A PHILOSOPHICAL EXAMINATION
2.1. Historical trends
In examining the phenomenon of theoretical atheism the various philosophical trends or dynamics which were at play through history will be examined first, and then some of the individual representatives of various atheistic theories, systems and doctrines.
The first thing to be noticed in making a brief survey of history is that atheism is primarily a western European phenomenon. In examining it, one can notice that it has evolved and developed into various forms and systems. It has reached a certain maturity, it has been explained and understood very philosophically.
In examining the historical trends, an exploration will be made into the origins, the roots and the development process towards theoretical atheism. At the end of this exploration, it is hoped, that one will be able to understand at least in part of the foundation upon which philosophical atheism stands.
2.1.1. Islamic philosophers Þ Nominalism
Christendom (the Roman Empire) had suffered the Barbarian invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries. It had been basically devastated. Its universities, its culture, its intelligentsia greatly suffered. Under the influence of Charlemagne the monastic schools were founded and developed, evolving into the great universities of the eleventh and subsequent centuries. Within the university ambient, the philosophies of various Arab (Muslim) and Jewish philosophers were introduced. These philosophers introduced the thought of Aristotle giving it a neo-platonic interpretation.
a) Alfarabi (? - 950) developed a theory of emanation: From the ultimate deity proceeds the Intelligence and the world soul. From the thoughts and ideas of this soul and intelligence proceed the Cosmos, first the higher-outer spheres and then the lower.
The intelligence of man is illuminated by the cosmic intelligence, which takes the place of, or is, the active intellect of man. The illumination of the human intellect is the explanation of the fact that our concepts 'fit' things, since the ideas of God are the exemplars and the source of the concepts in the human mind and of the forms in things.
b) Avicenna, Ibn Sina (980 - 1037) like Alfarabi forwarded a theory of emanation: God could not create matter and multiplicity directly, he needed to do so by creating an intelligence similar to himself, which in turn led to another intelligence. Finally there were ten intelligences which bridged the gap between the simplicity of God and the multiplicity of the world. The tenth intelligence was the giver of forms and responsible for multiplication with in a species. It also had the task of being the active intellect in man. The One, or God, has no direct knowledge of multiplicity. Man can know or grasp the notion of being through self-consciousness.
c) Averroes, Ibn Rushd (1126 - 1198) while rejecting the theory of emanation, developed a system in which the active intellect in man is a separate and unitary substance, (identified with that of the moon, the lowest sphere). Under the influence of the active intellect, the passive intellect of man becomes the acquired intellect and is absorbed by the active intellect in such a way that, although, it survives bodily death it does not survive as a personal and individual existent but rather as a moment in the universal and common intelligence of the human species.
In trying to reconcile his unorthodox thought with Islamic theology, he developed the theory of double truth, in that the same truth is understood in both theology and philosophy in different ways. Averroes, in expounding this theory, led to the subjection of theology to philosophy.
Within the general trends of the philosophies of these men there are two elements that should be noted. The first is the anthropological, what is the essence of man, is he immortal, is he rational, or does his knowledge and thinking belong to an external cause of which he is a type of recorder and play back. The second question is how does man know, what is the epistemological process.
Behind these systems of philosophy one finds an attempt to reconcile a the philosophers particular conception of God with the philosophy of Aristotle. These two factors consequently meant a knew way of evaluating both anthropology (and cosmology) as well as epistemology. The logical consequences of such thoughts regarding the problem of how man knows God are quite evident. Man knows God only in so far as it has been presented to him by the Intelligence. Thus, God is distant from man and unknowable to him in any direct way. Subsequently, this change in anthropology and epistemology naturally implied a change in the conception of God, and the explanation of His activity.
The second step within this trend within the development of philosophy, is the nominalist or ockhamist conception of epistemology and metaphysics. For the nominalist, abstract terms or universals do not represent reality, they are mere words. Reality is admitted only to actual physical and individual things. William of Ockham (1280-1349) distinguished between the subjective and the objective aspects of Nominalism, thus allowing for the assigning of a real status to universals in the mind. He maintained that, to our intellects, everything that is real must be a particular individual thing. Accordingly, abstract sciences such as metaphysics, philosophy and theology are unreal and without any foundation. The consequence of such thought in the theological realm is that such doctrines as the immortality of the soul and of God's existence are not demonstrable philosophically and solely depend upon faith, faith being a grace given by God, so that man might know Him and believe in Him.
2.1.2. The crisis in epistemology
The consequence of both the Muslim philosophical assertions
(God is distant from the world, and has no direct link with it nor is knowable
by the human intellect's own powers; man only knows that which has been
presented to his passive intellect by the one active cosmic intellect)
and the teachings of the nominalists (man can not know the abstract and
does not know if abstract or universal things exist or not; religious doctrine
rests solely on faith, without any metaphysical or scientific support)
meant a crisis for the traditional understanding not only of man's relationship
with God, but also for man's understanding of God and of his faith in God.
Faith in God had hitherto been explained and supported not only theologically, using the Scriptures and the experiences of the Church and the saints, but also philosophically. Faith had been presented as being in harmony with human reason. The questioning of human reason also meant a questioning of this harmony and of this faith, and finally of the object of faith, which is God.
This new way of looking at things was radically different from that which was traditional and classical. The human intellect had always been seen as being independent in its capacity of knowing, its knowledge was its own, even if at times this knowledge was considered as being innate, derived from the senses or derived from the ideas. The knowledge was considered as certain and sure, and philosophers used to ask how was this (sure) knowledge attained.
With these philosophers (Muslim and Nominalists) there was a supposition that the knowledge of before was wrongly understood and that knowledge was essentially something different. Knowledge of the non-sensible realities was totally independent or divorced from man's capacity to know and depended upon the activity of a cosmic intellect or upon the pure grace of God, i.e. faith.
2.1.3. Descartes Þ Malebranche Þ Spinoza
Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was born into a society that was well effected by the influences of Nominalism in particular. The doctrine of Martin Luther of sola fide was already a fruit of this new intellectual spirit present in the Universities of Europe. In the early seventeenth century there were already professed atheists in Paris, and it was to these that Descartes tried to respond.
His doctrine was basically, that in order to arrive at sure knowledge one has to doubt everything, that is, subject it to critical doubt. There are only two things that are certain, and these are objects of innate knowledge and can not be doubted. These are, that God exists and that cogito ergo sum. Knowledge thus became unsure, in that everything known could be subjected to doubt, that is, maybe everything is not or is wrongly conceived and perceived. The question now was, how sure could anyone be of anything.
In examining further the philosophical development that occurred from Descartes to Malebranche to Spinoza, one becomes aware of a change in the essential conception of God. While, with the Muslim philosophers and Nominalism there was a change in the understanding of how creatures can know God, here that which is known starts to change.
Descartes caused a certain revolution within the realms of the history of human thinking. God now started to become identified with a concept, in other words He was subjected entirely to human thinking. In pursuing his thought, Descartes philosophized God or the idea of God which is innate to human nature; we know that God is because we can, on the one hand, attain a knowledge that there is an infinite, and then, on the other hand, that if there were a God, He could not deceive Himself, nor man, and consequently the conviction that man has of the existence of God must be true.
While previously, for the Muslims and nominalists, God was totally beyond human reason, now with Descartes He was totally subjected to the human mind. The Cartesian revolution also had other important consequences in that the Transcendence of God and the Person-dimension of God were also subjected to the human intellect and treated in a conceptual way. The relation of God to the world had a certain deistic characteristic, in that the only real relation of God to the world was as Creator. However, Descartes' understanding of creator was not thoroughly deistic, in that he included the idea of preservation within the understanding of creation, as a form of on-going creation.
Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715) followed upon the thought of Descartes, especially with respect to the distinction between spirit and matter, developing a doctrine, according to which matter and spirit do not interact, although they are co-related. In trying to explain how a person can control or activate his or her own body and cause movements Malebranche said that there is a cause between that which the mind thinks, and the effect (physical) which it perceives. The cause must be a true cause, and a true cause must be creative. Creativity belongs to God alone, and therefore He is directly responsible for all and every individual physical movement.
With Malebranche therefore, the connection between God and the world was becoming closer and closer, in such a way that the concept of transcendence and the Personal in God also suffered.
In other words, we can say that Descartes provided the possibility of giving a new definition to God, (the Muslim and nominalist philosophers held that we couldn't define God, God alone provided men with the understanding of God). Malebranche thus allowed for the definition of God, as the cause of all physical actions. The soul or spirit for Malebranche being united to God immediately and directly to God alone.
The consequences of the malebranchian doctrine are quite shocking not only for theology and epistemology but above all for anthropology. Malebranche caused a radical separation between body and soul, and the only way that they interrelate is through the medium of God.
While Malebranche did not identify God with the body and soul but rather with the causal relation between the two, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) did identify God and the world. Spinoza developed the idea that in order to know a thing, one must know the cause of the thing. Substance, he defined as that, whose conception does not depend on the conception of another thing from which it must be formed. In other words, that which can be known through itself can not have an external cause. Thus, Spinoza defined substance as the cause of itself, and that it is therefore explained through itself and not by reference to another cause. Substance does not depend on another for its existence nor for its attributes and modifications. Consequently, Spinoza implied that the essence of substance implies existence, and substance must be conceived as existing.
Subsequently, he arrived at the proposition that substance must be infinite. For to be finite means to be limited, and limited by some other substance of the same nature, that is having the same attribute. (Attribute he defines as the intellectual perception of the essence of a substance) Thus, there could not be two substances, since both having the same essence would be indistinguishable from each other. Therefore, if there can not be two or more substances possessing the same attribute substance must be infinite.
This infinite substance, Spinoza identified with God, who he understood as an absolutely infinite being or substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses external and infinite essence. Two of these attributes are known to us, that is thought and extension. Finite minds are modes of God under the attribute of thought, and finite bodies are modes of God under the attribute of extension. Thus, nature is not ontologically distinct from God. Both, are in fact, the same.
In Spinoza we see a development in the conception of God into a pantheistic view of being. There is one infinite substance, and we can call that 'nature' or 'God'. God is thus identified with the world. Spinoza thus bears witness to the fact that while the same word, 'God', is used, the meaning given to the word can be quite varied as also the philosophical explanation of the same can be. Spinoza has reduced God to nature, and at the same time, while not divinizing nature, he has infinitized it.
2.1.4. Descartes Þ Kant Þ Rationalism and Idealism
The philosophy of Descartes, however, did not only have notable consequences for the future regarding the conception of God and of the relation of both God and the world to each other. Descartes also had a major effect on the way human thought was understood and, or, explained.
Descartes built his philosophy on one principle, cogito ergo sum, and although there is a deep truth in this principle, Descartes produced a revolutionary effect within the European philosophical world. Before Descartes people reasoned, ego sum, ergo cogito. Being was conceived as preceding thought, both in the ontological and in the epistemological orders. The Cartesian novelty, which had no pretensions within the ontological order, did make a radical change in the epistemological order: thinking comes before being, it is prior to being. We can only know being because we already think. Even the very fact of innate knowledge proposes a co-existence of knowledge and being, and a co-dependence within the definition of the human being, in that thought, innate knowledge, self-consciousness are seen as essential to the definition of man.
In other words, the realization that one thinks, is not only the proof that one exists but it is also an undeniable and indubitable fact upon which the certainty of everything else is based. Consequently, the value or importance of sense knowledge is diminished, as it becomes secondary in both the epistemological and ontological orders. Likewise, the evaluation of intellectual knowledge undergoes a certain change: The first knowledge being the cogito, other forms of intellectual knowledge are secondary to this, they been developed through reasoning and for Descartes, through critical doubt.
With Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) another major turn occurred in the way human thinking was understood. Kant asked the question: by what right and within what limits may reason make synthetic, a priori judgments about the data of sense? He said that the typical function of reason is to relate or synthesize the data of sense. In effecting any synthesis, the mind relies on the validity of certain principles, such as that of causality. When such necessary synthetic principles cannot be derived from sense data proper, they must be, according to Kant, a priori, that is logically prior to the materials which they relate. These, which he called transcendentals, transcend or, are distinct from the sensed materials in both their source and their status, even if they are seen to be an experience, experience been in this case viewed as a whole.
Thus, for example, space and time, are seen by Kant as necessary conditions of any experience of nature. But he holds that they are not objective properties of things in themselves, but are rather formal demands of reason. Accordingly, space and time, are considered to be empirically real, since they are present in actual experience. However, they are transcendentally ideal, since they are forms which the mind imposes on the data of sense, that is sense knowledge or experience.
Secondly, Kant treated of the synthetic forms of the understanding (Verstand), these he calls categories or pure principles of the understanding, of which there are twelve. Thus, sensuous materials embedded in the forms of sensibility constitute perceptions. Reason, through the understanding, supplies the concepts and principles by means of which perceptions are synthesized into meaningful judgments of Nature.
Consequently, we see that Descartes built the certainty of knowledge upon his cogito ergo sum, a consciousness of oneself as a thinking subject, a knowledge which he considered as both innate and fundamental. Kant however went a step further: although reality exists, human knowledge of it, is both constructed and determined by conditions with in the human intellectual structure. These intellectual conditions determine how matter, the world is going to be perceived and understood by us. Accordingly it is no longer the outside world which is the basis of knowledge and the criteria for judging the same, now it is rather the inner psychological-intellectual world of the human mind which is the basis upon which knowledge depends.
What we have here is an historical development away from realism towards idealism and rationalism. The word idealism can have many and various meanings, but in this regard we understand it in an epistemological and metaphysical way. Epistemological idealism is that which we have seen in Descartes and which flows through the philosophy of others such as Locke: ideas, or direct objects of human apprehension are subjective and privately possessed. As this doctrine evolved the very existence of the material world began to be subjected to doubt. Thus, the name 'acosmism', according to which the external world is only a projection of our minds, and the name 'immaterialism', the doctrine of the non-existence of material being(s). The consequence of this is accordingly, metaphysical idealism, by which ontological reality is identified with the ideal, that is, spirit, mind, person, archetypal ideas, thought, etc. This type of idealistic ontological reality was sometimes identified with non-conscious spiritual principle or pure thought, or it could be personal, by the identification of reality with a conscious eternal mind.
Although it can be quite varied, idealism had a major influence within the philosophical and intellectual spheres of post seventeenth century Europe. What is important to note is the passage or the evolution that took place in this particular historic-philosophical progression. Descartes asked what do we know, and answered one's own self as a thinking being and God. Kant asked how do we know and basically answered, that which is known might not be really as it is, because in knowing the human mind conditions the perception and so the human mind knows only that which it has modified, conditioned and translated. Various idealist then came along and said that outside the thinking mind there is nothing that we can know, and maybe the only reality is that within the sphere of consciousness, in so far as it is the mind that invents or creates that which we perceive to be exterior to us.
The developments in this philosophical line not only meant a new evaluation of epistemology, and a new conception of reality (material) but also a new conception and explanation of God. Thus, we can posit the question, how do we know God, and it would be answered that we invent him in our mind or if he exists as the pure ideal, the way we know him is the way we think him. Thus human thinking determines the nature and essence of God. Other idealists such as Hegel posited a quasi pantheistic idealism, all is one pure spirit (idea) that is evolving in itself expressing itself in various forms, 'ontological', historical, cultural etc.
In one sense we can say that this philosophical progression, denied the God of the past and thus has the characteristic of being atheistic, however it seems to have created a new God, and if we inquire into the essence of this God or these gods of idealism we find, that he is often the explanation for the un-connectable, for morality, the final metaphysical explanation, and in each case following the idealistic structure it seems that this god or these gods are proposals and creations of the human mind. Once again, for the idealist does God really exist and if so what do the words God' and 'exist' really mean?
2.1.5. A turning away from rationalism
The rationalist (and the idealist) tend to consider the criterion of truth as purely intellectual and deductive. They rule out the sensory. Through out the history of modern philosophy we find a frequent questioning of this premise and a turning away from it, however this progression occurred at various times, in various ambients and for different reasons. What was turned to also varied. Accordingly we find a tendency towards anti-idealism, and semi-empiricism in the French Enlightenment, we find a reaction to the German Enlightenment which developed into forms of deism, the Germans often rejecting idealistic philosophy because it was held to be contrary to faith.
Behind the thoughts of authors who demonstrate this movement away from idealism (Rousseau, La Mettrie, d'Hollbach, Voltaire and Diderot, Hamann, Herder, Jacobi, Kierkegaard), we find more then often the influence of the physicist Newton and of Locke and Hume. There was likewise the influence of religion and a reoccurring dissatisfaction with the idealistic explanations.
2.1.6. Empiricism Þ (Deism) Þ Materialism
What has been considered so far, is the development within the idealistic currents of philosophy. Not only did these currents have consequences on the conception of God, but they also had a certain, but in no way a total, causal effect with respect to other philosophical currents, that is empiricism and materialism. In other words, both empiricism and materialism can be understood as a partial reaction to idealism.
The empiricist is someone who says that knowledge is derived solely from experience, experience being principally understood in the context of sense experience. Knowledge therefore is considered to be inductive. The consequence of this is to place a major doubt on the abstract and metaphysical, these being beyond experience and therefore outside the realm of certain knowledge.
When we think of the place of God within the works or the minds of the empiricists, we find either of two phenomenon: the atheistic and the deistic. The deist is one who denies the possibility of knowing anything about God, he accepts the existence of a creator of the world, who put it in motion (if we remember people like Newton, (Bacon), Diderot, understood reality from a physicist position - motion), and left it on its own and has no relation with it, except that of original causality.
Thus the true empiricist must be a deist. He can not necessarily deny the existence of non-sensual reality, he only denies the possibility of knowing anything beyond experience.
However, empiricism has a tendency to evolve into materialism. If it is only experience that provides us with knowledge, a logical consequence is to assert that, only experimental, that is material, sensible reality exists. The development of materialistic philosophy naturally requires the rejection of God, it is therefore atheistic.
What is interesting within the realm of atheistic philosophical systems, however, are the explanations of the world, reality etc., which in other philosophical systems are explained with reference to God. Accordingly, God, as the cause (creator) of the universe is rejected and matter is proposed as the constituent of reality and the reason for reality. The Providence of God, which governs and organizes the world is replaced by the belief that the happenings in the world are the result of material motion and combinations, all being controlled by purely material processes. Consciousness and thought are explained as chemical processes, and the end at store for the human being, is a return into the great oneness of matter, a material nirvana. While the consequences of materialism in philosophy and theology are evident the consequences it has on the various aspects of anthropology are quite remarkable.
2.2. Examination of various philosophers
2.2.1. Greek philosophy
After examining the historical trends or tendencies towards atheism, it is essential that various atheistic philosophers and their doctrines be similarly examined. In considering the development or evolution which occurred with the Islamic philosophers it was noted that they made particular use of Aristotle. Here also it is considered to be relevant to look at the place of atheism within the arena of Greek philosophy.
Forms of Atheism
In ancient Greece there were atheists among the philosophers. However, due to the lack or the loss of the writings of the majority of these atheistic philosophers, there is no certainty about who they were. The few, however, of whom we can be sure, are people like Diagoras of Melos and Theodorus of Cyrene (fifth and fourth centuries BC.). There were also many other philosophers accused of atheism, the more famous being, Anassagoras, Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. However atheism in this sense was understood as the denial of the official gods of the state, thus giving to the word a legal connotation rather than a metaphysical, ontological one.
Another aspect of Greek philosophy that can be taken into consideration is that of the Ionian philosophers, Thales of Miletus, Anaximander and Anaximines (Sixth century BC.). Each of these men sought to seek the reason of the world, the cause of what exists. Thereupon they tried to grasp the ultimate nature or essence of the primary element from which everything is made, the Urstoff. Thales said that it was water, Anaximander said that it was something indeterminate and Anaximines said that it was air. Each thus gave a materialistic explanation to reality. A statement attributed to Anaximines should shed some light on the issue:
"Air then is the Urstoff of the world, from which the things that are and have been and shall be, the gods and the things divine, arose, while other things come from its offspring."
(C.f. Hippolytus, Refutationis omnium haeresium, libri X, i, 7 - D. 13 A 7 -).
Each of these apparently assumed the eternity of matter. The thought of an absolute beginning of the material world did not become an issue for them. For them this world (sensible) is the only world.
Conceptions of the gods and of God
Although the Greeks generally and the Ionians in particular were not dogmatic materialists, they did tend to give a material ontology to the gods. The distinction between matter and spirit had not been conceived, and so their materialism was different from that of more recent centuries. These philosophers did not deny the gods as being existent realities. The gods were conceived as finite and material and yet, at the same time they neither asserted nor denied the existence of a purely spiritual god, an infinite God. Accordingly, although theoretical atheism is not constituent to the systems of the Greek philosophers, forms of practical atheism are. The philosophies of Aristotle and Plato made the leap to the metaphysical, positing the existence of a Creator God who is spiritual in being. This God was the exemplar cause for Plato and the final cause for Aristotle. However, neither of the two came to understand God as person. Thus, their beliefs were deistic in character.
2.2.2. Atheistic Humanism
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72), after first studying Protestant theology, later attended the lectures of Hegel in Berlin, where he dedicated himself to the study of philosophy. He is certainly one of the most famous of the Young Hegelians of the left, who used some of Hegel's ideas to transform metaphysical idealism into something quite different.
Feuerbach wrote among his collection of philosophical writings, other various works such as, ´Das Wesens des Christentums' (1841), 'Das Wesen der Religion' (1851) 'Über Philosophie und Christentum (1839) and so forth,. all of which suggest that he was preoccupied with theological problems. And although he was a convinced atheist and a materialist, we can say that in a sense he was really concerned precisely with questions concerning God and religion.
The function of Religion
Feuerbach was convinced that there was no objective existence of God outside human thought and accordingly, his theological investigations were his attempt to clarify the real significance and function of religion in the light of human life and thought, as a whole. He did not look on religion as a piece of silly superstition, nor as a type of mishap in the history of mankind that retarded human development; he considered religion and God as an integral part of the general development process of human consciousness. Now religion and God were to be considered as belonging to the past..
Philosophical and Anthropological Principles
To understand more clearly the thought of Feuerbach it is important to examine his philosophical starting point and his anthropology. Feuerbach was dissatisfied with the idealism of Hegel, in that he wanted to veer away from the conceptual abstractions of absolute idealism to concrete reality. He thus, felt that speculative philosophy had made a mistake in trying to establish a transition from the abstract to the concrete, that is from the ideal to the real. Feuerbach held that the direction should be the opposite: it is necessary to start with the real, that is with being, which he understood as spatio-temporal nature, to which consciousness and thought are secondary. The reality of man is founded in nature, not in self-consciousness, nature thus being the foundation of man.
For Feuerbach, man depends and feels himself to be dependent on nature. Accordingly, in a second step of his logic, Feuerbach applies this principle to religion: The primary object of religion in general is Nature. In the course of history, one witnesses that the natural religions began with the deification of the things of nature, until they arrived at the idea of a Deity who is the cause or origin of nature. What Feuerbach proceeds to point out is that natural religion in all its phases demonstrates the feeling of dependence which man has on external sensible reality and that the Divine Essence which manifests itself in Nature is none other than nature revealing itself to man, and imposing itself on him a a divine being.
The Projection of God
When man distinguishes himself from nature he can thus objectify this nature. In the Feuerbachian anthropology, to the essence of man belong the power of thought, the power of willing and the power of the heart. Man therefore in trying to conceive these three powers tends to think of them as unlimited. Accordingly we do not think of the power of thought as being limited to this or that object, we rather conceive it as infinite, and thus there is a God, an unlimited thought, will and love. Subsequently Feuerbach presents monotheism (with the endowing of a God with moral attributes) as a human projection of the human essence towards infinity. Thus, for Feuerbach, God is nothing else but the essence of man, the essence of man freed from the limitations of the individual, of corporeal man. This freed human essence is objectified and venerated as an independent being distinct from man.
Although, for Feuerbach, this evolution from natural religion to monotheism is a development within humanity, he sees this self-projection as an alienation of man from himself, in that man sets God over and against himself as an opposed being. Thus, by projecting his essence as the perfect, infinite, powerful, holy transcendental being, man actually ends up by reducing himself to the state of spitefulness, misery and sinfulness. In this sense religion is to be overcome, yet the process of self-projection has meant, for Feuerbach, a great step in the explicit development of man's awareness of himself.
Christianity represent for Feuerbach the highest form of religion, in that it stresses the importance of love (of the You and the I), seen in the projection of the Trinity, the elevation of man, the doctrine of the Incarnation which places man in God. At the same time Christianity, meant the greatest alienation of man from himself, as the more perfect or higher the projected God, the worse man considered himself. Now Feuerbach, however, proposes a new philosophy of making the divine an attribute of humanity, a philosophy of man as Mit-Mensch, a social being, thus allowing for man to regain faith in himself, in his own powers and in his future. The Christian faith is incompatible with modern culture, and therefore it is necessary to substitute it with a new philosophy.
Consequently we can say that Feuerbach has turned theology into anthropology, for God is a creation of man. Now, philosophers must stop projecting God through theology, they must rather exalt man by an anthropological philosophy.
The Protestant influence
In order to arrive at a fuller comprehension of the Feuerbachian mind, it is important to make a brief annotation concerning the religio-cultural milieu with which Feuerbach was acquainted, a milieu that was greatly penetrated by Protestantism in the form of Lutheranism. The influences of which might be seen in the Feuerbachian development of the idea of God is a creation of man, a projection of man, and even more so with his idea of the alienation of man before God.
With the event of Protestantism, and in particular with its evolution, the human intellect became the means of interpreting the Scriptures, the Revelation of God. Naturally, vary many and differing interpretations appeared, each one positing that God or religion is this or that; opinions that often were quite contradictory to each other. Observing such a phenomenon one can clearly note the subjective element and the subjective projections taking place. Accordingly, in the ambient of differing forms of Protestantism, God is understood differently and explained differently. Likewise the relation f man to God also varies greatly. The various forms of the same God being clearly the projections of different human needs or philosophical structures.
Secondly, for Lutheranism, man is defined as essentially evil. Through sin man was fatally marked by guilt, even the Redemption does not change this anthropological status, it just hides it from the eyes of God (other forms of Christianity see the redemption as a healing and sanctifying of man, as an elevation of him from this pitiful state). The Protestant theology meant therefore that there was this impassable barrier between perfection (identified with God) and imperfection identified with man as a sinful being. Feuerbach in trying to do away with theology had clearly this form of theology in mind, and incorrectly tended to identify this with all of Christianity.
18.104.22.168. Friedrich Nietsche
Friedrich Nietsche (1844-1900) was probably one of the most interesting writers of last century. He was certainly a man whose thought had a major impact on the twentieth century. However, the examining of Nietsche is somewhat complicated in that he did not present his thoughts, in any systematic philosophy. His thoughts are further complicated by the fact that he went through three different phases of thinking. Another thing to be kept in mind is that he was somewhat psycho-emotionally unbalance with the subsequent onset of madness in the last fourteen years of his life. Consequently, there are many and varied ways of interpreting Nietsche, his writings and his thinking dynamic.
Like Feuerbach, Nietsche grew up in a Protestant ambient, his father was a pastor, and his family environment was very pietistic (faith was all that was needed, and this explained the ins and outs of human life, an intellectual approach to faith and religion was not necessary). One can naturally suppose that Nietsche's conception of religion, God and faith were strongly influenced by this milieu. The philosophers which influenced Nietsche included Schopenhauer and to some extent, Feuerbach.
Although Nietsche is of the same opinion as Feuerbach, that God is basically a human creation, he does not develop this train of thought along intellectual or metaphysical lines. It appears that the motivation and method of Nietsche is pyscho-emotional, his rejection of God is very much emotional and volatile (of the will). Thus in referring back to the original schema of anthropological clarifications we find that Nietsche is certainly not a pure theoretical atheist, in fact his philosophy has been classified as anti-theism, anti - God.
In looking at Nietsche's reasons for his rejection of God, it is clear that the idea of God is conceived by him as been inimical and negative for mankind. He asserts that God must be rejected so that man can be free, through the will to power, to reach his own fullness, his own greatness, to become a super-man. The dynamic at work in Nietsche's mind will become a little clearer after a consideration of his anthropology.
The struggle between the weak and the powerful
In his Beyond Good and Evil, Nietsche distinguishes two types of morality which also shows a division between two types of people, master-morality and slave-morality. Nietsche expresses admiration for the masters, who are the higher type of men, those who create their own values out of the abundance of their own lives and strengths. A disdain is shown for the lower type of man, who is week and powerless, those who naturally fear the strong and powerful, whose power they try to curb by asserting as absolute the values of the herd.
Religion and in a particular way Christianity is seen as having been responsible or at least in part for a suppressing of mankind, by teaching people to be meek, to obey, to accept sufferings etc. Christianity does not encourage man to become strong and free and powerful. It pushes man down, it does not exalt him. And so it must be rejected, mankind no longer needs God nor religion, he must progress and evolve. In fact, for further human development God is no longer need, man must now live without God, he must proclaim that God is dead. This is necessary as, the idea of God is not only hostile to life, but also belief in God is no longer taken for granted in these (Nietsche's) days.
Further, in order that an individual can make this step towards freedom and individual totality, towards the super-man ideal, he must consciously reject God, and thus be free of Him, and of the moral law, which is placed on his conscience by religion. By rejecting God, man is greater and more powerful than God and that he is capable of living without a God. Nietsche recognized that the rejection of Christian morality and religion is nihilistic and will have a certain chaotic or negative effect for humanity, but he saw this as a necessary phase in the striving for the super-man.
Within the field of Nietschian atheism, there are important questions to be penetrated. One of them, is to what extent the super-man ideal, yet unattained, is a mere replacement of the tendency towards God to be found in people. And is this also not a creation of the human mind?
22.214.171.124. Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is probably one of the more famous people belonging to the end of last century and the first half of this century. His claim to fame being his science of psychoanalysis. Within the context of this work, it is not the psychoanalysis of Freud that is of particular relevance or the object of examination. It is rather Freud's atheism which is of interest to us.
Freud always acknowledged that he was an atheist, while at the same time respecting the personal beliefs of those with whom he dealt. However, the atheism of Freud, or more properly, his attitude to religion has a lot to say for itself. To understand this attitude, it is important to place ourselves within the system of Freud's psychoanalytic theories. It would seem that he quite easily fitted religion into these structures, thereby giving it its definition. In other words he examined religion from the parting point of psychoanalysis, treating it as a psychological phenomenon. He did not develop his theories as an opposition to or substitute for religious beliefs or doctrines.
The first point of examination is his distinction between the conscious, the subconscious and the unconscious. Between the subconscious and the unconscious Freud said that there is a censure, which does not allow the unwanted movements of the unconscious to pass to the conscious. Freud considers this censure to be similar to the super-ego, the difference being that the super-ego can pertain to the conscious sphere while the censure is identified entirely with the sphere of unconsciousness. The censure like the super-ego is greatly determined by education, by social and cultural prohibitions. The activity of this censure can lead to what Freud calls complexes which can evolve to the point of controlling the conscious. The effects of these complexes can be or are, neurosis and psychosis.
God as a projection
One of the aspects of the atheism of Freud is that, to a certain extent it was a repetition of the ideas of people like Comte, according to which the evolution of the scientific spirit has replaced the need for religion or God. The second influence to be noticed on Freud is that of the Feuerbachian theory that God is a projection of the human mind. This idea was somewhat worked over or worked out of Freud's psychoanalytic teachings. Thus, for Freud, God is a projection of the human need for a father, and similarly also, religion is a projection of the same father - child relation at play within the human psychology.
Another explanation which is offered by Freud, is that religion is a projection in the form of offering consolation to the human being living in the midst of many tribulations and worries. The person who is confronted with worries and perturbations, becomes like a baby before them, and acting like a baby seeks protection in someone greater and more powerful, that is, in God.
Religion: a collective neurosis
On a whole, the opinion of Freud concerning religion, is that, it developed out of a communal sense of guilt due to a society's struggle for power. For him, religion corresponds to a collective neurosis, witnessed in the abnormal attachments to rituals and constantly repeated prayers, both of which are considered to be strange and irrational activities. Freud continues that this collective neurosis has the effect of saving people from individual neurosis, something which is judged to be much more harmful.
With respect to the development of human society Freud sees religion as having an important role, especially in teaching man to have a sense of morality, something which man could not have achieved on his own (consciously). However, Freud awaited a more developed or more mature society in which there will not be a need for religion, a society which he considers to be somewhat imminent.
With regards to his atheistic doctrine, it ought to be noted that Freud puts forward a hypothesis, but does not really demonstrate in any philosophical or metaphysical way his conclusion. Religion is identified with the censure, and the importance and place of religion (which he apparently considers as a psycho-cultural element) corresponds to the psychological development of a child into a mature adult.
In concluding, it can be said that in Freud one can see the clear influence of idealism through the Feuerbachian concept of projection. Similarly, religion and God have been re-defined and given a particular and limited place in human life and society.
126.96.36.199. Jean-Paul Sartre
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), the famous French existentialist and atheist presented his thought chiefly through his literary and dramatical works, rather than through a clear philosophical system. His life, like his works was tainted by pessimism. His father died the year after Sartre was born, he lived through the horrors of the Second World War, and for a part of this period he was a prisoner of war. Towards the end of his life Sartre became blind. It was after the Second World War that existentialism became popular, and there is little doubt that Sartre had a major influence in this process of popularization.
Anthropological principles and fundamental concepts
The attention of Sartre was turned to 'man', whom he refused to treat as a genus or as something in general. He was interested in the concrete and individual man existing and living in the real world with real problems and experiences. The particular interest of Sartre was, however, the battle which man fights in order to attain his own dignity and his own freedom.
The anthropology of Sartre is structured around three concepts, being in itself, being for itself and being for others. Sartre said that if we think away the act of consciousness of making the world appear, one is left with being in itself, 'l'en-soi'. This being is simply there, it is gratuitous and superfluous. There is no reason behind the being of be it things or be it oneself. To exist is simply to be there and it is therefore meaningless to ask 'why is there being'.
The second concept used by Sartre is that of being for itself, 'le pour-soi', upon which his philosophy of human freedom is developed. For Sartre consciousness is always consciousness of something, of being. Consequently consciousness is not being, it is other than being, it is not-being and its activity is a process of nihilation. Man who is endowed the faculty of consciousness is therefore the being through which nothingness comes into the world.
Being in itself is obviously not free, but being for itself is essentially free, in that it escapes the determination of being in itself. Human freedom is seen as belonging to the structure of conscious being and is not considered to be a property of human nature. Accordingly, for Sartre, man unlike other things first exists and then makes his essence: human freedom precedes the essence of man and then makes it existence possible. Man therefore, is not predetermined, rather, what he becomes depends on himself and on his own choice. Man is wholly free and whatever he does is the result of his own free choice. Man therefore can not choose to be free or not free, he is simply free. Yet it is possible for man to try and deny this, his freedom, by throwing the responsibility onto some form of determinism or God or heredity and so forth. Subsequently the being for itself becomes a propelling away from the past, the determined, the l'en soi, to the future, to the realization of one's possibilities, towards the being which it will be. Thus, man reaches out to becoming the being in itself for itself through which he tries to unite being and consciousness in one, a concept that ultimately corresponds to the concept of God. Thus, man is the striving to be God, a concept which for Sartre is one of self-negation. The pour-soi strives towards the divine, but falls into the nothingness of l'en-soi. Accordingly, for Sartre, man is not just condemned to liberty but also, to useless striving.
Contact with others means for Sartre, a fight between two pour-soi, between two freedoms, each of which tries to reduce the other to be an object. Man must overcome this by trying to develop a better society, by having a dedication to the bettering of humanity through service for others.
Consequences of this anthropology on the idea of God
The anthropology and humanism of Sartre has obvious consequences on the meaning that is given to God. In the first place it is worth noting, that Sartre is more interested in man rather that in promoting atheism. Secondly his method does not present any real and noteworthy attempt at rejecting the existence of God in a philosophical way.
God is presumed to be non existent, and useless in the fight of man to gain his full dignity and liberty. For Sartre, it is impossible to conceive of the co-existence of the free man and God. Man is free and therefore, there is no God. Thus, the idea of God and religion should be rejected. In supporting his atheism Sartre tends to repeat the arguments of men like Feuerbach (l'en soi pour soi, man striving to be God), and Nietsche (God is the denial of human freedom). Sartre's metaphysics propose, therefore, that the idea of God is a contradiction in itself (God as perfect unconsciousness - l'en-soi - and perfect consciousness - le pour-soi).
Similarly, if the idea of God's existence were a reality, it would mean that God is the Creator of all values with a logical implication that man is not free. Thus, the idea of God means the negation of man. Despite these reasons which were proposed by Sartre, as an explanation or a proof of his atheism, the system and goal of Sartre is to try to promote a humanity without God, without religion for human existence does not need God. Consequently, Sartre has been referred to as post-atheist in that he has gone beyond the atheistic method and tried to realize what he considered to be proper to humanity as a whole.
2.2.3. Scientific Atheism
Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was the most noted representative of classical positivism. The two centuries preceding Comte witnessed a major impact of the natural sciences on philosophy, allowing for the application of the experimental method (Hume and certain French Philosophers) to the study of man, his conduct and social life. In the later Kant we find the opinion that the contrast between the increasing and 'certain' scientific knowledge and the tension arising from conflicting metaphysical systems led to a belief that traditional metaphysics was not capable of providing knowledge of reality.
Comte like a few others (Turgot, Condorcet and Saint-Simon) inherited this philosophical tension and developed new ideas based upon it: that within human history, a period of scientific knowledge has preceded a period of metaphysical knowledge.
Historical principle and periods
In presenting his thought, Comte understands philosophy as the examining and synthesizing of scientific methods. Knowledge is restricted to observed facts and phenomena and to descriptive laws of the same. This tendency to positivism clearly depends upon a development or evolution in human thinking. Comte, however sees this development as being dependent on human nature and thus necessary. Comte therefore proceeds to examine this necessary development: in looking at human history he proposed three period in the development of thought, the theological, the metaphysical and the positivistic, periods which are similar to the intellectual development of the individual from childhood through adolescence to manhood.
In the first stage, the theological, man seeks the ultimate causes of events and finds the reasons in superhuman personal being(s). This was an age which passed from animism, through polytheism to monotheism. The second stage, the metaphysical, occurred with the transformation of personal deities or God into metaphysical abstractions such as is witnessed by the ideas of ether, vital principles, etc. Here the concept of all-inclusive nature replaces God. The third stage is the positivistic, a stage of mature scientific outlook. The mind is interested with observed facts and not with unobservable inner essences of things.
Association of periods with social types
Comte associated each of these stages with distinct forms of social organization. The theological stage he associated with belief in absolute authority, a militaristic social order and the divine right of kings. This period occurred in the Ancient World and the Middle Ages. The metaphysical stage belonging to the period of the Enlightenment and was predominately represented by a dissatisfaction with the former stage and a by a belief in abstract rights and popular sovereignty under a reign of law. The positivistic stage is associated with the development of industry, a stage in which economic life becomes the center of attention and in which a scientific elite arises, whose vocation it is to organize and regulate industrial society in a rational way. In order to promote this society which was at its beginnings, Comte held that it was necessary to have a new science, namely sociology, a science aimed at organizing a peaceful industrial society.
Although his vision of history has a some truth to it, it does not agree with a detailed examination of human history. What must be noted is that Comte looks at history from the point of view of a convinced positivist; accordingly the truth of positivism is a presupposition for Comte's interpretation of history. Another weakness in Comte's structure of history is that he was not ready to consider the possibility of a post-positivist stage of intellectual development and society.
Atheism as maturity of the human mind
With respect to religious belief, Comte is understood as maintaining that just as man sheds belief in elves and fairies, when he understands that there is no good reason for thinking that there are such beings, so does he progressively shed belief in a transcendent God, not because God's non-existence has been demonstrated, but because there is no positive reason for believing that there is a transcendent God. Accordingly atheism is a feature of the human mind's maturity and not the result of a philosophical proof of God's non-existence. With respect to this, a clarification ought to be made: Comte is insisting that with the passing from the metaphysical to the positivistic period, recourse to God as an explanation of various phenomena is shed away. In other words, the more man seeks scientific explanations of events, the less does he need a supernatural explanation.
Comte's own attitude to atheism, was that both theism and atheism are concerned with problems which can not be solved. No empirical test is possible, and consequently, whether there is or is not an ultimate cause man does not know it nor can he know it..
Sociology based upon Catholicism
With respect to Comte's idea that society should be organized by those who possessed real knowledge, one notices that there is little use for democracy. He favored instead a paternalistic government for the common good. Citizens of the positivistic society should accept the principles laid down for them by the positivistic elite (i.e. the scientists and positivistic philosophers), even if these principles are not understood. This elite should control education and form public opinion. Thus, his structure of society was similar to that of medieval society, a society which he did not despise. In the new society, the scientists and positivistic philosophers would take the place of the pope and bishops, while members of the managerial class would exercise the functions of the medieval monarchs and nobles.
Comte, therefore, did not grant recognition to liberal claims regarding the rights of individuals over and against society. Comte believed that man as an individual is an abstraction; the basic reality is humanity and not the individual. Further, Comte believed that it is society which gives rights and that the only real right is to do one's duty, the word or concept of 'right' being as relevant to politics, as the word cause is to positivistic philosophy.
With regard to morality or ethics, Comte held that the highest form of moral life is love and service of humanity. Humanity, also referred to as 'le Grand Etre', in the positivistic period replaces God. Although Humanity is subjected to the totality of the natural order, it is the noblest element. Comte continues his logical development of a positivist religion, based upon the structures of Catholicism, with which he was familiar. Positivism will have its saints (great benefactors of mankind), its temples, its statues, its condemnations of the principle enemies of humanity, its commemoration of the dead and its social sacraments and so forth. Comte evidently believed that in modern society the unifying and elevating function once performed by belief in God could be replaced or fulfilled only by a religious devotion to humanity, and only by such a humanistic religion could society be properly regenerated.
In conclusion, it should be said that Comte was anxious to defend positivism against the charge of atheism. He does not assert in a dogmatic way that there is no God. His opinion was that the idea of God has become more and more of an unverified hypothesis in proportion to the degree in which man has substituted scientific explanations of phenomena for theological ones. With regards to his own Great Being, which he regards as a reality which is irreducible to a collection of individual men and women, Comte seems to be developing a theological or at metaphysical idea, against his own positivistic philosophical principle: any proposition which is not ultimately reducible to the simple enunciation of a fact, whether particular or general, does not present any real intelligible sense.
Jacques Monod (1910-1976), a biochemist reached a certain renown through his book, Le hasard et la nécessité, essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne (Seuil, Paris, 1970). Using the findings of his own scientific research and expressing himself in modern terms, he forwarded a materialistic philosophy which reminds one greatly of Democritus: All that exists in the universe is the result of chance and necessity. For Monod, only chance is the origin of all that exists. Consequently within his system there can not be a creator nor a God. He, therefore, also rejects the various religions (religions for Monod, seek to calm man, who must confront the worries of life and the preoccupation with death) and older philosophies, to which he also affiliates Marxism (A philosophy which holds that history develops according to a determined plan and not according to chance).
Dissatisfaction with science
Further Monod expresses his great dissatisfaction with science due to its incapacity to substitute itself for the nauseous Christian piety, which still remains the foundation upon which western culture is formed. Nor has it been able to dethrone Marxism with its fallacy of a materialistic religion and its dialectics of history.
Monod takes his position a step further into the anthropological domain. Man is alone in an in a universe which is totally indifferent to his existence. Monod continues by positing the question, what should one do with respect to this situation. His answer is, that above all one must avoid falling into pessimism. He proposes a morality of knowledge: Because man is dramatically alone and can not support himself on anything outside himself, there is nothing else for him to do except to try and increase to the maximum his own knowledge. For Monod, this is the only means of arriving at authenticity in both discourse and activity.
In summarizing Monod it can be said that all occurs according to chance. Thus the existence of man has its origin in a mere chance, as also does the future. The place or meaning of faith and Providence as also philosophies of determination are meaningless and science in itself becomes some what limited. However it remains the only form of real knowledge. Man is subsequently, confronted with this situation of uncertainty and of meaninglessness. Man is alone. Man can however, rise above this situation by seeking to increase his knowledge (scientific) and this in turn and only this, can provide him with any sense of security and meaning.
2.2.4. Socio-political atheistic philosophers
188.8.131.52. Marx and Engels
Marx: life and basic philosophical principle
Karl Marx (1818-1883) born of Jewish parents and brought up in Protestantism, studied at Bonn and Berlin, where he associated with the left-wing Hegelians. By 1842 he had became very dissatisfied with the purely theoretical attitudes, and began to promote the idea that theory must be given a practical application if it is to be effective. It is not enough to be critical of traditional institutions and ideas in order to change them, it is simultaneously necessary to have political and social action. Thus Marx considered German philosophy to be similar to religion in that it alienated man from himself.
Attitude to religion
In the period of his criticism of Hegel and of his early writings, Marx in an article (in der Deutsche-franzosishe Jahrbuecher, 1843) refers to Feuerbach's analysis of religion as a self alienation on man's part and asks why it occurs. Why does man create the illusory world of the supernatural and project into it his own true self? The answer is that religion reflects or expresses the distortion in human society. Man's political, social and economic life is incapable of fulfilling his true self, and thus, he creates the illusory world of religion and seeks his happiness therein; religion becomes man's self-administered opium.
Inasmuch as religion prevents man from seeking his happiness, it must be attacked. But a criticism of religion is of little value if it is divorced from political and social criticism, for it attacks the effect while neglecting the cause. Thus, philosophy must be overcome, this overcoming being also the realization of philosophy (Verwirklichkung), it must leave the plane of theory and penetrate the masses. Then, by the abolition of private property the proletariat will free itself and find its true happiness.
Primacy of matter and anthropology
What is important to notice here is the philosophical position of Marx, which he develops by opposing the primacy of sensible reality to the primacy of the idea (Hegel). Like Feuerbach, Marx rejected Idealism and was a convicted materialist. In 1845, Marx together with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) wrote 'Die deutsche Ideologie' which was a criticism of German philosophy as represented by Feuerbach, Bauer and Stirner. The importance of the work was in its outline of the materialistic conception of history: The fundamental historical reality is social man in his activity in Nature. This material or sensible activity is man's basic life, and it is life which determines consciousness. Accordingly, the fundamental factor in history is the process of material or economic production. Thus a principle underlying Marx's philosophy is that the changing of the material and sensible will lead to a changing of man's consciousness; this principle being also applicable to the question of religion and consciousness of God. It was the various material conditions of man, which identify with economic and social conditions, that led to the type of religious consciousness experienced within history.
Man within the vision of a dialectical materialistic view of history
In the anthropology of Marx man is not conceived as contemplative (philosophical or religious) but as active being, this activity being primarily the material one of production. Man is thus defined as 'productive man in society'. Man is oriented towards nature through his needs in the sense that it is nature which satisfies his needs. This process of satisfaction is achieved through work. Thus the economic definition given to man. Further it is only man who is capable of transforming a natural object in order to satisfy his needs. Consequently Marx develops his theory of history in a materialistic way and from an economic point of view. His vision is dialectical as one historical structure negates the previous. Within this view Marx explains religion by holding that the celestial hierarchy of mediaeval theology was simply an ideological reflection of the mediaeval feudal structure which was itself determined by economic factors. Again, the rise of the bourgeoisie and the arrival of the capitalist mode of production are seen to have been reflected in the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism. According to Engels, the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination reflected the supposed economic fact that in commercial competition success or failure does not depend on personal merits but on incomprehensible and uncontrollable economic powers.
For Feuerbach religion was a projection of man, for Marx, however, religion was a socio-economic product which reflected the economic and political society at hand. Religion places itself within the ideological superstructure which inherently depends upon the economic infrastructure. To change the superstructure one must first change the infrastructure and accordingly there is no point in attacking religion directly. Marx believed that when there will be a society without classes religion will disappear by itself. For in the classless society there will be no suffering and religion, which is the moaning of a suppressed creature, the soul of a world without a heart, will no longer exist.
The Argumentation of Marx
The sociological criticism: The social role of religion is to act as a conservative force. It detaches itself from the sufferings of this world by promising a future celestial paradise. Accordingly it preaches reassignment and patience during this terrestrial life. Religion serves in this way, as an opium in that it helps man to forget about his own misery and to continue living an undignified life. Although religion has had a certain positive role in history by seeking solutions to terrestrial misery it has never escaped the primary celestial solution which it proposes.
The Psychological criticism: This consists in seeking the origin of God. This origin being in the feelings of impotency which man has before the forces of nature which he cannot control, and within a society which oppresses him, as is visible in the proletariat belonging to an oppressive capitalistic society.
The dialectical criticism: This consists in determining the essence of the various religions, which is expressed by the word alienation. As in Feuerbach, the existence of God implies the non-existence of man, and the existence of man implies the non-existence of God. Man alienates his own liberty for the sake of God or affirms his own liberty and rejects God. For Marx, this stage is necessary within the history of mankind, but now it must be overcome
In considering the thought of Marx, especially with regard to religion and anthropology, it is clear that there is a strong influence of Feuerbach. What ought to be noted, is that Marx did not have the theological background which Feuerbach had, and this shows itself in the incapacity of Marx to define clearly what he means by religion. Similarly his anthropology considers the socio-economic role or value of man, while the Feuerbachian anthropology is much richer in that it gives attention to the intellectual and emotional sides of man, to human sensibilities, to human error, to suffering and death.
Essentially materialistic philosophy
The guiding current in the philosophy of Nikolaj G. Chernyshevskij (1828-89) is, without any doubt, his materialism, all the other aspects, the epistemological, anthropological, the social and the aesthetic being related to it. For Chernyshevskij, reality is not to be conceived in dualistic terms, it is an organic whole, the essence of which is matter.
Philosophical consequences of his materialism
The logical consequence of this materialist principle within the various dimensions of the thought of Chernyshevskij is that anthropologically, man is material and thus does not have a soul-spirit. Socially, it means, that society can not be looked upon from an idealistic, romantic or theological perspective. One of the interesting aspects of Chernyshevskij's philosophy is the way in which he values matter, an appreciation which can be found in his affirmations that science (which studies matter-reality) is not greater than reality but subordinated to it, and so also with philosophy and art, whereby the representation of reality is less valuable than the reality represented. However, the only reliable path to knowledge was conceived as being science alone: the sole and indispensable means to the improvement of society. Autocracy, he judged as harmful and useless, with a similar judgment being made upon the Orthodox Church.
Another interesting development in Chernyshevskij's thought is the ethical aspect: while the actions of man are causal, one can not necessarily judge them as good or bad. However these terms imply that the actions of one, who seeks a good, either signify an equal good or an equivalent evil for others and for society. Thus, for Chernyshevskij, it appeared necessary to educate people regarding the importance of performing those actions which bring about good, not just for oneself but also for others, thus leading to a better society, which he conceived along the same lines as the 'Russian Socialism' of Herzen.
Rejection of the metaphysical
a) The metaphysical and religion
The materialism of Chernyshevskij naturally implies a consequential rejection of the transcendental and of metaphysics, which are considered unscientific because they speak of non-material realities which do not exist. Thus, God and theology are meaningless. The Church, without her divine aspect is seen merely as belonging to the enduring institutional dimension of Russian society that can have both positive and negative effects even upon the socio-economic aspect of society.
b) The metaphysical and aesthetics
The Russian experience, however, was not looked upon very favorably by Chernyshevskij. The co-rejection of metaphysics and idealism implied an even more radical change in aesthetic evaluation because, in the limitation of the meaning and value of art to the material sphere, the spiritual significance of the great and popular treasures of Russian religious art, especially in the form of iconography, lost its significance and was thus given a lesser materialistic meaning.
Although Chernyshevskij does not show any deep hatred for religion or God, his philosophy, due to its radical re-conception of reality from the materialistic point of view, was not just a novelty in Russia, due in particular to its impact, but it was also a system that in denying the metaphysical ended up in similarly denying a place to the essence of the Church and religion, an essence which is spiritual and primarily metaphysical. Due to his materialism, Chernyshevskij was implicitly an atheist, although he did not develop a theoretical atheistic philosophy. If he had done this he would have fallen in to what he condemned as metaphysics and idealism.
184.108.40.206. Dimitrij I. Pisarev
Philosophy of the 'new man'
More important than Dobroljubov was Dimitrij Pisarev, (1840-1868), the son of a landowner Pisarev was deeply religious as a youth. He was a gifted and competent writer, critic and a populizer of theories on natural science. In university he joined a circle of religious mystics with an unbalanced fervor, which in the eyes of Nikolaj Lossky (History of Russian Philosophy, p. 62-3), might have been a major factor for the loss of his faith two years latter, and the subsequent adherence to the crude materialism of Vogt, Moleschott and Buchner. Pisarev was a disciple of Chernyshevskij's, who like Chernyshevskij and Dobroljubov became an adamant materialist, rejecting idealism as well as theories which, in Pisarev's works, similar to Chernyshevskij's, developed into a form of socialism with a philosophy of the 'new man'. A man without God or religion. Like Chernyshevskij, he did not develop try to philosophize God away. The fact that all is material simply meant for him that God does not exist, and consequently religion is nonsensical.
The development of a practical atheism
Although Pisarev did not develop theoretical atheism, he did make a huge step in developing a practical atheism, a philosophy for a life and for a society without God and religion. The 'new man' of Pisarev is to be ethically mature in his confrontation with society, work and the economy. This is an anthropological position based on the conviction that individualism serves best the betterment of society and social solidarity. The 'new man', which Pisarev promoted was to be passionate for work which itself was considered socially useful, and not for works of art which were merely unnecessary luxuries of the few and the rich.
Pisarev was convinced that egoism includes in itself the greatest love for mankind, whereby in the rational egoist there exists a harmony between the mind and the feelings. This type of conception of the relation man-society has a strong ethical basis. Egoism is not contrary to altruism, in that it helps one to help others for the sake of personal satisfaction and not because of a sense of duty or moral restriction.
It was the opinion of Pisarev that one can enjoy any pleasure, so long as one remembers that rest and pleasure must serve society. This nihilistic approach of Pisarev to ethics was strongly colored by the idea that freedom is necessary in order that men may be virtuous and, consequently, that society may be improved.
Condemnation of philosophies
a) Theoretical dimension of philosophies
In the name of freedom and of science, Pisarev strongly attacked not just philosophy which, in his mind, was theoretical, rationalistic and out of touch with reality, but also religion especially through his condemnation of the idealism of the Fathers (one might remember that many of the patristic writers were influenced by neo-platonism, Plato being, in the Pisarevian mind an idealist who wanted to make people into cogs within the machine of society).
b) Moral dimension of philosophies
Likewise, he extended a rebuke to the preaching of common moral ideals, which he considered to be a serious form of encroachment upon the liberty of others. He argued that the human being must develop naturally and uninhibited by tradition, prejudice, ethical systems and even aesthetic ideals; all of which he considered as causes of division and struggle within the self, and thus, hindering the full development of the internal personality.
Attitude to religion
a) Metaphysical nature of religion
Pisarev, consequently, had little esteem for religion and the Church. They, indeed, were contrary to Pisarev's system, in a similar way to that of Chernyshevskij, regarding the metaphysical sphere which was seen as another form of idealism and thus, unreal and useless. Thus, Pisarev, in his materialism, could neither tolerate a metaphysics, nor spirituality and dogmas thereupon related.
b) Belief and human freedom
However, in one aspect Pisarev, seems to make a slight development beyond that of Chernyshevskij: religious beliefs - that is superstitions and idealistic theories - are not only ridiculous in themselves, but they also are to be condemned because the moral systems which they advance, and the adherence to traditions which they propose, are a basis for the denial of full freedom and the possibility of personal maturation. Consequently, the Church and religion were understood by Pisarev to be essentially ridiculous and fundamentally contrary to the human being and perfect society.
Conclusion: Change in philosophical evaluation
Accordingly, with Pisarev, the intellectual or philosophical relation to religion and to the Church had gone through a notable change: unlike other critics of religion and superstition, unlike the philosophers who saw the religion as an obstacle to cultural and social development, Pisarev (and one might also suggest Chernyshevskij and Dobroljubov) perceived both the God and religion as follies based on unreal ideas, and then not just as hindrances to, but rather as enemies of human freedom and of the 'new man', and the new society which he conceived of. No longer, therefore, did God and religion have to correct themselves in confrontation with society and scientific knowledge; now they had no place at all.
220.127.116.11. Georgij V. Plekhanov (1857-1918)
Nature of Plekhanov's philosophy
Plekhanov is considered not only as the founder of Russian Marxism, but particularly of orthodox Russian Marxism; indeed, he felt that it was necessary to protect the true meaning of Marx against the various heterodox interpretations that had emerged. Like some of the other authors already considered, Plekhanov was a convinced materialist: matter comes before spirit and thought, matter being understood as that which acts on our sense-organs. What is of special importance in considering Plekhanov is his attitude to historic determination.
When the concept of historic development and determination is kept in mind, the typical Marxist dialectical approach to history, certainly seems quite similar to the Christian concept of Providence. However, in his Marxism, Plekhanov does not accept the idea of a divine and intellectual being who is Creator and Governor of the world and its history. For Plekhanov, the developments that take place are due to intrinsic laws, related to the different stages of development and to different circumstances. Consequently, he was able to affirm for instance that the artistic works of a particular people are determined by the mentality of the people; the art of the proletariat era will, accordingly, be determined by the proletariat mentality.
Historical moral codes
Similarly, moral codes are considered by Plekhanov to be class related: the Marxist approach to morality being based on the idea of development, explaining the morality of the previous historical stages as related solely to the particular historical periods, and that these various moralities were necessary for the process of development towards the climax of the Marxist society.
Attitude to religion
a) Historical place of religion
With regard to God and religion, Plekhanov held the opinion that religion and religious ideas are a lower stage in the development of culture; feeling that at the vigil of the communist utopia, the terrestrial heaven, religion would be an obstacle to the development of the self-consciousness of the working class. Similarly, he denies that religious needs are innate, thus rejecting an essential religious dimension to the nature of man.
b) Respect before religion
Unlike many of his comrades, Plekhanov has a certain reverent or rather cultured tone before the religious phenomenon: this is understandable in that he does not look upon religion as merely to be condemned, but rather as a stage in the historical process, which has a value with respect to the determined process of development towards the perfect communist society. However, already in the nineteenth century, religion is to be seen as belonging to the past and as useless. With this logic in mind Plekhanov would have looked on the Church and religious belief as being very out dated and a hindrance in the formation and education of the proletariat.
Plekhanov, therefore, was certainly a thinker who promoted a practical and social atheism. However, even as a convinced materialist and unlike Chernyshevskij and Pisarev, he explained atheism theoretically using the ideas of Feuerbach and Marx. All the same he did not add any novelty to the theories that God and religion are historical phenomena resulting from human and cultural projections.
18.104.22.168. Vladimir Ilych Lenin (1870-1924)
The characteristic of the thought of Lenin, however, is quite different from that of Plekhanov; Lenin being less of a philosopher and more concerned with the purity of his ideological approach to Marxism. In this regard, there are two areas of interest, Lenin's defense of the purity of materialism and his conception of the party.
Purity of Marxism
For Lenin, there was a serious danger to the purity of Marxism, which he considered to be completely materialistic, through the introduction of either idealistic or religiously inspired tendencies into the philosophical approach to materialism or the explanation and application of Marxism.
b) Exclusion of religion
It is not quite clear if Lenin disregarded religion as nonsense on account of his earlier developed materialistic convictions or whether he developed his materialism and atheism as a rejectory reaction to the feelings of repugnance that he had before the religious phenomenon. However, there is no doubt that in Lenin's thought religion and materialism are diametrically opposed and must be kept apart.
For Lenin, being is prior to consciousness, and the objective prior to the subjective. Consequently, any attempt to reduce reality in any way to sensations (which are in the subjective realm) or to conceive nature as being a product of the experience of living beings, as was the tendency of Bogdanov and the Machian school, meant for Lenin a subordination of materialism to idealism and subjectivism, and the ultimate rejection of the infallible truth of both materialism and the ideas of Marx and Engels. Lenin was convinced that any form of idealism opens up the way to God and religion. Subsequently, the only philosophy that impedes the way to religion is dialectical materialism. While Kant reduced knowledge, so as to make room for faith and Hegel identified knowledge with God, it is only the true (Marxist) materialist who exalts the knowledge of matter and nature in such a way as to convey both God and theology to 'the rubbish pit'.
Attitude to religion
a) Non-objectivity of religion
The attitude of Lenin to religion can be seen to be twofold: his consideration on the one hand that religion is not objective, as demonstrated with the teachings of creation and eschatology. For Lenin only what is scientific can be considered to be true and objective. Thus, any mixing of science with religion or idealism is a contradiction in itself.
b) Social dimension
Secondly, Lenin sees religion in its social perspective: in referring to Catholicism, he says that, while it is a social organization it is not objective but rather it is exploitative of the classes, through its siding with the bourgeois and the wealthy, it lead to a slavery of the working - agricultural class. In this sense, one could imply that Lenin's revolutionary ideas also includes the idea of revolution against such social organizations, affirmed through the strict exclusion of religion from the party and from the government.
a) Unprepared proletariat
The second noteworthy part of the thought of Lenin concerns his conception of the place or the role of the party, a role that coincides with the conception of self proper to the working class, that is, the 'proletariat'. Plekhanov believed that Russia was not sufficiently developed to become a socialist state under the rule of the proletariat: Lenin, believing that this process could be accelerated, had to acknowledge what Plekhanov was essentially proposing: a working class or proletariat conscience does not exist. The workers are interested in neither revolution nor politics, but only in their own betterment.
b) Substitution by the Party in the process of change
Consequently, for Lenin it was necessary to give a political and revolutionary tendency to their instincts. And this is where the party assumes its role, becoming the political expression of the non-politically minded proletariat. In his 'Materialism and Empirocriticsm', Lenin establishes his concept of partinost'. The position of the party must also be assumed by philosophy.
c) The governing role given to the party
The 'Party' in Lenin's eyes reflects, to a certain extent, the position of Lavrov, as to the place of the thinking man within society. Likewise, it can be seen to partially reflect both the elective place of the Tzar in the previous history of Russia and the place of the hierarchies within the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches, with which Lenin was familiar.
Concluding remark: The position of religion
The position of Lenin as regards the relation of religion to the Party was unbending, each totally excluding the other and in Lenin's mind both were a contradiction of each other. However, this contradiction is more than an ideological contra-position; it is a contradiction that fits into his revolutionary mentality, whereby the Church is conceived as an enemy of the workers through its affiliation and support of the wealthy and the nobility, an enemy which also threatens the party because of the political rights and role which it assigns to itself, especially in the way it conceives itself to be greater than the State.
Lenin would consequently appear to be a total atheist. He not only accepted the theoretical atheism of other philosophers, but he developed it by insisting on dialectical materialism as the only true atheistic philosophical principle. Similarly, Lenin sought to promote practical atheism in society, that is a totally atheistic society. Only such a society can correspond to the Marxist principles and the ideal of a communist society. The atheism of Lenin also was political, in that all forms of theism were excluded from the party and accordingly, from the government of society. Further, one might quite rightly conclude that Lenin was not just an a-theist but also an anti-theist.
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