Hans Jonas on Heidegger’s Paganism


While my students were feverishly writing their responses to their final exam I decided to have another look at Hans Jonas’ essay I mentioned yesterday.  It’s far more polemical than I remembered.  It’s quite enjoyable to read, actually.  Early on in his essay, “Heidegger and Theology,” (in the wonderful collection of essays entitled Phenomenon of Life republished by Northwestern fairly recently) Hans Jonas suggests that what it so tempting to Christian theologians, especially given the late Heidegger, is the “seeming, false humility of Heidegger’s shifting initiative to Being.” What lies behind or beyond this false humility?  Here’s Jonas: “the most enormous hubris in the whole history of thought.”  Whoa (and this is almost 25 odd years prior to the “Farias revelations” in which many Heideggerians ran for Levinasian cover).  Jonas sees Heidegger’s humility as fundamentally immoral, akin to what Levinas might call “participation” in that which is, and therefore, must be, rather than what should be. Jonas comments on Heidegger’s hubris:

For it is nothing less than the thinker’s claiming that through him speaks the essence of things itself, and thus the claim to an authority which no other thinker should ever claim.  And moreover it is the claim that in principle the basic human condition, that of being at a distance to things can be remitted, avoided, overcome.  The claim, that is, to a possible immediacy that perhaps has a place in the person-to-person relation, but no in the relation to impersonal being and things and the world. Continue reading