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The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology
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The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  76 Ratings  ·  8 Reviews
One of the most prominent thinkers of his generation, Hans Jonas wrote on topics as diverse as the philosophy of biology, ethics, social philosophy, cosmology, and Jewish theology -- always with a view to understanding morality as the root of our moral responsibility to safeguard humanity's future. A classic of phenomenology and existentialism and arguably Jonas's greatest ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 28th 2001 by Northwestern University Press (first published January 1st 1966)
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Bob Nichols
Dec 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this series of twelve essays, Jonas critiques a Western philosophy of mind and a Western philosophy of the organism. His main argument runs something like this: Descartes separated the human mind from its body; the mind then ascends in Western science,the body floats away to insignificance, and modern-day existentialism and nihilism is the result. There is now a "reduction of the formal essence of life to the vanishing point of a mere vital momentum without specific original content...." Noth ...more
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. Jonas belongs among the great 20th century political theorists/scientists/philosophers like Voegelin, Strauss, and Arendt. In this book, he weaves together his "existential interpretation of biological facts" with reflections on the senses, gnosticism, nihilism, ontology, ethics, dualism, Darwinism, and more.
Aug 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Jonas attempts to create an "existential biology" which adopts the existential analysis of subjectivity created by Heidegger, but reads subjectivity as a fundamental feature of all living things.

I find this somewhat difficult to accept fully -- I can accept gorillas, fish, and spiders as subjects in some attenuated sense, but can't do so for mosses and fungi, as Jonas requires. Jonas wants to be both a Darwinian and an Aristotelian, and this puts irresolvable tensions on his characterization of
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to samantha by: read it in Yaffe's Metaphysics class
Hans Jonas' elegantly written and, I would say, spiritually moving argument against Descartes' dualism and the worldview of a purely mathematical and mechanical universe. I can't seem to get away from thinking about this book and will be re-reading it soon!
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Jonas changed that ways that I think and feel about life and living organisms. This number here opens your eyes to a new perspective on creatures that metabolize. If you think Continental philosophy is for guys with ugly mustaches -- give this one a try. His arguments against Descartes are awesome, to the max.
Mo'ona KR
Apr 24, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book is for you if you are given to abstract thinking, have a strong vocabulary base, and are not afraid to stretch your mind. As for me, it was a required reading and it felt torturous! Life is complicated enough as it is; don't need philosophy to reiterate that!
A difficult read, but it was very thought-provoking.
Hunter Keane
Jul 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
I was required to read this book for school. Jonas addresses a lot of truth in his book, but his abstract and drawn out writing style was too much for me.
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Hans Jonas was a German-born philosopher who was, from 1955 to 1976, Alvin Johnson Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
Jonas' writings were very influential in different spheres. For example, The Gnostic Religion, first published in 1958, was for many years the standard work in English on the subject of Gnosticism.
The Imperative of Responsibility (German
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“That nature does not care, one way or the other, is the true abyss. That only man cares, in his finitude facing nothing but death, alone with his contingency and the objective meaninglessness of his projecting meanings, is a truly unprecedented situation... Will replaces vision; temporality of the act outsts the eternity of the "good-in-itself"As the product of the indifferent, his being, too, must be indifferent. Then the facing of his morality would simply warrant the reaction "let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." There is no point in caring for what has no sanction behind it in any creative intention.” 0 likes
“In living things, nature springs an ontological surprise in which the world-accident of terrestrial conditions brings to light an entirely new possibility of being: systems of matter that are unities of a manifold, not in virtue of a synthesizing perception whose object they happen to be, nor by the mere concurrence of the forces that bind their parts together, but in virtue of themselves, for the sake of themselves, and continually sustained by themselves. Here wholeness is self-integrating in active performance, and form for once is the cause rather than the result of the material collections in which it successively subsists. Unity here is self-unifying, by means of changing multiplicity. Sameness, while it last, (and it does not last inertially, in the manner of static identity or of on-moving continuity), is perpetual self-renewal through process, borne on the shift of otherness. This active self-integration of life alone gives substance to the term “individual”: it alone yields the ontological concept of an individual as against a merely phenomenological one. The ontological individual, its very existence at any moment, its duration and its identity in duration is, then, essentially its own function, its own concern, its own continuous achievement. In this process of self-sustained being, the relation of the organism to its own concern, its own continuous achievement.
In this process of self-sustained being, the relation of the organism to its material substance is of a double nature: the materials are essential to its specifically, accidental individually; it coincides with their actual collection at the instant, but is not bound to any one collection in the succession of instants, “riding” their change like the crest of a wave and bound only to their form of collection which endures as its own feat. Dependent on their availability as materials, its is independent of their sameness as these; its own, functional identity, passingly incorporating theirs, is of a different order. In a word, the organic form stands in a dialectical relation of needful freedom to matter.”
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