Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #1
Over the next couple weeks I hope to go through Marx’s short, but remarkably insightful, Theses on Feuerbach (1845). This text is arranged in 11 short theses, one of which will be tackled in each post.
I. The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism — that of Feuerbach included — is that the Object, actuality, sensuousness, are conceived only in the form of the object, or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in opposition 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, differentiated from thought-objects, but he does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity. In The Essence of Christianity, 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.
This opening analysis will prove itself to be a decisive one. At the outset, this thesis appears to be a mere reorientation of materialism. Yet, it becomes quickly apparent that Marx’s intentions run much deeper. Through his mutual critique of (Feuerbachian) materialism and Idealism (likely with Hegel in mind), Marx positions himself between these two, or perhaps more accurately, before these two. Like Nietzsche after him, Marx’s strategy involves the mutual disintegration of two rival traditions. By emphasizing the way in which both materialism and idealism are devoid of the principal factor of human experience, that is, sensuous (i.e. practical) activity, Marx undercuts both systems. It is perhaps not coincidental that Marx’s philosophical perspective will later take the name Dialectical Materialism (a neologism of Hegel’s Dialectical Idealism and Materialism).
This emphasis on sensuous activity, as illustrated by the invocation of “revolutionary,” provides an essential linchpin connecting Marx’s rigorous theoretical work with his later politically charged rhetoric, particularly within The Communist Manifesto. As we will see more clearly (Thesis 11), for Marx, philosophical theory cannot be divested from practical activity.
(Lastly, I believe that it is worth noting his use of “dirty-Jewish.” It must be emphasized that this is not an anti-semetic notion, but on the contrary (and particularly in its relation to Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity) is simply a reference to the Jewish God, i.e. the so-called “Old Testament God.” The reference to “dirty,” simply refers to the creation of man in Genesis 2 (God creates him out of the dust). This sentence therefore merely identifies Feuerbach’s emphasis upon theory (the “Christian” God of the Word) over practice (the “Jewish” God of creation). )