Chapter 27. "Science of Natural Processes" by Frederick Engels

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Ludwig Feuerbach
The Reading Selection from Ludwig Feuerbach
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Frederick Engels

About the author…

Frederick Engels (1820-1895), as the son of a German textile manufacturer who owned factories in England, became so concerned about fate of textile workers he published The Condition of the Working Classes in England. He saw the textile worker as a new societal force leading to a rational ordering of social life, superseding capitalism. In collaboration with Karl Marx, Engels produced a number of works in social philosophy, including the Communist Manifesto which recounts the history of the working class in a dialectical fashion based on materialistic conflict. At the heart of Marxism is this thesis: The modes of production in any society uniquely determine the so-called higher ideologies of politics, ethics, religion, and philosophy. Engels financially supported Marx and edited most of his work. The contribution of the philosophy of historical materialism, the perspective expressed in Ludwig Feuerback, is generally credited to Engels.

About the work…

In this reading from the second publication of Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy,[1] Frederick Engels argues that three recent discoveries in the sciences provide the basis by which all aspects of the universe can be understood in terms of the philosophy of materialism. Wöhler's synthesis of urea proves that organic processes are explainable in terms of inorganic processes. The theory of the cell discovered by Schwann and Schleiden proves that the physiological basis of all living things is the same, and Darwin's theory of evolution indicates no difference in kind between human and all other forms of life. Finally, the discovery of the mechanical equivalent of heat (that heat is just matter in motion), proved that subjective properties (heretofore considered mental qualities) are equivalent to material processes. On Engels' proposal, soul, spirit, and ideas are part of the material processes of nature. One arguable consequence of the unification of science provided by the theory of mechanistic materialism is the impossibility of the discipline of an ethics based on choice. How could free will be possible in a deterministic and materialistic world?

Ideas of Interest from Ludwig Feuerbach

  1. Explain the significance of the discovery of the transformation of energy in terms of the classical "mind-body" problem.[2] In Engels' terms, what are the two kinds of "motions" that are now understandable as mechanistic materialism? How, then, are mental qualities to be explained?

  2. Why was the discovery by Schwann and Schleiden that the biological cell is the basis of all living things such a revolutionary theory?

  3. What is the unifying role of Darwin's theory of evolution in the philosophy of mechanistic materialism?

  4. Prior to Wöhler's discovery, scientists thought that organic molecules could only be synthesized by living organisms. Explain Engels' argument that when Friedrich Wöhler accidentally created the organic compound urea by heating the inorganic compound ammonium cyanate, vitalism[3] was disproved.

  5. Engels is claiming that scientific law applies with equal measure to nature and society. Explain whether or not the free choice of human beings would be possible if all life processes are subject to deterministic scientific laws.



Frederick Engels. Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy. 1888.


The mind-body problem arises from the doctrine that physical and mental things are essentially two distinct kinds of substances with uniquely different properties. Mental objects, unlike physical objects, have no size, shape, and weight. How, then, do these two entirely different substances interact?


Vitalism is the doctrine that all living organisms have a non-physical aspect or unique life-force which animates them such that living processes are not reducible to mechanistic materialism and therefore cannot be completely explained by scientific laws.