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Ludwig Feuerbach was born into a large, prominent, academic family in Landshut, Bavaria. His father was a distinguished professor of jurisprudence, and three of Ludwig’s four brothers went on to noteworthy careers in mathematics, law, and archeology. Some social theorists and sociologists are familiar with Feuerbach’s writings on religion, but most sociologists know Feuerbach primarily because of his influence on the young Karl Marx — a central figure within the sociological tradition. Feuerbach’s critique of Hegel provided Marx with the occasion to, in turn, critique Feuerbach, and in the process Marx worked his way toward a thoroughly sociological approach to such core topics as history, ideology, and social evolution.
The Essence of Christianity (1841) made Feuerbach famous in Germany and established him as a leader, along with Bruno Bauer and eventually Karl Marx, of the ”Young Hegelians” — students of Hegel who sought to realize the master’s idealism by grounding it in social and political realities. What Feuerbach had to say about Christianity is less important, for the sociologist, than the paradigm shift he initiated with respect to how we might think about and understand religion and, more generally, ideology. Feuerbach viewed religion as a projection of human needs and desires. Feuerbach, like Marx after him, wants us to see that religious striving represents an alienation of man from himself, and it is only through the proper understanding of man’s relationship to himself that he will find the liberation he is seeking in God. It is this turning away from the supernatural to the natural, material, and the human that marks Feuerbach’s contribution to social thought and social analysis.
- Wartofsky, M. (1977) Feuerbach. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.