Lectures on the Essence of Religion

Ludwig Feuerbach

First Lecture

[Part II: On Jakob Böhme, Spinoza, and Leibniz]

The most original, and as regards the philosophy of religion the most significant, figures I treated in the same volume [History of Philosophy] are Jakob Böhme and Spinoza, both distinguished from the other philosophers mentioned by the fact that they not only describe the conflict between faith and reason, but that each sets forth independent doctrines concerning the philosophy of religion. The first, Jakob Böhme, is the idol of the philosophising theologians or theists, the other the idol of the theological philosophers or pantheists. Böhme's admirers have recently advertised him as the best antidote to the poison of my ideas – the ideas underlying the present lectures. In connection with the second edition of my book, however, I re-examined Böhme in detail. And my renewed study merely corroborated my first conclusion, namely, that the secret of his theosophy is on the one hand a mystical philosophy of nature and on the other hand a mystical psychology; and accordingly that his work does not refute but rather substantiates my view that all theology consists in two things: a doctrine of nature and a doctrine of man. The same volume concludes with Spinoza. He is the only modern philosopher to have provided the first elements of a critique and explanation of religion and theology; the first to have offered a positive opposition to theology; the first to have stated, in terms that have become classical, that the world cannot be regarded as the work or product of a personal being acting in accordance with aims and purposes; the first to have brought out the all-importance of nature for the philosophy of religion. I was glad to express my unstinting admiration and respect for him; I found fault with him only for continuing, under the influence of the old theological ideas, to define this being who does not act with purpose, will, or consciousness as the most perfect being, in short, as the Godhead, and so barring himself from a development which would have led him to look upon conscious man as a mere part or – to employ Spinoza's term – a mode of the unconscious totality, and not as its summit and fulfilment.

The opposite pole to Spinoza is Leibniz, to whom I have devoted a special volume. If Spinoza is to be honoured for having made theology the handmaiden of philosophy, the first modem German philosopher earned the honour, or dishonour, of having once again tied philosophy to the apron strings of theology. In this respect Leibniz, in his celebrated Theodicy, outdid all others. It is generally known that Leibniz wrote this book out of gallantry toward a Queen of Prussia whose faith had been troubled by Bayle's doubts. But the lady for whom Leibniz really wrote and whom he really courted was theology. Even so, the book did not suit the theologians. Leibniz sat on the fence between the two parties, and for this very reason satisfied neither. He wished to offend no one, to hurt no one's feelings; his philosophy is a philosophy of diplomatic gallantry. Even the monads, the entities of which in his view all sensible beings consist, exert no physical influence on one another, lest any of them suffer injury.

But a man who is determined to offend no-one – even unintentionally – can have no energy, no force; for it is impossible to take a step without trampling on some creature or other, or to drink a sip of water without swallowing a quantity of small organisms. Leibniz is an intermediary between the Middle Ages and modern times; he is, as I have called him, the philosophical Tycho Brahe, but precisely because of his indecision he remains to this day the idol of all those who lack the energy to make up their minds. Already in my first edition of 1837, I not only criticised Leibniz's theological attitude, but took the occasion to criticise theology in general. The standpoint from which I criticised it was Spinozan, or abstractly philosophical; I drew a sharp distinction between man's theoretical and practical attitudes, identifying the former with philosophy, the latter with theology and religion. In his practical attitude, I said, man relates things only to himself, to his own profit and advantage; in his theoretical attitude he considers things only in relation to each other. Consequently, I went on, there is a necessary and essential difference between theology and philosophy; to mix the two is to mix essentially different attitudes, and the result can only be a monstrosity. Reviewers of my book were greatly disturbed by this distinction; but they overlooked the fact that Spinoza in his Theologico-Political Treatise already considered and criticised theology and religion from the same standpoint, and that if even Aristotle himself had criticised theology, he could not have criticised it differently. As a matter of fact the standpoint from which I criticised theology at that time is not that of my later works; it was not my ultimate and absolute standpoint, but only relative and historically conditioned. Accordingly, in the new edition of my Exposition and Critique of Leibniz's Philosophy, I criticised Leibniz's theodicy and theology, as well as his related pneumatology, or doctrine of the spirit, in a different way.

SOURCE: Feuerbach, Ludwig. Lectures on the Essence of Religion, translated by Ralph Manheim (New York: Harper & Row, 1967), First Lecture, pp. 1-9. This excerpt: pp. 7-9.

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Lectures on the Essence of Religion (1851)
First Lecture (unabridged)
by Ludwig Feuerbach

Ludwig Feuerbach -- Lectures on the Essence of Religion. lecture 1, pt 2
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Lectures I & XXX
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