Feuerbach's theory of object-relations and its legacy in 20th century post-Hegelian philosophy

Jean Philippe Deranty*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper focuses on the way in which Feuerbach's attempt to develop a naturalistic, realist remodeling of Hegel's relational ontology, which culminated in his own version of "sensualism", led him to emphasize the vulnerability of the subject and the role of affectivity, thus making object-dependence a constitutive feature of subjectivity. We find in Feuerbach the first lineaments of a philosophical theory of object-relations, one that anticipates the well-known psychological theory of the same name, but one that also offers a broader metaphysical basis in which all types of "essential objects" are shown to matter to subjectivity. This Feuerbachian theory of object-relations, the paper then argues, foreshadows a number of important developments in 20th century post-Hegelian philosophy. In it can be found an anticipation of Adorno's later theory of mimesis. Equally, this theory already emphasizes the "libidinal" nature of intentionality, in a way that announces Merleau-Ponty's ontology of the flesh. Finally, the last section of the article proposes a model with which we might reconstruct the way in which object-relations and self-relations can be brought together consistently. In this instance, Feuerbach uses concepts that announce Freud's notion of "primary narcissism". One contemporary philosopher who has proposed a sophisticated model of subjectivity, in which primary narcissism is shown to complement object-dependence, is Axel Honneth. The last section argues that Feuerbach's full image of subjective identity as reciprocal scaffolding of self- and object-relations reminds strongly of Honneth's core concept of "positive self-relation".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-310
Number of pages25
JournalSouthern Journal of Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015

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