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  • Marx 1845 or the Fateful Rejection of Anschauung
  • Jean-Paul Martinon (bio)

Introduction: The Condemnation

One of Karl Marx's strongest condemnations is that of Ludwig Feuerbach's intuitive-contemplative materialism in his famous Theses of 1845. The disapproval is crystal clear: "[Feuerbach] does not grasp the significance of 'revolutionary,' of 'practical-critical,' activity" (Marx and Engels 2008, 69). Engels follows suit in The German Ideology with a much more acerbic vilification of the famously recluse philosopher. He writes: "The entire philosophy of Feuerbach amounts to … a passive adoration of nature and enraptured kneeling down before its splendour and omnipotence" (Marx and Engels 1976, 11). But this isn't all; Engels sees in Feuerbach one of the many "sheep, who take themselves (and are taken) for wolves … their bleating merely imitates, in a philosophical form, the concepts of the German middle class" (Marx and Engels 1976, 23). By the time Marx and Engels elaborate their own interpretation [End Page 73] of materialism, Feuerbach is basically a philosopher who "achieved nothing positive beyond a turgid religion of love and a meagre, impotent morality" (Marx and Engels 2008, 247). This damaging condemnation of Feuerbach has persisted ever since. As Zawar Hanfi, who introduces the most well-known edited collection of texts by Feuerbach in English summarizes: "Marx drifts away from Feuerbach … leading [him] to the elaboration of a concept of man that … transcends the scope of the contemplatively limited anthropology of Feuerbach" (Feuerbach 2012). 1845 thus sounds the death toll for Feuerbach and his works.

This condemnation is often interpreted as a major turning point in the development of Marx's ideas. For example, Louis Althusser, as is well known, calls Marx's and Engels's writings of the period "the Works of the Break" (Althusser 2005, xxxiii). Another major commentator on these early works, Etienne Balibar, also confirms the importance of this hinge in the philosophical thought of Marx and Engels. He writes: "the Theses are symptomatic of the theoretical revolution (or 'epistemological break') through which Marx would have dropped an essentially Feuerbachian 'humanist' understanding of communism to adopt a scientific (non ideological) problematic of social relations and class struggles as the motor of history" (Balibar 2012). Feuerbach's condemnation thus signals a new departure for Marx away from a seemingly "bourgeois" contemplation of nature toward a scientific materialism often called "dialectical."

Although much has been written about this famous turning point, little has been said of the one key element of this condemnation: As the preceding quotes show, the condemnation focuses not just on a blanket repudiation of all previous "humanist" and "bourgeois" materialisms, including that of Feuerbach, but much more specifically on a rejection of an approach to materialism that is considered "intuitive-contemplative," in German, Anschauung. Marx's first Theses on Feuerbach is here indicative of this specific rejection. He writes:

The chief defect of all hitherto-existing materialism—that of Feuerbach included—is that the thing, reality, [and] sensuousness (der Gegenstand, die Wirklichkeit, Sinnlichkeit) are conceived only in the form of the object (Objekts) or of intuition/contemplation (Anschauung), but not as human sensuous activity, practice (Praxis), not subjectively.

(Marx and Engels 2008, 69) [End Page 74]

Marx's point is clear: the three key elements of materialism, namely, "the thing, reality, and sensuousness" can be apprehended neither as an object of reason nor intuitively contemplatively (Anschauung). It must be approached instead as activity, as praxis. Marx confirms this again in the fifth thesis, when he writes:

Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, wants intuition-contemplation (will die Anschauung); but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.

(Marx and Engels 2008, 70)

Marx's vocabulary is unequivocal: Feuerbach "wants" intuition-contemplation (Anschauung) because on the one hand, abstraction has failed him, and on the other, he is incapable of conceiving materialism as praxis. In other words, Feuerbach "needs …" (will die …) the grounding that intuition-contemplation (… Anschauung) provides without realizing that it is praxis that grounds materialism.1 The 1845 condemnation of Feuerbach's work thus hinges on this "bourgeois" blindness to see human activity as the only basis for materialism.

In a typically less nuanced manner, Engels also confirms the rejection...


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