Ludwig Feuerbach, along with Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, must be counted among those philosophical outsiders who rebelled against the academic philosophy of the 19th century and thought of themselves as reformers and prophets of a new culture. Although he began his career as an enthusiastic follower of Hegel, he emerged in the 1840s as a leader of a group of radicals called the Young Hegelians who, inspired by the revolutionary political spirit sweeping over Europe, employed the critical side of Hegel’s philosophy to undermine the reactionary alliance of philosophy, State, and Christianity in Prussia. But confronted by censorship, the police, and reprisals against them in the universities they turned against Hegel’s philosophy altogether. Expelled from the faculties for which they were trained, many of them became pamphleteers, journalists, revolutionaries, and independent scholars.
Feuerbach is best known for his criticism of Idealism and religion, especially Christianity, written in the early forties. He believed that any progress in human culture and civilization required the repudiation of both. His later writings were concerned with developing a materialistic humanism and an ethics of human solidarity. These writings have been more or less ignored until recently because most scholars have regarded him primarily as the bridge between Hegel and Marx. With the recent publication of a new critical edition of his works, however, a new generation of scholars have argued that his mature views are philosophically interesting in their own right. (Continue reading)
in his most important work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity), Feuerbach posited the notion that man is to himself his own object of thought and religion nothing more than a consciousness of the infinite. The result of this view is the notion that God is merely the outward projection of man’s inward nature.
In the first part of his book, which strongly influenced Marx, Feuerbach analyzed the “true or anthropological essence of religion.” Discussing God’s aspects “as a being of the understanding,” “as a moral being or law,” “as love,” and others, he argued that they correspond to different needs in human nature.
In the second section he analyzed the “false or theological essence of religion,” contending that the view that God has an existence independent of human existence leads to a belief in revelation and sacraments, which are items of an undesirable religious materialism.