Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach
1804 – 1872)
HIS German parents named him Ludwig after the holy French king, St. Louis, but his surname “Feuerbach” (German for “stream of fire”) showed the moldering, even raging fire within.
The young Ludwig Feuerbach was born in Landshut, Bavaria in 1804. His father, Paul Johannes Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, was a prominent lawyer. Three uncles, including the mathematician Karl Wilhelm von Feuerbach, were learned men.
For higher studies, the young Feuerbach enrolled at the University of Heidelberg following the wishes of his father that his son becomes a Protestant pastor. To his father’s great disappointment, the son transferred to the University of Berlin to study under the rising German thinker at that time: Hegel. Under Hegel’s tutelage Feuerbach wrote his doctoral dissertation: “The One, Universal and Infinite Reason” thereby indicating his radical break from traditional philosophy and theology.
Rejecting many of Hegel’s key ideas, Feuerbach identified himself with the Left Hegelians advocating matter, and not Spirit, as the dominant principle of reality. He rattled the academic and political world with his revolutionary ideas, namely 1) anthropological materialism; he famously claimed “Man is what he eats!” and 2) atheism a.k.a. anthropological-historical materialism theorizing that in reflecting on himself, man is aware of his own infinite possibilities. Thus, in Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach states that human goodness, kindness, power, intellect and will, when raised to the infinite degree, become the attributes of a “god” whom man himself has “created.” In other words, after surrendering his fine attributes, man worships his own creation he calls “god.”
Feuerbach tried to support himself by writing, among them the historical novel: Abelard and Heloise. A debilitating stroke and the closure of his wife’s ceramics factory left him to the kindness of friends supporting him with occasional dole-outs. At his funeral in 1872, hundreds surprisingly accompanied his casket to the cemetery, many praying that he be received with kindness and mercy by the God he had denied.