Ludwig Büchner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ludwig Büchner
Ludwig Büchner.jpg
Born (1824-03-29)29 March 1824
Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Confederation
Died 1 May 1899(1899-05-01) (aged 75)
Darmstadt, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Empire
Nationality German
Alma mater University of Giessen
University of Strasbourg
University of Würzburg
University of Vienna
Era 19th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental materialism[1]
Main interests
Philosophy of science

Friedrich Karl Christian Ludwig Büchner (29 March 1824 – 1 May 1899) was a German philosopher, physiologist and physician who became one of the exponents of 19th-century scientific materialism.


Büchner was born at Darmstadt on 29 March 1824. From 1842 to 1848 he studied physics, chemistry, botany, mineralogy, philosophy and medicine at the University of Giessen, where he graduated in 1848 with a dissertation entitled Beiträge zur Hall'schen Lehre von einem excitomotorischen Nervensystem (Contributions to the Hallerian Theory of an Excitomotor Nervous System). Afterwards, he continued his studies at the University of Strasbourg, the University of Würzburg (where he studied pathology with the great Rudolf Virchow) and the University of Vienna. In 1852 he became lecturer in medicine at the University of Tübingen, where he published his magnum opus Kraft und Stoff: Empirisch-naturphilosophische Studien (Force and Matter: Empiricophilosophical Studies, 1855).[2] In this work, the product, according to Lange, of a fanatical enthusiasm for humanity, he sought to demonstrate the indestructibility of matter, and the finality of physical force. The extreme materialism of this work caused so much opposition that he was compelled to give up his post at Tübingen, and he retired to Darmstadt, where he practiced as a physician and contributed regularly to pathological and physiological magazines.

He continued his philosophical work in defense of materialism, and published Natur und Geist (Nature and Spirit, 1857), Aus Natur und Wissenschaft (From Nature and Science, vol. I., 1862; vol. II., 1884), Der Fortschritt in Natur und Geschichte im Lichte der Darwinschen Theorie (Progress in Nature and History in the Light of the Darwinian Theory, 1884), Tatsachen und Theorien aus dem naturwissenschaftlichen Leben der Gegenwart (Facts and Theories in the Scientific Life of Present, 1887), Fremdes und Eigenes aus dem geistligen Leben der Gegenwart (Strangers and Selves in the Spiritual Life of the Present, 1890), Darwinismus und Socialismus (Darwinism and Socialism, 1894), Im Dienste der Wahrheit (In the Service of Truth, 1899).

Ludwig Büchner's materialism was the founding ground for the freethinkers' movement in Germany. In 1881 he founded in Frankfurt the "German Freethinkers League" ("Deutsche Freidenkerbund").

He died at Darmstadt on 1 May 1899.

In estimating Büchner's philosophy it must be remembered that he was primarily a physiologist, not a metaphysician. Matter and force (or energy) are infinite; the conservation of force follows from the imperishability of matter, the ultimate basis of all science.

Büchner is not always clear in his theory of the relation between matter and force. At one time he refuses to explain it, but generally he assumes that all natural and spiritual forces are indwelling in matter. Just as a steam engine, he says in Kraft und Stoff (7th ed., p. 130), produces motion, so the intricate organic complex of force-bearing substance in an animal organism produces a total sum of certain effects, which, when bound together in a unity, are called by us mind, soul, thought. Here he postulates force and mind as emanating from original matter, a materialistic monism. But in other parts of his works he suggests that mind and matter are two different aspects of that which is the basis of all things, a monism which is not necessarily materialistic.

Büchner was much less concerned to establish a scientific metaphysics than to protest against the romantic idealism of his predecessors and the theological interpretations of the universe. Nature according to him is purely physical; it has no purpose, no will, no laws imposed by extraneous authority, no supernatural ethical sanction.

Modern Christian apologists consider Büchner the father of atheistic evangelism in Germany, a counterpart to Thomas Huxley.

Ludwig Büchner was the brother of Georg Büchner, a famous playwright, and the uncle of Ernst Büchner, inventor of the Büchner flask.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Nineteenth Century and After, Vol. 151, 1952, p. 227: "the Continental materialism of Moleschott and Buchner".
  2. ^ Available online at


  • Fredrick Gregory: Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth Century Germany, Springer, Berlin u.a. 1977, ISBN 90-277-0760-X


External links[edit]