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Ludwig Feuerbach and The Young Hegelians

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  • West End Interim Library

    2522 Virginia Ave. NW, Washington, DC (map)

    38.899364 -77.054504

  • Note: To accommodate people leaving early for the holidays, this meetup will be held one week earlier than usual. Two people will facilitate: Jim will focus broadly on the Young Hegelians, Scott more narrowly on Ludwig Feuerbach.  The two segments are separated by a long horizontal line in the middle of this page; Jim's recommended reading is above the line, Scott's below it.

    Introduction to the Young Hegelians (Jim)

    The times were dangerous. Almost all of the writings of the Young Hegelians were considered subversive. Even biblical scholarship was viewed as threatening when orthodox religious beliefs were considered essential to state security. One often hears jokes about how Marx wrote about money but was unable to make any himself. But this was a problem for all the Young Hegelians. Their writings led to persecution by the political, religious and academic authorities. They were dismissed from jobs, prohibited from teaching, jailed and exiled. When they moved from academic jobs to journalism their writings were censored, banned and their papers shut down. It was a precarious existence and this was reflected in the style of their writing. 

    They were responding to events and to each other. They were trying to remake the world which forever seemed on the verge of another revolution, the next one always promising to get it right, or at least better than the last one. The period was know as the Vormärz, literally “Before March” and refers to the time before the Vienna uprising of March 1848 that started a series of revolts throughout Europe. The failure of the 1848 revolutions brought an end to an optimistic era that began with the July Revolution of 1830 in France. As a result of the turbulent times, their writing was done in a hurry. Sometimes they were on the run, but there was also urgency to what they were doing. Karl Löwith, in his From Hegel to Nietzsche, described them as “manifestos, programs, and theses, but never anything whole, important in itself” and that “in spite of their inflammatory tone, they leave an impression of insipidity.” This was a time to act and react; there was no time for careful scholarship.

    This style is reflected in the enthusiastic young Feuerbach’s Letter To Hegel, 22 November 1828, the earliest of the Young Hegelian’s writings and can still be seen two decades later in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, perhaps their final statement published as the revolutions broke out.

    Despite their sometimes-heated philosophical confrontations it was a very congenial group. The went to each others weddings, loaned each other money (when they had some), visited each other in exile, wrote for each others journals and newspapers and collaborated on writing projects. In fact, there was so much collaboration that it is often hard to tell who—and how many—wrote a given text. This was complicated by the fact that many of their writings had to be published anonymously or under pseudonyms.

    The Four Phases

    The writings of the Hegelians fall into roughly four periods. In the first, those known as the “Old Hegelians” or later the “Right Hegelians" collected, published and proselytized about the writings and lectures of Hegel. They were important for codifying and preserving the legacy of Hegel, but they did not advance his philosophy. Their impact was consequently limited and their writings are rarely read and have not been translated.

    The second phase was primarily interested in Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion. It began with David Friedrich Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, an 800-page scholarly work on the Gospels and an unlikely book that took the world by storm. The third phase moved beyond religious and theological issues to more practical issues of politics, economics and social life. The fourth and final phase is dominated by Max Stirner’s book The Ego and His Own and the critical reaction and debate that followed.  

    Chronology and Texts of The Young Hegelians (to be discussed at our meeting; the links are to free public domain copies):

    1. Old Hegelians (late 1820's to 1835)

    1828 Feuerbach. Letter To Hegel

    2. Religious Issues (1835 to early 1840's)

    1835 David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined", Preface to the First German Edition (pages 3-5);  § 1 Inevitable Rise of Different Modes of Explaining Sacred Histories (pages 11-12); § 12. Opposition to the Mythical View of the Gospel History (pages 43-47l; § 140. Debates Concerning the Reality of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus (pages[masked])

    1841 Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity (see below for selected readings)

    1842 Max Stirner. “Art and Religion” 

    3. Political and Social Issues [masked])

    1843 Moses Hess. The Philosophy of the Act

    1843 Marx/Engels. Letter to Arnold Ruge and Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

    1843 Feuerbach.
    Principles of the Philosophy of the Future-Part III: Principles of the New Philosophy

    1845 Marx. Theses on Feuerbach 

    4. Stirner and His Critics  [masked])

    1843 Max Stirner. “The False Principle of our Education" 

    1845 Max Stirner. The Ego and His Own 
    Read three selections: 1) Part First: I. A Human Life, 2) Part Second: I. Ownness, 3) Part Second: III. The Unique One                   

    Additional Resources:

    "Die Freien"
    "Young Hegelians"

    Socialist Review:
    "Y is for Young Hegelians"


    Introduction to Ludwig Feuerbach (Scott)

    Next to Karl Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach [masked]) was the most prominent of the Young Hegelian philosophers. Like others in this group, he embraced some of Hegel’s concepts, in particular the dialectical progression of history and the role of alienation in suppressing happiness. He was critical, however, of Hegel’s Idealism and his glorification of Reason, as it was applied to religious consciousness; like Kierkegaard, he asked how man could worship a God bereft of emotion, a God who was defined by abstractions.

    Feuerbach’s greatest contribution to the philosophy of religion was his claim that religion was a form of projection. He says in The Essence of Christianity: “What man calls Absolute Being, his God, is his own being. The power of the object over him is therefore the power of his own being.” Yet man pays a price worshiping God rather than the source of God, man himself: “To enrich God, man must become poor; that God may be all, man must be nothing.”

    Using the dialectical method, Feuerbach traces the evolution of religious consciousness. The Greeks and Romans, polytheists, worshiped many gods, each of whom represented a human trait or some aspect of nature. The Jews consolidated many gods into one, making worship more efficient, but in the process demeaning God: he was jealous, vengeful, mercurial, and required constant adoration. 

    Emotionally unfulfilling, Judaism eventually underwent negation as theorized by Hegel. Christianity did this by replacing the rigid, threatening father with one who exemplifies moral perfections: justice, mercy, charity, kindness, and love. As the Jewish God represented the worst in man, the Christian God, in the incarnation of Jesus, represented the best. Not only was God morally admirable; he also looked like us, making it easier to identify with him, pray to him, and take solace from him. This humanizing solidified when Mary, God’s mother, and the saints that followed, were added to the holy roster. Within Christianity a further evolution occurred when the Catholic Church, viewed as authoritarian and an enemy of freedom, was supplanted by Protestantism, which allowed individuals to personalize their relationship with God. As progressive as Christianity was, it still perpetuated self-alienation: man attributed to God what originates in man. Just as Hegel believed that political and social alienation would be overcome by the State, Feuerbach believed that religious alienation would be overcome by atheism. This would curb superstitious thinking and advance psychological integration--i.e., man and God become one.

    Feuerbach influenced many philosophers, including Nietzsche, Freud, Durkheim, and Martin Buber. Most notable, however, were Marx and Engels. Although they praised his materialism and commitment to economic justice, they criticized him for not going far enough, for not engaging in revolutionary activities. Marx wrote in his “Theses on Feuerbach”: “The Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” 

    Questions to Consider

    1. Feuerbach is often criticized for being limited in his subject matter: to God, projection, and alienation. Is this fair? Why does he feel the need to apply the same analysis to separate Christian Mysteries, such as the Incarnation, Baptism, and Eucharist?

    2. How does Feuerbach's analysis of alienation differ from Hegel's and Kierkegaard's?

    3. Feuerbach has a chapter entitled “Contradiction in the Existence of God.” What is the contradiction?

    4. Why does Feuerbach believe the Trinity is an evolutionary advance over the concept of a single deity?

    5. How is Feuerbach’s atheistic critique different from those philosophers who came before and after him, e.g. Lucretius, Hobbes, Hume, Russell, and the New Atheists?

    6. Feuerbach says he is approaching religion from an anthropological perspective. What is anthropological about his analysis? Is it disinterested or hostile?

    Recommended Text

    Ludwig Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity. Trans. George Eliot. HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. This edition has an excellent introductory essay by the theologian Karl Barth. Used copies are available from amazon for under $6.00. For a free public domain copy, click here.

    Reading the entire 278 page book would be ideal, Feuerbach analyzing Christian dogma and rituals from various perspectives. But with our time limited that's not possible. The following chapters are therefore recommended for discussion: Barth's Introductory Essay, pages x-xix; Chapter I, Paragraph 2: The Essence of Religion Considered Generally (pp. 12-32); Chapter V: The Mystery of the Suffering God (pp. 59-64); Chapter XI: The Significance of the Creation in Judaism (pp. [masked]); Chapter XII: The Omnipotence of Feeling, or the Mystery of Prayer (pp. [masked]); Chapter XIII: The Mystery of Faith--The Mystery of Miracle (pp. [masked]); Chapter XIV: The Mystery of the Resurrection and of the Miraculous Conception (pp. [masked]); Chapter XV: The Mystery of the Christian Christ, or the Personal (pp. [masked]); Chapter XVI: The Distinction Between Christianity and Heathenism (pp. [masked]); Chapter XVIII: The Christian Heaven, or Personal Immortality (pp. [masked]); Chapter XX: The Contradiction in the Existence of God (pp. [masked]); Chapter XXV: The Contradiction in the Sacraments (pp. [masked])


    The following resources provide additional background, analyses, and bibliographies:

    Wikipedia: "Ludwig Feuerbach"; "The Essence of Christianity", "Psychology of Religion", "Comparative Mythology" , "Atheism" 

    Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "The New Atheists" 

    Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach"

    "Ludwig Feuerbach" from The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology

    "Ludwig Feuerbach". Lecture notes by Professor M. Gregory Oakes, Dept. of Philosophy, Winthrop University.

    Van A. Harvey. “Feuerbach: Love & Atheism”. Philosophy Now (2011)

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  • Alex R.

    I won't be able to come- I have to go to Philly for work. I hope you all have a great time. Hopefully see you soon.


  • George

    In the list of readings, the following text appears: 1841 Feuerbach. The Essence of Christianity (see below for selected readings)" But I can find no link following for the selected readings from "The Essence of Christianity"

    November 19

    • Scott

      George, The announcement is a bit confusing because there are two facilitators for this meeting: Jim and me. Ignore the 1841 Feuerbach line and continue to scroll down the page until you get to a dividing horizontal black line--that's where my Feuerbach introduction begins. Continue to scroll down (almost to the bottom of the page) until you get to "Recommended Text". There you will find the Essence of Christianity text to buy and below that the individual chapters to read. Hope this helps.

      November 19

    • George

      Thanks, Scott.

      November 20

  • Jack M.

    Believe it or not, I am still interested, but my travels have made it difficult to make the last few months. I am still not sure about Dec, but will check to see if a place is still available if I can make it.

    October 31

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