Source: MECW Volume 5, p. 3;
Written: by Marx in Brussels in the spring of 1845, under the title “1) ad Feuerbach”;
This version was first published in 1924 — in German and in Russian — by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Marx-Engels Archives, Book I, Moscow.
First Published: the English translation was first published in the Lawrence and Wishart edition of The German Ideology in 1938.
The chief defect of all previous materialism (that of Feuerbach included) is that 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, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was set forth abstractly by idealism — which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really distinct from conceptual objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. 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 which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.
The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that the educator must himself be educated. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.
The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change 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 world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised 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 in practice.
Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants [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.
Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is hence obliged:
1. To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment [Gemüt] by itself, and to presuppose an abstract — isolated — human individual.
2. Essence, therefore, can be regarded only as “species”, as an inner, mute, general character which unites the many individuals in a natural way.
Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual which he analyses belongs to a particular form of society.
All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.
The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is the 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 social humanity.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
Deutsch | 1969 Selected Works translation | 2002 translation of Marx’s original | MECW translation of Engels’ 1888 version