Hans Jonas: German philosopher (1903 - 1993) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Hans Jonas
German philosopher

Hans Jonas

Hans Jonas
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro German philosopher
Was Philosopher Educator
From Germany
Field Academia Philosophy
Gender male
Birth 10 May 1903, Mönchengladbach
Death 5 February 1993, New York City (aged 89 years)
Star sign Taurus
Hans Jonas
The details (from wikipedia)


Hans Jonas (10 May 1903 – 5 February 1993) was a German-born philosopher, from 1955 to 1976 the Alvin Johnson Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
Jonas's writings were very influential in different spheres. For example, The Gnostic Religion, based on his early research on the Gnosis and first published in 1958, was for many years the standard work in English on the subject of Gnosticism. The Imperative of Responsibility (German 1979, English 1984) centers on social and ethical problems created by technology. Jonas insists that human survival depends on our efforts to care for our planet and its future. He formulated a new and distinctive supreme principle of morality: "Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life".
While The Imperative of Responsibility has been credited with catalyzing the environmental movement in Germany, his work The Phenomenon of Life (1966) forms the philosophical undergirding of one major school of bioethics in America. Murray Bookchin and Leon Kass both referred to Hans Jonas's work as major, or primary, inspiration. Heavily influenced by Martin Heidegger, The Phenomenon of Life attempts to synthesize the philosophy of matter with the philosophy of mind, producing a rich existential understanding of biology, which ultimately argues for a simultaneously material and moral human nature.
His writing on the history of Gnosticism revisits terrain covered by earlier standard works on the subject such as Ernesto Buonaiuti's Lo gnosticismo: storia di antiche lotte religiose (1907), interpreting the religion from an existentialist philosophical viewpoint. He was one of the first philosophers to concern himself with ethical questions in biological science.
Jonas's career is generally divided into three periods defined by his three primary works, but in reverse order: studies of gnosticism, studies of philosophical biology, and ethical studies.


Birth house of Hans Jonas in Mönchengladbach.
In front of the house, two Stolpersteine were installed in 2008. The left one commemorates the philosopher's mother Rosa Jonas, murdered in Auschwitz in 1942.

Jonas was born in Mönchengladbach, on 10 May 1903. He tudied philosophy and theology at the University of Freiburg, the University of Berlin and the University of Heidelberg, and finally earned his Doctor of Philosophy in 1928 from the University of Marburg with a thesis on Gnosticism entitled Der Begriff der Gnosis (The Concept of Gnosis) and directed by Martin Heidegger. During his study years his academic advisors included Edmund Husserl and Rudolf Bultmann. In Marburg he met Hannah Arendt, who was also pursuing her PhD there, and the two of them were to remain friends for the rest of their lives.

Heidegger joined the Nazi Party in 1933, which may have disturbed Jonas, as he was Jewish and an active Zionist. Certainly, in 1964 Jonas would repudiate his mentor Heidegger, for his affiliation with the Nazis. He left Germany for England in 1933, and from England he moved to Palestine in 1934. There he met Lore Weiner, to whom he became betrothed. In 1940 he returned to Europe to join the British Army which had been arranging a special brigade for German Jews wanting to fight against Hitler (See The Jewish Brigade). He was sent to Italy, and in the last phase of the war moved into Germany. Thus, he kept his promise that he would return only as a soldier in the victorious army. In this time he wrote several letters to Lore about philosophy, in particular philosophy of biology, that would form the basis of his later publications on the subject. They finally married in 1943.

Immediately after the war he returned to Mönchengladbach to search for his mother but found that she had been sent to the gas chambers in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Having heard this, he refused to live in Germany again. He returned to Palestine and took part in Israel's war of independence in 1948. Jonas taught briefly at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem before moving to North America. In 1950 he left for Canada, teaching at Carleton University. From there he moved in 1955 to New York City, where he was to live for the rest of his life. He was a fellow of the Hastings Center and Professor of Philosophy at New School for Social Research from 1955 to 1976 (where he was Alvin Johnson Professor). From 1982 to 1983 Jonas held the Eric Voegelin Visiting Professorship at the University of Munich. He died at his home in New Rochelle, New York, on 5 February 1993, aged 89.


English books

  • The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God & the Beginnings of Christianity (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958) ISBN 0-8070-5801-7
  • The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology (New York, Harper & Row, 1966) OCLC 373876 (Evanston, Ill. : Northwestern University Press, 2001). ISBN 0-8101-1749-5
  • The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of Ethics for the Technological Age (translation of Das Prinzip Verantwortung) trans. Hans Jonas and David Herr (1979). ISBN 0-226-40597-4 (University of Chicago Press, 1984) ISBN 0-226-40596-6
  • Philosophical Essays: From Ancient Creed to Technological Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974) ISBN 0-226-40591-5
    • "Technology and Responsibility: Reflections on the New Tasks of Ethics," Social Research 15 (Spring 1973).
    • "Jewish and Christian Elements in Philosophy: their Share in the Emergence of the Modern Mind"
    • "Seventeenth Century and After: The Meaning of the Scientific and Technological Revolution"
    • "Socioeconomic Knowledge and Ignorance of Goals"
    • "Philosophical Reflections on Experimenting with Human Subjects"
    • "Against the Stream: Comments on the Definition and Redefinition of Death"
    • "Biological Engineering—A Preview"
    • "Contemporary Problems in Ethics from a Jewish Perspective"
    • "Biological Foundations of Individuality"
    • "Spinoza and the Theory of Organism"
    • "Sight and Thought: A Review of 'Visual Thinking.'"
    • "Change and Permanence: On the Possibility of Understanding History."
    • "The Gnostic Syndrome: Typology of Its Thought, Imagination, and Mood."
    • "The Hymn of the Pearl: Case Study of a Symbol, and the Claims for a Jewish Origin of Gnosticism."
    • "Myth and Mysticism: A Study of Objectification and Interiorization in Religious Thought."
    • "Origen's Metaphysics of Free Will, Fall, and Salvation: a 'Divine Comedy' of the Universe."
    • "The Soul in Gnosticism and Plotinus."
    • "The Abyss of the Will: Philosophical Meditations on the Seventh Chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans."
  • Mortality and Morality: A Search for Good After Auschwitz ed. Lawrence Vogel (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996). ISBN 0-8101-1286-8
  • With Stuart F Spicker: Organism, medicine, and metaphysics : essays in honor of Hans Jonas on his 75th birthday, May 10, 1978 ISBN 90-277-0823-1
  • On faith, reason and responsibility (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978. New edition: Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate School, 1981.) ISBN 0-940440-00-8
  • Memoirs (Brandeis University Press, 2008) ISBN 978-1-58465-639-5

English monographs

  • Immortality and the modern temper : the Ingersoll lecture, 1961 (Cambridge : Harvard Divinity School, 1962) OCLC 26072209 (included in The Phenomenon of Life)
  • Heidegger and theology (1964) OCLC 14975064 (included in The Phenomenon of Life)
  • Ethical aspects of experimentation with human subjects (Boston:American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1969) OCLC 19884675.


  • Gnosis und spätantiker Geist (1–2, 1934–1954)
  • Technik, Medizin und Ethik — Zur Praxis des Prinzips Verantwortung — Frankfurt a.M. : Suhrkamp, 1985 — ISBN 3-518-38014-1 ('On technology, medicine and ethics' — On the practice of the imperative of Responsibility.' Not translated into English yet.)
  • Das Prinzip Verantwortung: Versuch einer Ethik für die technologische Zivilisation (Frankfurt am Main : Insel-Verlag, 1979). ISBN 3-458-04907-X
  • Erinnerungen. Nach Gesprächen mit Rachel Salamander, ed. Ch. Wiese. Frankfurt am Mein-Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 2003.
  • Macht oder Ohnmacht der Subjektivität? Das Leib-Seele-Problem im Vorfeld des Prinzips Verantwortung. Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1981, and then Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1987. ISBN 3-458-04758-1
  • Erkenntnis und Verantwortung, Gespräch mit Ingo Hermann in der Reihe “Zeugen des Jahrhunderts”, Edited by I. Hermann. Göttingen: Lamuv, 1991.
  • Philosophische Untersuchungen und metaphysische Vermutungen. Frankfurt am Main: Insel, 1992, and then Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997.
  • Organismus und Freiheit. Ansätze zu einer philosophischen Biologie. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973.
  • Augustin und das paulinische Freiheitsproblem. Ein philosophischer Beitrag zur Genesis der christlich-abendländischen Freiheitsidee, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1930. Second edition entitled Augustin und das paulinische Freiheitsproblem. Eine philosophische Studie zum pelagianischen Streit, with an introduction by J. M. Robinson. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965.


  • Le concept de Dieu après Auschwitz ISBN 2-86930-769-1
  • Evolution et liberté ISBN 2-7436-0580-4
  • Le Principe responsabilité ISBN 2-0813-0769-3
  • Le Droit de mourir ISBN 2-7436-0104-3
  • With Sabine Cornille and Philippe Ivernel: Pour une éthique du futur ISBN 2-7436-0290-2
  • Une éthique pour la nature ISBN 2-220-04795-4
  • With Sylvie Courtine-Denamy: Entre le néant et l'éternité ISBN 2-7011-1923-5

Selected papers

  • "The Right to Die." Hastings Center Report 8, number 4 (1978): 31–36.
  • "Straddling the Boundaries of Theory and Practice: Recombinant DNA Research as a Case of Action in the Process of Inquiry." In Recombinant DNA: Science, Ethics and Politics, edited by J. Richards, 253–71. New York: Academic Press, 1978.
  • "Toward a Philosophy of Technology." Hastings Center Report 9 (1979): 34–43.
  • "The Heuristics of Fear." In Ethics in an Age of Pervasive Technology, edited by Melvin Kranzberg, 213–21. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1980.
  • "Parallelism and Complementarity: The Psycho-Physical Problem in Spinoza and in the Succession of Niels Bohr." In The Philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, edited by Richard Kennington, 121–30. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of the Americas Press, 1980.
  • "Reflections on Technology, Progress and Utopia." Social Research 48 (1981): 411–55.
  • "Technology as a Subject for Ethics." Social Research 49 (1982): 891–98.
  • "Is Faith Still Possible? Memories of Rudolf Bultmann and Reflections on the Philosophical Aspects of His Work." Harvard Theological Review 75 (1982): 1–23.
  • "Ontological Grounding of a Political Ethics: On the Metaphysics of Commitment to the Future of Man." Graduate Faculty Philosophical Journal 10, no. 1 (1984): 47–62.
  • "Ethics and Biogenetic Art." Social Research 52 (1985): 491–504.
  • "The Concept of God after Auschwitz: A Jewish Voice." Journal of Religion 67, number 1 (1987): 1–13.
  • "The Consumer's Responsibility." In Ecology and Ethics. A Report from the Melbu conference, 18–23 July 1990, edited by Audun 0fsti, 215–18. Trondheim: Nordland Akademi for Kunst og Vitenskap, 1992.
  • "The Burden and Blessing of Mortality." Hastings Center Report 22, no. 1 (1992): 34–40.
  • "Philosophy at the End of the Century: A Survey of Its Past and Future." Social Research 61, number 4 (1994): 812–32.
  • "Wissenschaft as Personal Experience [brief memoir]," The Hastings Center report 32:4 (Jul–Aug 2002): 27–35 ISSN 0093-0334
  • “Materialism and the Theory of Organism.” University of Toronto Quarterly, 21, 1 (1951): 39–52.

Other papers

  • "Causality and Perception," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 47, No. 11 (May 25, 1950), pp. 319–324
  • "The Nobility of Sight," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Jun., 1954), pp. 507–519. (also in The Phenomenon of Life)
  • "Immortality and the Modern Temper: The Ingersoll Lecture, 1961" The Harvard Theological Review, volume 55, number 1 (January 1962), pp. 1–20. (also in The Phenomenon of Life)
  • "The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics," The Journal of Religion, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 1962), pp. 262–273.
  • "Myth and Mysticism: A Study of Objectification and Interiorization in Religious Thought," The Journal of Religion, Vol. 49, No. 4 (October 1969), pp. 315–329
  • "Freedom of Scientific Inquiry and the Public Interest," The Hastings Center Report, volume 6, number 4 (August 1976), pp. 15–17.
  • The influence of Alfred North Whitehead is plain. Cf. Michel Weber and Will Desmond (eds.). Handbook of Whiteheadian Process Thought (Frankfurt / Lancaster, Ontos Verlag, Process Thought X1 & X2, 2008)

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