Ludwig Feuerbach 1828
I take the liberty, dear Professor, of sending you my dissertation. Not that I attach any particular value to it, or that I imagine it holds in and for itself any interest for your mind. I send it only because I, its author, stand to you in the special relationship of an immediate disciple to his teacher, inasmuch as for two years I attended your lectures in Berlin and may thereby attest to the high esteem and veneration due to my teacher, which I gladly acknowledge as my duty. But at the same time this very relationship engenders in me a certain timidity in presenting my work. For if a disciple’s high esteem and veneration for his teacher are attested and expressed not by external actions, speech, or sentiments, but only through works, this is possible only through works executed in the spirit of the teacher, worthy of a disciple, fulfilling the demands ordinarily placed on one as an immediate disciple. But when I consider my work – if, by the way, my dissertation merits this title – I myself recognize only too well what is defective, insufficient, corrupt, and blameworthy in it, so that I cannot even consider it as fulfilling the demands which I place on myself – I who have enjoyed for two years your so formative and substantial teaching. It is true that the reason for many defects and mistakes is to be sought in the narrow limits of scope, aim, and language imposed in general on a dissertation, especially in the field of philosophy; and many faults can thereby be excused. Nonetheless, I can excuse myself for the liberty taken in presenting you with my dissertation. But I can do so only thanks to an awareness – which I openly confess – that, on the whole and in general, it breathes a speculative spirit. An awareness that it is – only, to be sure, as a fragment uprooted by an external circumstance – the product of a study consisting in a living, so to speak essential rather than formal assimilation and imagination of ideas or concepts forming the content of your works and oral lessons. It is an assimilation fastening onto and taking up the soul, the singular productive and autonomous power of this content – a free assimilation, which is thus in no sense arbitrary, selective, or nibbling.
I am aware that the ideas engendered or awakened in me by you and expressed in your philosophy do not obtain on high in the universal sphere, beyond the sensuous and the apparent, but continue to act in me creatively. They issue, so to speak, from the heaven of their colorless purity, immaculate clarity, beautitude, and unity with themselves, descending and taking form in an intuition which penetrates the particular, cancels [aufheben] and masters appearance within appearance itself. I am aware, further, that my dissertation bears within it, at least in general though in an altogether imperfect, crude, and mistaken form which fails to avoid abstraction, the trace of a manner of philosophizing which could be called the actualization and secularization of the idea, the ensarkosis or Incarnation of the pure logos. But it is in no way popularization, and even less the translation of thinking into a blank intuiting, or thoughts into images and symbols. This awareness gives me the courage, in spite of the insufficiency which I perceive and feel in my work, to present it to you. I am also firmly convinced that this manner of philosophizing, being not yet detached and released from myself, throws but a glimmer on my work, is only present in me in a state of becoming, and perhaps will never come, at least through me, to existence and to a perfected form. I am therefore, as I was saying, convinced that this manner of philosophizing comes at an opportune time or, otherwise stated, is founded on the very spirit of the new or latest philosophy, issuing from it.
For the philosophy which bears your name is, as acquaintance with history and philosophy itself teaches, not the affair of a school, but of humanity. At the very least the spirit of the latest philosophy claims, perforce tends, to burst the bounds of a single school, to become a general world-historical and public intuition. There resides in this spirit not only the germ of a higher literary activity, but also of a universal spirit expressing itself in actuality, the spirit, as it were, of a new period in world history. It is thus now a question, so to speak, of founding a Kingdom, the Kingdom of the Idea, of thought which contemplates itself in all that exists and is conscious of itself. The founder of this Kingdom will naturally bear no name, will not be an individual, or will be this individual which alone is, the World Spirit. Further, it is a question of overthrowing from its throne the ego, the self in general, which, especially since the beginning of Christianity, has dominated the world, which has conceived itself as the only spirit to exist. This spirit, [in asserting itself] as absolute, has validated itself by repressing the true absolute and objective spirit. This ego spirit is to be driven from its tyrannical throne in such a way that the Idea may be actual and may reign, that it may shine through all things as one light, and that the old empire of Ormuzd and Ahriman and dualism in general may be vanquished. This is not to be done, as has always been the case thus far in history, in the faith of a church apart from the world and turned in on itself, nor in the idea of one single substance, not generally in any way that involves a beyond, something negative, and exclusive relation to an other. Rather, it is to be done in the knowledge of reason conscious of itself as all reality [Realitšt], of reason single and universal, existing and knowing, actual, omnipresent, of reason unseparated from itself and uninterrupted by any difference.
The solitary reign of reason will and must finally come. Philosophy, which for thousands of years has been working toward reason’s completion and actualization, but which, raising itself by degrees, embracing the whole, the universe – or whatever name one gives it – always within a particular determination, a determinate concept, has by this fact always and necessarily left something else out, whether it be determinateness and existence itself in general, religion, nature, or the ego, etc. Philosophy, I say, which has finally grasped the whole itself as a whole and expressed it in the form of a whole, must now also have the consequence that nothing subsist any longer as a second or other, perhaps with the appearance or right and claim to be a second truth, such as a religious truth, etc. Millennial forms and modes of intuition, which from the first natural creation extended themselves across history as fundamental principles, must disappear. For knowledge of their vanity and limitation has arrived, even if this knowledge is not yet manifest. Everything will become Idea and reason. What counts now is a new foundation of things, a new history, a second creation in which it is no longer time and-outside of time-thought, but is rather reason that becomes the general form of the intuition of things. It can be demonstrated with perfect clarity that man becomes guilty of the maddest of contradictions if he so much as speaks of things being detached and separated from thought – not even to mention if he says that thought is something subjective and unreal [Nichtreales] where in fact man, like things themselves, has no existence at all outside thought, thinking being the all-embracing universal true space of all things and subjects. Every thing, every subject, is what it is only through the representation or thought of it. But it is then clear that if the ego, the self – as well as the innumerable things dependent upon it – is overcome in knowledge as something absolutely fixed, as the general and determinate principle of the world and of intuition, the ego even disappears outside intuition. It is then clear that the self expires, and that it ceases to be what it formerly was and indeed perishes.
This is why it is not a question here of a development of concepts in the form of their generality, in their abstract purity, and in their closed-off in-itselfness. It is rather a question of actually abolishing world-historical modes of intuition assumed up to the present. Modes of intuiting time, death, the this-worldly, the other-worldly, the ego, the individual, the person, as also that person considered as something absolute outside the finite, namely God, etc.: modes containing both the basis of history such as it has been envisaged up to the present and the source of the system of Christian representations, orthodox as well as rationalistic. It is a question of scuttling such truth, and of allowing cognitions to be introduced in its place which yield an immediately present world-determining intuition. Such cognitions find themselves enveloped in modern philosophy, as in the kingdom of the in-itself and hereafter [Jenseits], in the form of naked truth and generality.
Christianity cannot, for this reason, be conceived as the perfect and absolute religion. This can only be the Kingdom of actuality, of the Idea, of existing reason. Christianity is nothing other than the religion of the pure self, of the person taken as a solitary spirit – which holds forth in general. Christianity is by this fact but the antithesis of the ancient world. What meaning, for example, does nature have in this religion? What a spiritless, thoughtless place does nature have in it? And yet just this absence of spirit and thought is one of the underlying pillars of this religion. Indeed, nature lies there uncomprehended, mysterious, and taken up into the unity of the divine essence so that only the person – not nature, nor the world, not spirit – celebrates its salvation, a salvation which in fact is only to be found in knowledge. That is why reason is not yet redeemed in Christianity. It is also why death is likewise still taken in a totally spiritless manner – although being merely a natural act for the most indispensable day worker in the Lord’s vineyard, for the disciple and companion of Christ accomplishing for the first time the work of salvation fully. Since the foundation [Grund] and source of every religion lies in philosophy, in a definite mode of intuition on which the religion originally rests, the finite, the negative, the beyond of which Christianity itself has a presentiment admits of proof in the most categorical and convincing manner. Generally, every religion up to now has been nothing other than the immediate present, show and appearance of the universal spirit of some philosophy, as a single coherent whole through its different systems, for example, the Greek. Christianity is the manifestation, spreading in the form of fixed finitude, of the spirit of Hellenistic [nachgriechischen] philosophy. But the striving of the individual must now be so directed that through religion Spirit as Spirit may hold forth in appearance as nothing other than itself. Yet I must break off for fear of overstepping the limits of modesty and respect were I, most honored teacher, to retain you any longer in the exposition of my knowledge, striving, and thoughts. In the hope that you will wish to accept this letter kindly, as well as my dissertation, which at least in general suggests philosophical self-application and a striving to call abstract ideas into immediate presence, I remain, with the most profound and sincere respect, your honor’s most humble Ludwig Feuerbach, Dr. of Philosophy.