Friedrich Feuerbach

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Friedrich Feuerbach.

Friedrich Heinrich Feuerbach (29 September 1806 – 24 January 1880) was a German philologist and philosopher. In the 1840s he played an important role disseminating materialist and atheist philosophy.


Friedrich Feuerbach was born on 29 September 1806 in Munich. He was the youngest son of the distinguished jurist Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach (1775–1833) and uncle of painter Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880). His older brothers were all distinguished scholars.[1] In 1826 he began his studies at the university of Erlangen. At first he studied theology, then history and finally philology and philosophy, specializing in Sanskrit literature. His supervisor was Friedrich Rückert. At Erlangen he was a member of a liberal nationalist student fraternity. In 1831, shortly after graduating, he went to Paris to work with the noted philologists and linguists Chézy, Bournouf and Remusat. France had recently experienced the July Revolution, and Friedrich met with some of the French utopian socialists of the time (e.g., Pierre Leroux). He also seems to have travelled to Switzerland, where he met the radical followers of Wilhelm Weitling; some of them subsequently studied his writings on religion.[2] There is no evidence, however, that Friedrich Feuerbach himself ever participated in any revolutionary association (nor would this have been in character with his diffident nature).

On his return to Germany Feuerbach did not seek a profession but instead took rented rooms in Nuremberg and lived on a small state pension. He lived that way for most of his life. Friedrich Feuerbach published several translations from Sanskrit, Spanish, Italian and French. In the 1830s he was associated with the Young German movement in literature; in the early 1840s he contributed to a number of Young Hegelian magazines. Friedrich Freuerbach is described as extremely shy and withdrawn. His brother Ludwig described him as utterly undemanding. The suicide attempt of his older brother Karl, the mathematician, who had been arrested for belonging to a liberal student fraternity in 1824, seems to have greatly affected Friedrich. He was with Karl during his battle with mental illness and when he died prematurely in 1834. The physician Dr. Theodor Spoerri, a family friend, thought he suffered from "heaviness of the blood" (depression). He also thought that the "genius" of the talented Feuerbach family was most concentrated in Friedrich, the least-known brother.[3] The philosopher Georg Friedrich Daumer was one of his few occasional visitors. The liberal theologian Johann Heinrich Wichern also acknowledged his influence.

Friedrich Feuerbach was a qualified Orientalist with several publications. However, under the influence of his brother Ludwig, he turned to philosophy. He expounded a critique of religion that was heavily indebted to his brother's. He professed "to preach what he taught."[4] Friedrich often actively assisted Ludwig in editing his manuscripts. In spite of his atheism, Friedrich seems to have sympathized with a local liberal Protestant 'free faith' group. He died in Nuremberg on 24 January 1880.


Friedrich Feuerbach shared his brother Ludwig's materialistic humanism. However, he focused less on his brother's theories of the origin of religious alienation and more on the practical implications of religion. Religion requires of the believer "a perpetual sacrifice of his autonomous thinking."[5] The desire for happiness is the most powerful human drive, but it can be fulfilled only if (a) human beings know their essential nature (Wesen) and (b) they love it. Christianity interferes with the first by replacing science with superstition; it hinders the second by portraying human beings as hopelessly weak and dependent on the will of an almighty God.[6] It is the task of the State, through education and enlightened laws, to provide the material conditions of happiness. To do this, the State must emancipate itself from the influence of the Church. Although Church and State seem symbiotic, the priesthood merely a spiritual police force to complement the secular, in essence Church and State are in conflict: The essence and instrument of the State is the law, but the Church demands of believers obedience to the absolute will of God. As law is in conflict with arbitrary will, so the role of citizen is in conflict with that of believer. So the State must become secular, although Feuerbach acknowledges it will be difficult to remove religion from the minds of the people.[7] The means to social reform is through education. Friedrich Feuebach's political ideal may be described as a kind of utopian socialism: a benevolent secular State that provides people with a scientific education, organises conditions of life rationally and encourages mutual love and assistance.[8]

Although Friedrich Feurbach humbly thought of himself as a mere disseminator of his brother Ludwig's ideas, there were differences between them. Ludwig's distinctive analysis of the concept of God as alienated 'species being' played little role in Friedrich's writings; Friedrich focused on the nefarious implications of God as absolute arbitrary willpower. The note of social radicalism of the professed 'communist' Ludwig was largely absent from Friedrich, who never clarified whether the secular state he envisioned presiding over a society based on mutual aid, could be established by the existing government by enlightened reform from above, or required a more radical change of system. Another difference concerns the role Friedrich Feuerbach assigns to the secular State in establishing conditions of universal happiness and enlightenment about religion; Ludwig Feuerbach places much less emphasis on the state and seems rather more hostile to it.[9]


"No salvation outside of humanity! These words contain the whole of the religion of the future."[10]

"Not irreligion, not unbelief in the dogmas of the religious communities into which people happen to be born, no! lack of love and ignorance are the two main sources of all earthly calamities."[11]

"Love of humanity … belongs undeniably to the consitions of human welfare; but if it consists in mutual assistance in the striving for happiness and wellbeing, and if this happiness and wellbeing consist above all – as is likewise undeniable – in the satisfaction of our inborn natural drives and the development of our natural powers … [then] the most fertile soil for love of humanity will evidently not be the belief that human nature is thoroughly degenerate and worthless, but rather in the view according to which we regard it [viz., human nature] as the essentially and generally acceptable foundation and condition of all our being, feeling, thinking and striving…"[12]


  • Manon Lescaut von Abbé Prévost. Mit einer Charakteristik Prévosts und seiner Romane. (Tr. of Antoine François Prévost's L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, 1731. With an essay on Prévost and his novels.) Erlangen, 1834.
  • Theanthropos, eine Reihe von Aphorismen (Theanthropos, a Series of Aphorisms). Zurich, 1838.
  • Die Religion der Zukunft, Erstes Heft (The Religion of the Future, First Pamphlet). Zurich, 1843.
  • Die Religion der Zukunft, 2. Heft: Die Bestimmung des Menschen. (The Religion of the Future, Second Pamphlet: The Vocation of Man). Nuremberg, 1844.
  • Die Religion der Zukunft, 3. Heft: Mensch oder Christ? (The Religion of the Future, Third Pamphlet: Human or Christian?). Nuremberg, 1845.
  • Die Kirche der Zukunft (The Church of the Future). Bern, 1847.
  • Gedanken und Tatsachen (Thoughts and Facts). Hamburg, 1862.


  1. ^
    • Joseph Anselm Feuerbach (1798–1851), father of the painter, was a philologist and archeologist;
    • Karl Wilhelm Feuerbach (1800–1834) was a noted mathematician;
    • Eduard August Feuerbach (1803–1843) was a scholar of jurisprudence;
    • Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804–1872) was a philosopher and anthropologist who influenced Karl Marx.
    Friedrich also had three sisters: Rebekka Magdalena "Helene" Feuerbach von Dobeneck (1808–1891), Leonore Feuerbach (1809–1885), Elise Feuerbach (1813–1883). Cf. Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. 4th edition, vol. 6, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig, 1885–1892.
  2. ^ Wilhelm Marr seems to have been the conduit; in the 1840s he helped publish Friedrich Feuerbach's writings on religion in Switzerland. Marr was the author of Das junge Deutschland in der Schweiz. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der geheimen Verbindungen unserer Tage. Leipzig, 1846. (Young Germany in Switzerland: A Contribution to the History of the Secret Societies of Our Days.) To Ludwig Feuerbach's chagrin, conservative newspapers connected the Feuerbach brothers with the 'unmeasured revolutionism' of these circles. Cf: Schuffenhauer, W., Introduction to: 'Ludwig Feuerbach stellt des Bruders Schrift Gedanken und Thatsachen, 1862, vor.' Berlin, 1990.
  3. ^ Spoerri, Th., Genie und Krankheit. Basel/New York, 1851, pp. 73 ff.
  4. ^ Meyers... op. cit., p. 203.
  5. ^ Cp. Feuerbach, F., Die Religion der Zukunft. Zurich, 1843, pp. 2-5.
  6. ^ Ibid, p. 7 ff. et passim.
  7. ^ Cp. op. cit., pp. 33-38 et passim.
  8. ^ "If love of humanity is understood as a personal and emotional sympathy with all human beings, then no one can be obligated to it. Personal sympathy cannot be commanded at all, and can always only relate to a few. Love of humanity, taken rationally, which can indeed be made a duty for everyone, means as much as: recognition of the universal human rights of each and recognition of the claims of each on me, and according to my powers and means to further him in all that is socially lawful [landesgesetzlich erlaubt]. … The main point is that the individual thinks and works not only for himself but also for others; it matters less whether he lives among men but rather, that he lives for them." Feuerbach, F., Gedanken und Tatsachen. Ein Beitrag zur Verständigung über die wichtigsten Bedingungen des Menschenwohles Tr. V.I. Chastra. Hamburg, 1862, p. 3.
  9. ^ In general, Ludwig seems more influenced by the anarchistic streak in Young Hegelian thought, as seen in Stirner, Bakunin and the Marx of Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843).
  10. ^ Cp. Feuerbach, F., Die Religion der Zukunft. Zurich, 1843, p. 33.
  11. ^ Feuerbach, F., Gedanken und Tatsachen. Ein Beitrag zur Verständigung über die wichtigsten Bedingungen des Menschenwohles. Hamburg, 1862, p. 12.
  12. ^ Feuerbach, F., Gedanken und Tatsachen. op. cit. Hamburg, 1862, p. 4. Tr. V.I. Chastra.


Meyers Konversations-Lexikon. 4th edition, vol. 6, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig, 1885–1892, p. 203. Online at:

Schuffenhauer, W. (ed), 'Ludwig Feuerbach stellt des Bruders Schrift "Gedanken und Thatsachen", 1862, vor.' ('Ludwig Feuerbach introduces his brother's work Thoughts and Facts, 1862.' In: Braun, H.J., H.M. Sass, W. Schuffenhauer and F. Tomasoni (ed's), Ludwig Feuerbach und die Philosophie der Zukunft. Berlin, 1990, pp. 763–785.
Online at:

Radbruch, G., 'Die Feuerbachs. Eine geistige Dynastie.' In: Gestalten und Gedanken. Acht Studien. Leipzig 19442, p. 175 f.

Spoerri, Th., Genie und Krankheit. Eine psychopathologische Untersuchung der Familie Feuerbach. Basel/NewYork, 1952, pp. 73–76.

Kantzenbach, F.W., 'Im Schatten des Größeren. Friedrich Feuerbach, Bruder und Gesinnungsgefährte Ludwig Feuerbachs.' In: Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Nürnberg, vol. 57. Nuremberg, 1970, pp. 281–306.

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