Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #6
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 consequently compelled:
- To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual.
- Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as “species”, as an inner, mute, general character which unites individuals in a natural way.
In his sixth thesis, Marx returns to (and expands upon) the criticism of Feuerbach begun in the fourth thesis. As we have already seen, Marx’s critique primarily rests upon the accusation that Feuerbach failed to apply his critical analysis of Christianity (and religion in general) to his own project: that his project failed to overcome the self-alienating character of Christianity (particularly, its manifestation in Hegel). Here, however, Marx begins to clarify the precise manner in which Feuerbach’s critique falls short of reality, his reliance upon “man.”
As Marx has now twice alluded, Feuerbach’s critique of religion relies upon the reduction of religious phenomena to their genesis in the essence of man, that is, humanity. In Feuerbach’s anthropological reading of religion, God functions as the objectification (in a Hegelian sense) of the “needs” of humanity; in psychoanalytic language, one could describe God as a projection of human need.
Unfortunately, as Marx notes, such an understanding does nothing to escape the alienated, i.e. objectified, character of Hegel’s God, it fails to recognize the “real essence” of humanity. In this sense, one must simply recognize that Feuerbach has in no way overcome the Hegelian abstraction of the Idea, of God, but instead, merely renominated this abstraction as “Man.”
Such an abstraction has two principal results in Feuerbach’s thought. First, it necessitates that he abstract himself from all concrete living individuals. Second, that this “species” must be understood as the” natural” unity of homogenous individuals. Therefore, prefiguring existentialism by a century, Marx recognizes the necessary failure of this (and any) philosophical project whose primary move involves the abstraction away from concrete individuals: the prioritization of human homogeneity.
To the contrary, Marx recognizes that the true essence of humanity remains “the ensemble of the social relations,” that is, the relation of heterogeneous concrete individuals. For Marx, living individuals cannot be reduced to a simple essence for the precise reason that one cannot bracket the concrete specificity of an individual without losing sight of his/her humanity itself: an eidetic analysis of humanity is simply impossible. Instead, the essence of humanity, its “real essence,” can be nothing more than the recognition of this heterogeneity and the relations between these heterogeneous individuals, i.e. society.