(Brussels, early 1845)
The main problem with every kind of materialism, up to now – including that of Feuerbach – is that the here and now, reality and everything you can feel or sense, is only understood as an object – or as the way something appears – but not as human sensed and felt activity or Praxis… not through subjective experience. And this is why the mindspace of human activity has been explored by Idealism, and not by Materialism – in the abstract, only, because Idealism naturally knows nothing of real sensed and felt activity. Feuerbach is hungry for sensed objects, truly differentiated from thought-of objects. But the problem is that he doesn’t think of human activity as activity in the here and now. And for that reason, in his ‘Wesen des Christenthums‘ he regards only theoretical modes of behavior as true human behavior, while actual Praxis he thinks of and categorizes only in the form of appearances: which traditional monotheism regards as impure. And so he is unable to understand what “revolutionary” – transformational – practical and critical activity means.
The question as to whether human thought is up to grasping the truth of the here and now is by no means a theoretical question: it is a practical question. It is in practice that a man or woman must demonstrate the truth – that is, the reality and power, the relevance to the here and now – of his or her thinking. Any debate about the reality or unreality of a thought that is isolated from actual practice is a purely academic question.
The materialistic teaching, that a man or woman is a product of circumstances and education… and that a changed man or woman is therefore the product of different circumstances and of a changed education… forgets that it is precisely by men and women that the circumstances are changed! And that the educator must themselves be educated. And so, such a teaching inevitably ends up schematically separating Society into two parts – one of which is elevated a b o v e Society. The simultaneity of the changing of circumstances and the actions of men and women – and the self-transformation of men and women – can only be thought of and rationally understood as transformational Praxis.
Feuerbach’s starting point is the given fact of the alienation from oneself that happens in religion – monotheistic religion – and the division of the world into two worlds: an imagined, “religious” world, and the real world. His work consists of analyzing – resolving/dissolving – the “religious” world into its real-world basis. He overlooks the fact that even after the work of this is done, the most important thing still remains to be done: because the fact that the fundamentals of our existence in the real world rise up above us and define themselves by placing themselves in the clouds, can only be explained by the broken-ness and self-contradiction of the fundamentals of our existence in the real world. So we have to, first of all, understand the fundamentals of our existence in the real world in all their contradictions, and then, as we in practice remove these contradictions, we will find ourselves transformed. In this way – for example – once our Earthly family has been uncovered as the hermetic basis of “the Holy Family”, it is the former that has to be analyzed in theory and transformed in practice.
Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, calls for a view based on things that you can feel and sense, but he does not think of the felt and the sensual in the context of practical, human felt and sensual activity.
Feuerbach analyzes and explains our religious existence as a function of our human existence. But our human existence is no abstraction, that somehow lurks inside each individual. Its reality is the sum of our social relationships.
And Feuerbach – who doesn’t embark on the criticism and analysis of this, the reality of our existence – is therefore compelled:
- to abstract his thought from the course of history and to define for himself a “religious sentiment” and posit an abstract – and isolated – human individual;
- so that – for him – the human existence [as a commonality] can only be grasped through the concept of “species”: as some internal, mute, commonality which somehow naturally and automatically binds together so many individuals.
And because of this, Feuerbach doesn’t see that the “religious sentiment” is itself produced by society, and that the abstract individual, whom he analyses, in reality belongs to just one particular form of society.
Social life is essentially and necessarily practical. All those mysteries, which draw one’s cultural theory toward hermeticism, can be penetrated by human practice, and by understanding that practice.
The most that Materialism based on the way things appear can amount to – and that is to say: any Materialism that doesn’t understand the sensed and the felt as rooted in practice and activity – is the examination of the solitary individual in “bourgeois society”.
The standpoint of the old Materialism is “bourgeois” society; the standpoint of the new Materialism is a humane society, which is to say: our humanity expressed as society.
Philosophers have done nothing but interpret the world in different ways: but the point is: to change it.
– – – by Karl Marx