Marx/Engels Internet Archive
Theses On Feuerbach
Written: by Marx in the Spring of 1845, but slightly edited by Engels;
First Published: in German as an appendix to German edition of Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy in 1888;
Source: Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, Progress Publishers 1946.
The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the things [Gegenstand], reality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, it happened that the active side, in coradistinction to materialism, was set forth by idealism – but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from the conceptual objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. Hence, in Das Wesen des Christenthums, he therefore regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and defined only in its dirty-Jewish form of appearance. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.
The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth, i.e. the reality and power, the this-worldliness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolates from practice is a purely scholastic question.
The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence, this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society (in Robert Owen for example).
The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.
Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-estrangement, of the duplication of the world into a religious, imaginary world and a real one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work, the chief thing stil remains to be done. For the fact that the secular basis lifts off from itself from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must itself, therefore, first be understood in its contradiction and then, by the removal of the contradiction, revolutionized in practice. Thus, for instance, once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and transformed in practice.
Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, appeals to sensuous contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.
Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.
- To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment [Gemüt] regarded by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual.
- The essence of man, therefore, can with him be regarded only as “species”, as an inner, mute general character which unites the many individuals only in a natural way.
Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs to a particular form of society.
Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.
The highest point attained by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of “civil society.”
The standpoint of the old materialism is “civil” society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or associated humanity.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.