was born at Darmstadt, Germany, on March 29, 1824. From 1842 to
1848 he studied physics, chemistry, botany, mineralogy, philosophy
and medicine at the University of Giessen, where he graduated in
1848 with a dissertation entitled Beiträge zur Hall'schen Lehre
von einem excitomotorischen Nervensystem (Contributions to the Hallerian
Theory of a Excitomotor Nervous System). Afterwards, he continued
his studies at the University of Strasbourg, University of Würzburg
(where he studied pathology with the great Rudolf Virchow) and at
the University of Vienna.
1852 he became lecturer in medicine at the University of Tübingen,
where he published his great work Kraft und Stoff: Empirisch-naturphilosophische
Studien (Force and Matter: Empiricophilosophical Studies, 1855).
In this work, the product, according to Lange, of a fanatical
enthusiasm for humanity, he sought to demonstrate the indestructibility
of matter and force, and the finality of physical force. The extreme
materialism of this work excited so much opposition that he was
compelled to give up his post at Tübingen. He retired to
Darmstadt, where he practiced as a physician and contributed regularly
to pathological and physiological magazines.
continued his philosophical work in defense of materialism, and
published Natur und Geist (Nature and Soul, 1857), Aus Natur und
Wissenschaft (From Nature and Science, vol. I., 1862; vol. II.,
1884), Der Fortschritt in Natur und Geschichte im Lichte der Darwinschen
Theorie (Progress in Nature and History in the Light of the Darwinian
Theory, 1884), Tatsachen und Theorien aus dem naturwissenschaftlichen
Leben der Gegenwart (Facts and Theories from the Scientific Life
of Present, 1887), Fremdes und Eigenes aus dem geistligen Leben
der Gegenwart (Extraneous and Self from the Spiritual Life of
Present, 1890), Darwinismus und Socialismus (1894), Im Dienste
der Wahrzeit (In the Service of Truth, 1899).
Büchner's materialism was the founding ground for the freethinkers'
movement in Germany. In 1881 he founded in Frankfurt the "Deutsche
Freidenkerbund" (German Freethinkers League), where the first
atheists got publicly together in that country.
died at Darmstadt on May 1, 1899.
estimating Büchner's philosophy it must be remembered that
he was primarily a physiologist, not a metaphysician. Matter and
force (or energy) are infinite; the conservation of force follows
from the imperishability of matter, the ultimate basis of all
is not always clear in his theory of the relation between matter
and force. At one time he refuses to explain it, but generally
he assumes that all natural and spiritual forces are indwelling
in matter. Just as a steam engine, he says in Kraft und Stoff
(7th ed., p. 130), produces motion, so the intricate organic complex
of force-bearing substance in an animal organism produces a total
sum of certain effects, which, when bound together in a unity,
are called by us mind, soul, thought. Here he postulates force
and mind as emanating from original matter, a materialistic monism.
But in other parts of his works he suggests that mind and matter
are two different aspects of that which is the basis of all things
a monism which is not necessarily materialistic, and which, in
the absence of further explanation, constitutes a confession of
was much less concerned to establish a scientific metaphysics
than to protest against the romantic idealism of his predecessors
and the theological interpretations of the universe. Nature according
to him is purely physical; it has no purpose, no will, no laws
imposed by extraneous authority, no supernatural ethical sanction.