Letters from Hans Jonas to Hans Blumenberg

Patrick Caulfield, Bishops, 2004


Commentary on the book just published in Germany

In the recent book published in Germany, Jonas' Letters to Blumenberg (Briefwechsel 1954-1978 and new material), we are confronted with the problem of the relationship between the Modern Age and the Gnosticism of Late Antiquity.

For some like Eric Voeglin, everything is Gnostic and modernity is a relapse of the Gnostic heresy. For you doktorvater, Hans Kelsen, modernity has none of the secularization of the Gnostic religion.

In line with Hans Kelsen, Hans Blumenberg accepts that modernity has overcome the Gnostic danger with the growing autonomy of man, technique and science. Unlike Eric Voeglin, however, he faces the danger that this autonomy is lost and secularization is in vain.

In these letters, we see Hans Blumenberg's admiration for Hans Jonas, who has a very deep position. In a thesis guided by Martin Heidegger, Hans Jonas asserts that gnosis einmalich: it happened once in late antiquity and only reappeared in the existentialist phenomenological and hermeneutical philosophy of Martin Heidegger.

“To this his disagreements Toward the end of his life, Scholem summed up their differences in a letter: ''Your definition of gnosis is not mine, and to discuss it would make no sense. For me, gnosis is a structure in religious thought that reproduces itself again and again. For you it is a unique historical-philosophical phenomenon.'' (Scholem to Jonas, November 14, 1977, in: Gershom Scholem, Brief III 1971–1982, ed. Itta Shedletzky).

For this purpose, Hans Jonas uses a chapter from the work fall of the west, by Oswald Spengler, on Arab culture, from which he interprets, in the light of a concept of mineralogy, that Arab culture in Law is a pseudomorphosis of Roman culture: it incorporates ancient concepts, but reinterprets them in a modern sense, for example , Greek and Roman formalism, thanks to the Arabic concept of Tima it becomes the autonomy of the wills of the contracts.

In the same way, gnosis, a purely heretical phenomenon of late antiquity, reappears in Martin Heidegger with the analytical categories of the To be there. The letters bear witness to the shift in Hans Jonas' philosophy. Republishes his thesis, but rejects its conclusions, as he no longer has any interest in the phenomenological existentialism of his doktorvater. It resumes the concept of physical Greek and, in a sense, its philosophy ties in with the post-World War II revival of natural law.

Hans Blumenberg, delighted with the teachings of Hans Jonas, endeavored to bring him to Germany, to the city of Kiel, where he taught. Hans Jonas rejects it and prefers to stay in the United States.

At the end of the letters, we see a balance: Hans Blumenberg recognizes his mentor's success in not having gone to live in Germany, die Taterland, the land of criminals.

Hans Blumenberg, son of a Jewish woman, survives the holocaust in Germany at tremendous risk.

From this experience emerges what seems to us the greatest post-war German philosopher. Someone who, in 1940, wanted to become a priest in Catholic seminaries, but who, for racial reasons, was prevented. And, after the war, he becomes a skeptic, a lover of Greek philosophy like Hans Jonas. The way out is in paganism. How in your book The legitimacy of the modern age, Hans Blumenberg fought Carl Schmitt, who wanted to turn modern law into a theological law. He used Goethe's example: against God there are only other gods.

In Political Theology II, Carl Schmitt says that Goethe's “famous Latin motto,” nemo contra deum nisi deus ipse [against a god, only a god], “was cited and interpreted by Goethe-knowers [Goethe-Kennern] in innumerable secret [ nichtöffentlichen] conversations”. For Blumenberg, this motto came to represent both Goethe's “philosophical” act of resistance against the “absolute” power. Against a God, Only a God 'is devoted to the analysis of Goethe's work on the figure of Prometheus to fashion his self-image of him. In this regard, Blumenberg makes much of what he understands to be Goethe's own confection of the 'extraor-dinary saying': 'Only a god can stand against a god' ('Nemo contra deum nisi deus ipse')

In post-war history, in philosophy, we have what we celebrated 100 years ago with the Odysseus, the figure of juif grec: Hannah Arendt, Hans Jonas and Hans Blumenberg.

although the Jewish it's just a familiar reminiscence, as Hans Jonas said about the woman he loved most in his entire life, Arendt, this author's work is dedicated to recovering the concept of action, pragma. And where do we see it? In the Proverbs of Solomon: "give bread for life".

Cast thy bread upon the waters. What image fits this kind of action? I know none better than”casting your bread upon the waters,” of which the inimitable Biblical proverb promises that “you will find it after many days. (Eccl. 11:1).

*Ari Marcelo Solon is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among others, of books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the development of justice (prisms).



Hannes Bajohr (Ed.). Hans Blumenberg Hans Jonas Briefwechsel 1954-1978 und weitere Materialien. Berlin, Suhrkamp Verlag AG, 2022, 350 pages.


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