Who is Hans Jonas?June 25, 2021
Hans Jonas was a German-American philosopher who lived from May 10, 1903 to February 5, 1993. Hans Jonas is especially famous for his work titled “The Principle of Responsibility” published in 1979.
Jonas had to immigrate to the United States due to the heavy oppression of Nazi Germany on the Jews. Here he worked especially in the field of theology. As a result of these studies, a book named “Der Gottesbegriff nach Auschwitz” was published. In this book, Jonas reasoned by reflecting on what happened in Nazi Germany. He argued that God risked his own omnipotence by giving freedom to humans.
Biography of Hans Jonas
Hans Jonas was born on May 10, 1903 in Mönchengladbach, Germany. He studied philosophy and theology at schools such as the University of Freiburg, the University of Berlin, and the University of Heidelberg. Jonas’ thesis at the University of Marburg was directed by Martin Heidegger. He completed his doctorate in philosophy in 1928 with this thesis titled “Der Begriff der Gnosis”.
Edmund Husserl and Rudolf Bultmann were among Jonas’s academic advisors during his education years. Jonas also met Hannah Arendt in Marburg, who was then pursuing her doctorate there. The two remained close friends for the rest of their lives.
Jonas, a Jewish and active Zionist, announced in 1964 that he had severed all academic, intellectual, and personal contact with Heidegger, who was also his mentor, citing Heidegger’s joining the Nazi Party in 1933.
Jonas left Germany in 1933 for England and moved from England to Palestine in 1934. There he met Lore Weiner, whom he later became engaged to. In 1940 he returned to Europe to join the British army, which organized a special brigade for German Jews who wanted to fight Hitler. Sent to Italy with the army, Jonas moved to Germany at the end of the war. During this time he wrote several letters to Lore on philosophy, particularly the philosophy of biology, that would form the basis of his later publications on the subject. Finally, in 1943, Lore and Hans got married.
Returning to Mönchengladbach immediately after the war to find his mother, Hans Jonas learned that his mother had been sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. After learning this, he stopped living in Germany again and returned to Palestine to participate in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Jonas taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before moving to North America. He went to Canada in 1950 and taught at Carleton University. From there he moved to New York in 1955, where he would live for the rest of his life. From 1955 to 1976 he was a member of the Hastings Center and professor of philosophy at the New School for Social Research.
Jonas was visiting professor at the University of Munich from 1982 to 1983. He died on February 5, 1993, at the age of 89, at his home in New Rochelle, New York.
Hans Jonas’ Philosophy
Jonas’ philosophical work was influential in many different fields. For example, “The Gnostic Religion,” based on his early research on gnosticism and first published in 1958, was for many years considered the most important work written in English on gnosticism. Later, he focused on the social and ethical problems created by technology with his work “The Imperative of Responsibility”, published in German in 1979 and English in 1984.
Jonas’ career generally centered around his three main works: gnosticism, philosophical biology, and ethics. Hans Jonas was one of the first philosophers to deal with ethical questions in biology.
Jonas insisted on the idea that securing our planet and our future depended on human survival. He expressed this idea as a moral imperative as follows:
“Organize your action so that it is in harmony with the continuity of genuine human life, to ensure the continuity of life.”
While “The Imperative of Responsibility” is credited with catalyzing the environmental movement in Germany, his work “The Phenomenon of Life” (1966) formed the philosophical foundations of a major school of bioethics in America. Murray Bookchin and Leon Kass cited Hans Jonas’ work as a major source of inspiration. Largely influenced by Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, “The Phenomenon of Life” became famous as a work that sought to synthesize the philosophy of matter with the philosophy of mind, ultimately producing a rich understanding of existential biology that advocated a simultaneously material and moral human nature.
Hans Johan’s writing on the history of gnosticism has been interpreted from a religious existentialist philosophical perspective, revising the scope covered by earlier standard works on the subject, such as Ernesto Buonaiuti’s “Lo gnosticicismo: storia di antiche lotte religiose” (1907).
Translation and Compilation: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım