact, an estimation of those failings is necessary in order to account for the rather thorough eclipse of Feuerbach as a figure of philosophical history.

The sequence of treatment is topical rather than chronological, and begins (after a digestible treatment of Feuerbach’s mise-en-scène and biography) with the critical or destructive elements of Feuerbach’s work, these being the most developed and consequential among his original readers. Kamenka puts the criticism of theological religion before criticism of speculative philosophy, reversing the sequence that prevailed in Feuerbach’s published works, because of the logical and genealogical priority of the attack on religion. Feuerbach had rejected the pursuit of theology before he gave over Hegelianism, and his indictments of the latter are rooted in his conflicts with the former.

At several points, Kamenka treats Feuerbach as a strong proponent, and perhaps even originator in one form, of the secularization hypothesis that anticipates the “withering away” of religion in the presence of modern technology and republican politics (e.g. 41, 68). I admit that I got something of a different impression from reading Lectures on the Essence of Religion, where Feuerbach certainly forecast and promoted the expiration of theology, but emphasized the continuing need for religion, however it might be transformed into a more honest relationship between humanity and human ideals. (Kamenka is certainly clear about Feuerbach’s distinction between theology and religion.)

The final part of the book treats Feuerbach’s positive contributions to philosophy. These chapters are shorter, and more focused on the difficulties involved in Feuerbach’s conceptions and presentations. As a largely aphoristic author in these respects, Feuerbach refused to offer materials that would lend themselves to systematization, and Kamenka at least gestures towards the real principles at stake in that refusal. But even so, Kamenka successfully identifies the value in many of Feuerbach’s ideas, that were later to see more extensive development in the works of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and the Existentialists.

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.

Lectures on the Essence of Religion

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Lectures on the Essence of Religion by Ludwig Feuerbach.

How did I manage to go so long without reading Feuerbach? Why is he not better known among those of us who aver in the 21st century that There is no god but man? Regardless, I doubt I could have picked a better starting-point than the volume Lectures on the Essence of Religion, a text from 1851 in which he offers thirty lectures to explicate and enlarge on his earlier work The Essence of Religion (not to be confused with his best-known volume The Essence of Christianity). This book represents his mature thought in a somewhat conversational style.

Feuerbach discusses the true objects of “nature religion” (typified by classical paganism) and “spiritual religion” (typified by Christianity), and concludes that in both cases they are the human ideal, this-worldly and otherworldly respectively. In the twenty-fifth lecture, he provides an excellent argument against sui generis religion. He even declares (in 1851!): “The ultimate secret of religion is the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, the voluntary and involuntary in one and the same individual.” (310-11)

On the whole, I found him incisive, witty, and fundamentally true to reality as I have encountered it. There were a couple of points on which I would differ with him. I don’t share his conviction that humanity as a whole will inevitably progress to a more rational condition. Also, although a few passages indicate that he knows better, he all too often uses “imagination” as a blank synonym for “delusion,” thus permitting the effects of false imagination and idle fantasy to eclipse the importance of the imaginative faculty in nurturing and realizing practical goals.

“In religion man does not satisfy other beings; he satisfies his own nature.” (76) Deus est homo, brother Ludwig! [via]

The Essence of Religion

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Essence of Religion by Ludwig Feuerbach, translated by Alexander Loos:

Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Religion trans. Alexander Loos


This edition of Feuerbach’s The Essence of Religion is abridged by translator Alexander Loos: three only out of the thirty lectures appear under this cover. This text is the earlier, denser, and more “philosophical” exposition of views that are enlarged upon in the later Lectures on the Essence of Religion. The abridgement is not divided into three lectures according to its source, but simply presented as a continuous text of fifty-five numbered sections.

In contrast to the author’s earlier books on Christianity, this one takes a wider, more comparative approach, and consequently offers two complementary theories regarding the nature of religious thought, which is nevertheless always a confusion of subjective and objective phenomena. The Christian type takes the subjective human ideal as an objective cosmic force, while its earlier and less “sophisticated” complement, as is found in ancient Greek pagan cults, attires the objective powers of nature with the human sort of subjectivity.

As always, Feuerbach demonstrates the sane approach to the simple fact that There is no god but man. He writes of the “spiritual” sort of religion championed by Christians: “As the life to come is nothing but the continuation of this life uninterrupted by death, so the divine being is nothing but the continuation of the human being uninterrupted by Nature in general—the uninterrupted, unlimited nature of man” (63, ital. in original). He also exhibits his rancor and contempt for the theological enterprise. He he shows theology straining at gnats while swallowing camels, when it tries to remove the supernatural element from sacramental rites, while retaining the supernatural in stories of cosmic origin. “But it is in the world of theology just as in the political world; the small thieves are hanged, the great ones are suffered to escape” (58). [via]



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