Sunday, November 09, 2008

Hans Jonas: The Imperative of Responsibility

The following link is, in my opinion, essential reading. It is a review of the book Memoirs: Hans Jonas. As discussed in the review, and as is obvious to any educated human, the twentieth century saw the dismantling of ethics from philosophy, art, literature, and science. And in the process Hitler killed his 11 million, Stalin his 20 million, Mao his 70 million. Genocide persists from Cambodia to Darfur. Yet the arts, philosophy, and science have blinked and turned away, saying ethics are relative; there is no God; this is not our topic.

The core idea of this review is that we can not, must not abdicate our commitment to establishing, and living out, a set of values and moral responsibilities that create dignity and respect for all human beings. And as far as I’m concerned, at least when it comes to art and literature, any other topic is an utter waste of time.

From Powell’s Books, Review-a-Day for Thu, Nov 6: Memoirs: Hans Jonas (Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry:

The following is a juicy excerpt:
In his Memoirs, Jonas dismisses his early work on Gnosticism as a "journeyman's project," and prefers to stress the philosophical biology of his later years, but elsewhere in his work there is plenty of evidence for an intimate interrelation between the two. In "Gnosticism, Existentialism, and Nihilism," an essay that he published in 1952, Jonas suggested that the alienation of the ancient Gnostic from the created world was similar to that of the modern nihilist, with this difference: whereas the Gnostic creation had at least a negative transcendence, the modern one is completely indifferent, utterly wanting in the possibility of any and all transcendence, and therefore more terrifying. Already in the seventeenth century, with God not yet dead but increasingly non-interventionist in his creation, Pascal was getting scared: "Cast into the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened." But the terror of scientific modernity, entirely stripped of any teleological view of nature, is much worse. "That nature does not care, one way or the other, is the true abyss," Jonas declared. "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."

No comments: