Friedrich Engels
Ludwig Feuerbach and the end of classical German philosophy

Karl Marx: Theses on Feuerbach


The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism—that of Feuerbach included—is that the thing (Gegenstand), reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object (Objekt) or of contemplation [Anschauung), but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in contradistinction to materialism, was developed by idealism—but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects, really differentiated from the thought objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective (gegenständliche) activity. Hence, in the Essence of Christianity, he regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-Judaical form of appearance. Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.


The question whether objective [gegenständliche) truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. In practice man must prove the truth, that is, the reality and power, the this-sidedness [Diesseitigkeit) of his thinking. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.


The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances and that the educator himself needs educating. Hence, this doctrine necessarily arrives at dividing society into two parts, of which one is superior to society (in Robert Owen, for example).

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionising practice.


Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, the duplication of the world into a religious, imaginary world and a real one. His work consists in the dissolution of the religious world into its secular basis. He overlooks the fact that after completing this work, the chief thing still remains to be done. For the fact that the secular foundation detaches itself from itself and establishes itself in the clouds as an independent realm is really only to be explained by the self-cleavage and self-contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must itself, therefore, first be understood in its contradiction and then, by the removal of the contradiction, 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 criticised in theory and revolutionised in practice.


Feuerbach, not satisfied with abstract thinking, appeals to sensuous contemplation; but he does not conceive sensuousness as practical, human-sensuous activity.


Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence 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 consequently compelled:

1. To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment [Gemiit] as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract—isolated—human individual.

2. The human essence, therefore, can with him be comprehended only as “genus”, as an internal, dumb generality which merely naturally unites the many individuals.


Feuerbach, consequently, does not see that the “religious sentiment” is itself a social product, and that the abstract individual whom he analyses belongs in reality to a particular form of society.


Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.


The highest point attained by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not understand sensuousness as practical activity, is the contemplation of single individuals in “civil society”.


The standpoint of the old materialism is “civil” society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or socialised humanity.


The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.

Written by Marx in the spring of 1845

Originally published by Engels in 1888 in the Appendix to the separate edition of his Ludwig Feuerbach

Printed according to the text of the 1888 edition and checked with the ms. of Karl Marx

Translated from the German