Hans Jonas was born in Mönchengladbach, on 10 May 1903. He studied 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. Hans Jonas 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. Hans Jonas died at his home in New Rochelle, New York, on 5 February 1993, aged 89.
- May, 10, 1903
- Mönchengladbach, Germany
- February, 05, 1993
- New Rochelle, New York