November 15, 2005

Feuerbach, Fechner, Freud, Fromm

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), along with Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, must be counted among those philosophical outsiders who rebelled against the academic philosophy of the 19th century and thought of themselves as reformers and prophets of a new culture. Although he began his career as an enthusiastic follower of Hegel, he emerged in the 1840's as a leader of the Young Hegelians, a group of radicals. Feuerbach is best known for his criticism of Idealism and religion, especially Christianity, written in the early forties. He believed that any progress in human culture and civilization required the repudiation of both. His later writings were concerned with developing a materialistic humanism and an ethics of human solidarity. These writings have been more or less ignored until recently because most scholars have regarded him primarily as the bridge between Hegel and Marx. With the recent publication of a new critical edition of his works, however, a new generation of scholars have argued that his mature views are philosophically interesting in their own right.
Fechner, Gustav Theodor, 1801–87, German philosopher and physicist, founder of psychophysics, educated at Dresden and Leipzig. He became professor of physics at Leipzig in 1834 but was forced by ill health to leave in 1839. Thereafter he devoted himself largely to the study of the relationship between body and mind, although under the name “Dr. Mises” he also wrote humorous satire. In philosophy he was an animist, maintaining that life is manifest in all objects of the universe. His greatest achievement was in the investigation of exact relationships in psychology and aesthetics. He formulated the rule known as Fechner’s, or Weber’s, law, that, within limits, the intensity of a sensation increases as the logarithm of the stimulus. Two of Fechner’s most important works were Zendavesta (1851) and Elementen der Psychophysik (1860).
Freud, Sigmund, 1856–1939, Austrian psychiatrist, founder of psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud was an atheist nearly all his life. As Nicholi notes, he experienced a brief period of “wavering” in his student days, even writing to a friend, “The bad part of it, especially for me, lies in the fact that science of all things seems to demand the existence of a God.” But most of his professors, his peers, and many authors of the time were steeped in scientific materialism, and their influence prevailed. Also, the anti-Semitism pervading his native Austria — a country where 90 percent of the people called themselves Catholics — didn’t make a very good impression on the Jewish Freud. Nicholi comments, “One can understand Freud’s motivation to discredit and destroy what he called the ‘religious Weltanschauung [worldview]’ and why he referred to religion as ‘the enemy.’ ”
Fromm, Erich, 1900–1980, psychoanalyst and author: Breaking from the Freudian psychoanalytic tradition which focused largely on unconscious motivations, Fromm held that humans are products of the cultures in which they are bred. In modern, industrial societies, he maintained, they have become estranged from themselves. These feelings of isolation resulted in an unconscious desire for unity with others. Fromm’s works include Escape from Freedom (1941), The Sane Society (1955), The Art of Loving (1956), Sigmund Freud’s Mission (1958), May Man Prevail? (1973), and To Have or to Be (1976).

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