Jewish Philosopher Awarded German Booksellers Prize
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Jewish Philosopher Awarded German Booksellers Prize

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An elderly German-born Jewish philosopher who has taught at the Hebrew University and in Canada and the United States has been awarded the 1987 German Booksellers Association Prize. Hans Jonas, 84, a resident of New Rochelle, NY, is slated to receive the award in October in Frankfurt. A jury of 11 women and one man selected Jonas for the prize.

The selection of Jonas is “timely,” according to an English translation in The German Tribune of an article in the Deutsches Allgemeines Sonntagsblatt of Hamburg. The book for which he was awarded his prize, Das Prinzip Verantwortung (The Principle of Answering), is described as a singular volume, after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, “that addresses itself effectively to the search for an ethical system in our technological civilization.”

Jonas, who has lived in the U.S. since 1955, was born in Monchengladbach, and was a student of such outstanding philosophers as Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl. His graduating thesis was on mystical knowledge — gnosis.

He received a Ph.D. summa cum laude from the University of Marburg at the age of 25. He has honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the New School for Social Research in New York, as well as an honorary Doctor of Theology from his alma mater at Marburg, bestowed in 1976. Jonas was chairman of the New School’s philosophy department from 1957-73. He has taught widely at major American universities.


Jonas left Germany in 1933 with the advent of the Nazis, going to Palestine via Britain. He served with the Royal British Artillery from 1940-45, and fought in Israel’s War of Independence from 1948-49. His mother died in Auschwitz.

Jonas, who has authored eight books and many scholarly papers, has returned to his mother tongue for the first time in 50 years with “The Principle of Answering.” He wrote the book in German as “a sober appraisal of his later years,” according to the German newspaper article.

In the book, he wrote, “Prometheus Chained, to whom science attributes unknown powers and to economics untiring effort, cries out for a system of ethics that, with voluntary restraints, holds back the powers of man from being a disaster.” The book is dedicated to his children Ayalah, Jonathan and Gabrielle. But, says the German newspaper article, “He dedicated it in essence to us all.”

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