Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), German philosopher, was noted for his materialistic interpretation of God/ Christianity and humankind within a temporal framework. Although his philosophical and anthropological perspective was established before the theory of evolution (1859) by Charles Darwin (1809-1882), Feuerbach understood that the emergence of consciousness allowed humankind to integrate intelligence and emotion with the understanding of human mortality. Consequently, the concept of God, theology, and religiosity manifested itself in various ways in order to bring both ontological and teleological fulfillment to a personal finite existence. This materialistic and heretical explanation encompasses a range of metaphysical implications from religion to scientific and philosophical enlightenment. Feuerbach recognized that God, prayer, love, and the desire for immortality are deeply rooted in the psychology of the human species. Essentially, God and his attributes are humanity’s projection of itself that is juxtaposed within the finitude of human existence and understanding. Scientific and philosophical knowledge has aided (and for Feuerbach must continue in the future to aid) humankind’s understanding of itself within an evolving universe. Feuerbach’s major works include Thoughts on Death and Immortality (1830), The Essence of Christianity (1841), and Principles and Philosophy of the Future (1843).
Experience, Identity, and the Infinite
Feuerbach presented a unique interpretation of time conditioned by human experience. The combination of emerging consciousness tempered with external experiences allows for a shift in the personal beliefs expressed within the historical context of individual and social integration. In these terms, personal and social identity become transformation events that alter perception, morality, and anthropomorphic qualities of deities. The changing qualities of deities, as with the concept of immortality, denote the distinction of these temporal shifts in thought. From the lost perspective on mortality of the ancient Greeks and Romans to the independent governing factors in individual immortality, the concept of God(s) becomes both a temporal and superficial essence. Ultimately, this essence is humanity’s finite projection of the infinite that is, God. During this projection, humankind surrenders its inner being to a self-created nonexistent entity.
In Feuerbachian terms, the concept of time, when finite and infinite are juxtaposed, creates a sense of temporal eternity by which finitude is expressed in personal mortality. This awareness of death, a complete termination and dissolution of life and spirit, is a precondition of human life limited by human reason. The human spirit, which is equated with consciousness and reason, is limited within these parameters of a material existence. Although individual existence and individuality are temporal, human thought is considered by some to be beyond time; albeit solely dependent on the temporally finite material body. This in itself raises a perceived paradox. For Feuerbach, temporal experience (finite) and thought (finite yet infinite within finite consciousness) foster a sense of infinity that is in itself a finite spatiotemporal existence. Personal immortality becomes an illusion that is less illustrious than an infinite and personal God.
As Feuerbach pointed out, God and religion mirror human nature. The concept of God, a created and projected illusion subjected to shifts in definitions within time, is unique in human thought. God has become the archetype for the simultaneous existence of both the material/nonmaterial and finite/infinite. Consequently, the expressions of anthropomorphic qualities of God—life, emotion, infinite consciousness—and nature are steeped in mystical interpretations of the human quest for immortality. The greatest manifestation of this quest is seen in the basic and contradictory principles of Christianity. Concepts of the Trinity, Christology, and the Resurrection combine the supreme ideal—nonmaterial, infinite, loving, and omnipotent—with the antithetical states of human life, the limitations and frailties of human existence. When compared in this manner, sin becomes a selfimposed conceptual prison from which humankind seeks to free itself, via prayer, and reaffirm itself in value and unifying identity. However, rational and critical thought expose several contradictions within religious thought as presented by Feuerbach; among them God (essence), doctrine, and revelation being the greatest of all contradictions.
Feuerbach held that humans are unique in the animal world. Essentially, humans are held to be universal beings that reflect the totality of their being: unlimited and free. Artistic creativity, philosophical contemplation, and science are signs of this totality or unity. Differing from Aristotelian, Platonic, medieval, or modern philosophy/theology, the materialistic completeness or unity is regarded as the essence of being human. It signifies a metaphysical shift to a form of materialism that encompasses all known reality of human existence. Furthermore, Feuerbach understood the relevancy of scientific advancements—that is, creativity precedes science—and the role of philosophy in ultimately reclaiming humanity’s loss and bringing about a completeness of being. This process begins with the task of what Feuerbach stated as the transforming and dissolving of theology into anthropology. Though Protestantism was considered as the beginning, Feuerbach would find today’s humanism and advancements in science, especially in anthropology, biology, and psychology, as a progressive step in fulfilling this philosophical transformation. It is uncertain what direction this futuristic philosophy would take. However, the abstract notion and metaphysical implications of infinity and finitude will be redefined in the light of creative scientific advancements in biology (including physiology), physics, and technology; all of which will bring about a refined ontology and selfdirected teleology. This signifies a continuous and dynamic process, as seen in Feuerbach’s philosophical framework.
Feuerbach’s Impact on Philosophy
The consequence of Feuerbach’s thought on philosophy has been profound. Although materialism and naturalism were not new philosophical perspectives, Feuerbach did provide a new direction in the explanation of the human condition. His understanding of theology, particularly Aquinas and Hegel, combined with the spirit of the Enlightenment sought to free humankind from its perceived illusions of God and religion. This philosophical, albeit psychological, explanation forced a progressive reevaluation of the terms by which life and time are understood. Unlike Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in his proclaiming the death of God and the eternal recurrence, Feuerbach’s humanization of God and religion becomes less nihilistic but retains discomforting thoughts about human finitude and mortality. Within the concept of time, human existence, both individual and as a species, is tenuous. In Feuerbach’s view of reclaiming all parts of humanity, a complete unity of being can be attained and human fulfillment achieved. This is the essence in the finitude of humans in relation to the external world.
David Alexander Lukaszek
See also Farber, Marvin; Humanism; Infinity; Marx, Karl; Materialism; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Revelation, Book of; Wagner, Richard
Feuerbach, L. (1980). Thoughts on death and immortality. Berkeley: University of California Press. (Original work published 1830)
Feuerbach, L. (1986). Principles of the philosophy of the future. Cambridge, MA: Hackett. (Original work published 1843)
Feuerbach, L. (1989). The essence of Christianity. Amherst, NY: Prometheus. (Original work published 1841)