Once upon a time, when I was a poor student of philosophy, I stumbled upon a book named Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. I had never read a text by its author, Ludwig Feuerbach, but the title uplifted my mood. It was reduced in price, so I could buy it… the only problem being that it contained the reprint of its original edition in Gothic script. Because of its affordability, however, I decided I would learn to read it, and was happy when I finally managed to do so.
Feuerbach is a philosopher who is read too little. Most people know his name only from introductory courses in philosophy or theology, and name him in one breath with Marx. ‘Oh, Feuerbach, that’s the one who said religion is human projection!’ Well, there would be more to be said about that characterization, but it is not my aim here and now. Feuerbach wrote his pamphlet-like book on philosophy (published in 1843), aimed at ‘pulling philosophy down from the divine, self-sufficient bliss in the realm of ideas into human misery’, into ‘the realm of embodied and living souls.’
The reason for Feuerbach to try to revolutionize philosophy was the predominance of idealistic, otherworldly thinking in the midst of great social change. The reason that we should widely re-read his book is that, although philosophy in our days is no longer idealistic, it surely is otherworldly. Not in the sense of focusing on the spiritual or the religious, but by focusing only on questions of academic interest, forgetting the huge problems most human beings, as well as the non-human earthlings (animals, plants), face every day in our times.
It is perhaps not the primary aim for philosophers to change the world, as Marx urged them to do, but it should certainly be their aim to change our understanding of the world, so it can come to light what has been silently screaming for change. Feuerbach thought that philosophy should take the place of religion, providing moral and spiritual direction to humankind. He was not right in that point, since we better draw from multiple guiding traditions, in stead of looking for a single one to take the lead. With William James I hold that human imperfection asks for plurality in views and philosophies, since we can never reach absolute certainty. With Feuerbach I strongly agree, however, that philosophy, ‘without damaging the dignity and independence of theory’ needs a practical direction. It should look global problems, as they relate to our behaviour, in the eye, and focus on ‘the needs of mankind and of the future’.
All citations are taken from Ludwig Feuerbach, Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1986 .
Ludwig Feuerbach lived from 1804-1872.