David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophy and Social Criticism 38 (3):289-311 (2012)
‘Gnosticism and Modern Nihilism’ (published in Social Research , 1952) is indeed one of Hans Jonas’ most famous essays, to which its author reserved very deep attention during his philosophical career. As a former pupil of Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann, Jonas started to deal with religious topics, and specifically with Gnosticism, from the very outset of his philosophical career in the 1920s. After gaining recognition thanks to his remarkable philosophical-existential interpretation of Gnosticism, he returned to the modern age and its philosophical characters. Principally, Jonas discovered that modern philosophy up to Heidegger and Sartre suffered from a peculiar spiritual disease – namely, nihilism – that he had already traced in ancient Gnosticism and that he intended to reject. Therefore, Jonas’ acquaintance with ancient religion and thinking gave him a deep insight into the modern age and provided him with a first glimpse of what was later to become his biological philosophy. However, whoever could imagine that the idea of tracing similarities between Gnosticism and modern thinking came to Jonas at the beginning of 1950 from the famous philosopher and biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy? In this article, I shall endeavour to demonstrate this thesis by quoting from unpublished documents. However, I shall also try to prove that Jonas did not follow von Bertalanffy’s advice completely. The overall aim is, therefore, both to highlight the origins of an essential turning point in the thinking of Hans Jonas, and, on such a basis, to outline the innovation and originality of his philosophical contribution
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