Hans Jonas

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Hans Jonas (born May 10, 1903 in Mönchengladbach ; † February 5, 1993 in New Rochelle ) was a German- American philosopher who taught from 1955 to 1976 as a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. His main work is the work Das Principle Responsibility , published in 1979 and still highly effective today .


Mönchengladbach, Mozartstrasse 9 - this is where Hans Jonas grew up.
In front of the house there has been a stumbling block since 2008 for the philosopher's mother who was murdered in Auschwitz (left).

Hans Jonas was born in Mönchengladbach in 1903 as the son of the textile manufacturer Gustav Jonas and his wife Rosa, the daughter of the Krefeld chief rabbi Jakob Horowitz . Hans had an older brother, Ludwig (1901–1916), and a younger brother, Georg (1906–1994). In his youth he turned to local Zionist circles against his father's will . Jonas passed his Abitur in 1921 at the Stiftisches Humanist Gymnasium in Mönchengladbach. In the summer semester of the same year he began studying philosophy and art history at the University of Freiburg , where Edmund Husserl , Martin Heidegger and Jonas Cohn were among his lecturers. He also met Karl Löwith .

In the winter semester Jonas enrolled in Berlin at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität for philosophy, where Eduard Spranger , Ernst Troeltsch , Hugo Gressmann , Ernst Sellin and Eduard Meyer were among his lecturers. He also studied Jewish Studies at the University for the Science of Judaism with Julius Guttmann , Harry Torczyner and Eduard Baneth, among others . Here he met Leo Strauss and Günther Anders née. Stern, the later first husband of Hannah Arendt . In Berlin he became a member of the Jewish student association “Maccabea Berlin”.

In March 1923 Jonas began an agricultural training, Hachshara , which was supposed to prepare the Aliyah (emigration to Palestine). In October of the same year, however, he decided to continue his studies and returned to Freiburg to do so. In the following semester he followed Martin Heidegger , whose student circle he belonged to, to Marburg (teacher here among others Rudolf Bultmann ). There he established a lifelong friendship with Hannah Arendt, which was only interrupted for some time because of disputes over Arendt's work Eichmann in Jerusalem . And Jonas developed his constant interest in gnosis .

After Jonas had decided on a doctorate in 1928, he switched briefly between the universities of Heidelberg , Bonn and Frankfurt , but then returned to Marburg and began working on his dissertation The Concept of Gnosis with Heidegger . His second work, Augustine and the Pauline Freedom Problem, followed in 1930 . A philosophical contribution to the genesis of the Christian-occidental idea of ​​freedom - a topic related to Arendt's dissertation, Der Liebesbegriff in Augustin .

After the handover of power to the National Socialists , Hans Jonas emigrated to London in September 1933, from there to Jerusalem in 1935 , where he joined the Hagana . When the Second World War broke out , he formulated a call for war under the title Our participation in this war. A word to Jewish men and join the UK Armed Forces . In 1940 he was trained as a flak helper in Sarafant and then defended Haifa against air raids from Damascus and Beirut with the First Palestine Anti-Aircraft Battery . Michael Evenari , who served with him, recalls:

“Since the English were completely unprepared for the war, there were no English flak cannons in Palestine. Our cannons were small guns captured from the Italians, which we called "pea shooters". We had to find out for ourselves how they worked and invent better aiming devices for them. Hans Jonas, a doctor of philosophy and later a well-known philosophy professor in North America, stood out in particular. He was therefore promoted to »armourer«. "

In 1943, Hans Jonas married Lore Weiner , whom he had met on Purim in 1937. In 1944 he joined the newly founded Jewish Brigade ( Jewish Brigade Group in). After his training in Alexandria he was deployed with his association in Italy . From here the brigade moved on through liberated Italy and later across defeated Germany to Belgium and Holland. In July 1945 Jonas was stationed with his association in Venlo and was able to return to Mönchengladbach. Here he found out about his mother's murder in Auschwitz . Strict entry regulations by the British had prevented the other members of the Jonas family from following him together, which is why Rosa Jonas had given one of his brothers the entry permit.

From 1948 to 1949 Jonas served in the Israeli army . In 1949 he moved to Canada and finally to New York in 1955. He was a fellow at McGill University Montreal and 1950 to 1954 at Carleton University Ottawa and then professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. He was visiting professor at Princeton University , Columbia University , University of Chicago and Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich .

Jonas received numerous international awards for his work, in 1984 the Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize (together with Fritz Stern ), in 1987 the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade , the Great Federal Cross of Merit , the honorary citizenship of his hometown Mönchengladbach, numerous honorary doctorates such as from the University of Konstanz (Philosophy) and the award of honorary memberships in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Cambridge / Mass.)

He died in New York in 1993. In 2003, on the 10th anniversary of his death, his autobiography Memoirs was published . Also in 2003, a special postage stamp from Deutsche Post appeared on his 100th birthday.


Initially, Jonas mainly dealt with topics related to the history of the humanities and philosophy. His main interest was in the late antique gnosis, which he interpreted from an existential-philosophical perspective as an expression of the basic human experience of a deep division between self and world.

Later work developed the concept of a philosophical biology , as ontologically oriented philosophy of organic to in Gnosticism and modern times alike fracturing dualism of subject and object , spirit and matter , soul and body , freedom and necessity tries to overcome theoretically. According to her, the organic already in its phylogenetically and ontogenetically elementary forms pre- empts the spiritual, while the spirit, conversely, always remains part of the organic in its highest and most subtle achievements. So z. For example, freedom, which essentially characterizes everything spiritual, is interpreted as a principle already laid down in the organic process of metabolism , which nevertheless develops into forms that are more and more developed in terms of the history of the species, depending on its material foundations.

On this natural-philosophical basis, Jonas finally turned increasingly to ethical questions, which particularly concerned the relationship between humans and nature and their use of technology . Compared to the ethics of modern times, which were primarily related to humans as thinking and acting subjects, the ontological point of view remained decisive: what is good and right is not primarily due to subjective reflection , but is, as it were, objectively mapped out in being itself.

Jonas' main work was published in 1979 under the title The Principle of Responsibility - An attempt at ethics for technological civilization . The well-known quote, which is based on Kant's categorical imperative and is also known as an ecological imperative, comes from the work with the title turned against Ernst Bloch's main work, The Principle of Hope :

"Act in such a way that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of real human life on earth."

- The principle of responsibility

Most recently, Jonas also sought to define this ethical responsible approach for specific fields of application such as ecology , medicine and especially biomedicine .

In his later work, Jonas again turned increasingly to questions of religious philosophy , which in particular subjected his own Jewish tradition to a new reading. His contribution to the theodicy question after Auschwitz is of particular importance here . In order to be able to speak of God at all after the murder of millions of Jews in Europe, the notion of God's omnipotence must be given up. God, who exposed himself to its accidental, evolutionary becoming in the creation of the world , remains benevolent and is in communication with his creation, but he cannot influence the course of the world himself. As a result, man alone bears responsibility for the evil in the world. To illustrate this, he designed “a piece of undisguised speculative theology”, the self-conceived “myth of a God becoming and suffering”:

“In the beginning, from an unknowable choice, the divine ground of being decided to give in to chance, risk and the endless variety of becoming. And entirely: Since she entered the adventure of space and time, the deity held nothing back from herself. (...) Rather, so that the world might be and be for himself, God renounced his own being; he undressed his deity in order to receive it back from the odyssey of time, laden with the chance harvest of unpredictable temporal experience, transfigured or perhaps also distorted by it. (…) With the appearance of man, the transcendence to oneself awoke. (…) Every species difference that evolution brings about adds one's own to the possibilities of feeling and doing and thus enriches the self-experience of the divine ground. (...) Creation was the act of absolute sovereignty with which it [note: the deity] consented to no longer be absolute for the sake of the existence of self-determined finitude - an act of divine self-alienation. (...) After he gave himself completely to the developing world, God has nothing more to give: Now it is up to man to give him. "

- Hans Jonas: The concept of God after Auschwitz. A Jewish voice. Suhrkamp 1984, pp. 15-47.


  • Giving the bad prognosis priority over the good one is responsible action with regard to future generations.
  • In the light of its weather from the future, in the foresight of its planetary - global - scope and its humane depth, first of all the ethical principles can be discovered from which the new duties of new power can be derived.

Works (selection)

Single issues

  • The concept of Gnosis , Marburg, 1930, DNB 570748143 , Philosophical Dissertation, University of Marburg 1928, 52 pages, 8 °, in the book trade as: Gnosis and late antique spirit. in two pieces:
    • Part 1: The Mythological Gnosis . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1934; 4th edition (= research on the religion and literature of the Old and New Testaments, 51, NF .: Heft 33), 1988, ISBN 3-525-53123-0 .
    • Part 2: From Mythology to Mystical Philosophy . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1954; (= Research on the religion and literature of the Old and New Testaments , issue 159), 1993, ISBN 3-525-53841-3 .
  • Gnosis: The Message of the Strange God , Verlag der Weltreligionen, paperback, 2008, ISBN 978-3-458-72008-9 .
  • Organism and freedom. Approaches to a Philosophical Biology. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1973, ISBN 3-525-01311-6 .
  • The principle of responsibility . Attempting ethics for technological civilization. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1979, ISBN 978-3-458-04907-4 .
  • with Dietmar Mieth : What is vital for tomorrow. Undiscovered future values. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1983, ISBN 3-451-19817-7 .
  • The concept of God after Auschwitz. A Jewish voice . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-38016-8 .
  • Power or powerlessness of subjectivity? . The mind-body problem in the run-up to the principle of responsibility. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-38013-3 .
  • 1987: Technology, Medicine and Ethics. To practice the principle of responsibility . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-518-38014-1 .
  • 1988: Matter, Spirit and Creation: Cosmological Findings and Cosmogonic Conjecture. Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-518-38080-X .
  • 1992: Philosophical Investigations and Metaphysical Conjectures. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 3-518-38779-0 .
  • 1993: Closer to the bad end. Conversations about the relationship between humans and nature. Edited by Wolfgang Schneider. Suhrkamp, ​​1993, ISBN 3-518-38697-2 .
  • 1997: The principle of life. Approaches to a Philosophical Biology. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1997, ISBN 3-518-39198-4 .
  • 2003: memories . After talking to Rachel Salamander . Edited and epilogue Christian Wiese, Insel, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-458-17156-8 .

Work edition

See also



  • Jürgen Nielsen-Sikora: Hans Jonas. For freedom and responsibility . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2017, ISBN 978-3-534-74319-3 .
  • Franz Josef Wetz: Hans Jonas for an introduction . Junius, Hamburg 1994.
  • Christian Wiese: Hans Jonas. Philosopher and Jew together. Jewish publishing house in Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003, ISBN 3-633-54194-2 .

Life, work and individual aspects

  • Dietrich Böhler (Ed.): Ethics for the future. In a discourse with Hans Jonas. Beck, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-406-38655-5 .
  • Dietrich Böhler: Responsibility for the human. Hans Jonas and Ethics in Medicine Hans Jonas Memorial Lecture. Palm & Enke, Erlangen, Jena 1998 ISBN 3-7896-0589-1
  • Dietrich Böhler, Jens Peter Brune (ed.): Orientation and responsibility. Encounters and arguments with Hans Jonas. Königshausen & Neumann Verlag, Würzburg 2004 ISBN 3-8260-2816-3 .
  • Dietrich Böhler (Ed.): Hans Jonas. Fatalism would be a mortal sin. Conversations about ethics and shared responsibility in the third millennium. LIT, Münster 2005 ISBN 3-8258-7573-3 .
  • Gero von Boehm : Hans Jonas. 2nd September 1987 . Interview. In: Encounters. Images of man from three decades. Collection Rolf Heyne, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-89910-443-1 , pp. 159-166.
  • Eva Buddeberg: Responsibility in Discourse. Basic lines of a reconstructive-hermeneutic conception of moral responsibility following Hans Jonas, Karl-Otto Apel and Emmanuel Lévinas . De Gruyter, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-11-025146-3 .
  • David Dambitsch: "Education to shame against the destruction of nature" The philosopher of religion and technology, Hans Jonas, RIAS-Berlin, Kulturzeit am Sunday, July 5th, 1992.
  • Wolfgang Fasching:  Jonas, Hans. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 15, Bautz, Herzberg 1999, ISBN 3-88309-077-8 , Sp. 763-773.
  • Klaus Harms: Hannah Arendt and Hans Jonas. Foundations of a philosophical theology of world responsibility. WiKu Verlag, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-936749-84-1 .
  • Holger Hintzen: Paul Raphaelson and Hans Jonas. A Jewish kapo and an armed philosopher in the Holocaust. Greven, Cologne 2012 ISBN 978-3-7743-0496-3
  • Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn: Environment, Nature and Morality. A criticism of Hans Jonas, Georg Picht and Vittorio Hösle. Karl Alber, Freiburg im Breisgau, Munich 2000 ISBN 3-495-47976-7 .
  • Eric Jakob: Martin Heidegger and Hans Jonas. The metaphysics of subjectivity and the crisis of technological civilization. Franke, Tübingen 1996 ISBN 3-7720-2076-3 .
  • Alexander Klier: Environmental ethics: Against the ecological crisis. A critical comparison of the positions of Vittorio Hösle and Hans Jonas. Tectum, Marburg 2007 ISBN 978-3-8288-9391-7 .
  • Udo Lenzig: The risk of freedom. The concept of freedom in the philosophical work of Hans Jonas from a theological perspective (Forum Systematics. Contributions to Dogmatics, Ethics and Ecumenical Theology, Volume 28), Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2006 ISBN 3-17-019550-6 .
  • Alfons Matheis: Discourse as the basis of political design. The political-ethical model of discourse ethics as the legacy of the moral implications of Max Horkheimer's critical theory in comparison with the principle of responsibility by Hans Jonas. Rörig, St. Ingbert 1996 ISBN 3-86110-100-9 .
  • Wolfgang Erich Müller: The concept of responsibility in Hans Jonas. Athenaeum, Frankfurt 1988 ISBN 3-610-09114-2 .
  • Wolfgang Erich Müller: Hans Jonas. From Gnosis Research to the Ethics of Responsibility. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2003 ISBN 3-17-017178-X
  • Wolfgang Erich Müller: Hans Jonas. Philosopher of responsibility. Scientific Book Society , Darmstadt 2008, ISBN 978-3-534-17534-5 .
  • Frank Niggemeier: Duty to be careful? Hans Jonas' ethics of natural philosophy for technological civilization. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2002 ISBN 3-8260-2282-3
  • Sebastian Poliwoda: Supplying Being. The philosophical foundations of bioethics with Hans Jonas. Olms, Hildesheim 2005, ISBN 3-487-12993-0 .
  • Jörg Schubert: The 'principle of responsibility' as a constitutional legal principle. Legal philosophical and constitutional considerations on ethics of responsibility by Hans Jonas Nomos, Baden-Baden 1998, ISBN 3-7890-5697-9 .
  • Ruth Schwerdt: An ethic for care for the elderly. A transdisciplinary attempt from the discussion with Peter Singer, Hans Jonas and Martin Buber. Huber, Bern 1998, ISBN 3-456-82841-1 .
  • Ralf Seidel, Roman Seidel: Hans Jonas. Mönchengladbach 1997.
  • Ralf Seidel, Meiken Endruweit (ed.): The principle of the future. In dialogue with Hans Jonas. Mentis, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-89785-233-4
  • Jürgen Sikora: Joint responsibility. Hans Jonas, Vittorio Hösle and the basics of normative pedagogy. Gata, Eitorf 1999, ISBN 3-932174-45-3
  • Christian Wiese , Eric Jacobson (ed.): Further living in the world. On the topicality of Hans Jonas. Philo, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-8257-0337-1
  • Bernd Wille: Ontology and ethics with Hans Jonas. Röll, Dettelbach 2002, ISBN 3-927522-54-6
  • Walther Christoph Zimmerli : Technology as “culture”. Olms, Hildesheim 2005, ISBN 3-487-12817-9

Concept of God and theodicy

  • Wolfgang Baum: God to Auschwitz. Reflections on the theodicy problem following Hans Jonas. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2003, ISBN 3-506-70136-3 .
  • Thomas Schieder: God's World Adventure. The question of God with Hans Jonas. 2nd Edition. Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 1998, ISBN 3-506-70198-3 .
  • Andreas Urs Sommer: God as servant of history. Hans Jonas' “Concept of God after Auschwitz”. In: Theological Journal. 51 (1995), pp. 340-356.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Digital Edition - Jüdischer Friedhof Mönchengladbach, e26-4032; URL: http://www.steinheim-institut.de/cgi-bin/epidat?id=e26-4032 (last changes - 2013-07-03 13:35).
  2. ^ Christian Wiese: The life and thought of Hans Jonas: Jewish dimensions UPNE, 2007, ISBN 978-1-58465-638-8 , p. 5.
  3. This controversy is also the subject of the film Hannah Arendt - Your thinking changed the world of Margarethe von Trotta with Barbara Sukowa as Hannah Arendt Ulrich Noethen as Hans Jonas.
  4. Michael Evenari: And the desert bear fruit. A life story . Bleicher, Gerlingen 1990, ISBN 3-88350-230-8 , p. 93. The book contains a detailed account of Evenari's time in the British Army and in the Jewish Brigade.
  5. friedenspreis-des-deutschen-buchhandels.de
  6. Obituary. Hans Jonas. In: Der Spiegel . Edition 6/1993. February 8, 1993.
  7. Hans Jonas: The principle of responsibility. Attempting ethics for technological civilization. Frankfurt am Main 1979, p. 36.
  8. Reviews: A Jewish Prisoner Who Became a Torturer . In: The world . July 1, 2012, and Two Jewish Fates . In: Rheinische Post . April 21, 2012.
  9. ^ Ed. Gladbacher Bank AG from 1922