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Introduction Ethics After Auschwitz: Hans Jonas’s Notion Of Responsibility In A Technological Age

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Chapter Summary

Wilhelmine Germany was in many respects a golden age of Jewish upward social mobility, despite the emergence, circa 1890, of a venomous racial anti-Semitism. Hans Jonas belonged to a generation of assimilated Jews who came to view such opportunities for self-advancement as a birthright. His response was contained in lectures and essays that were later collected in the Phenomenon of Life. As Jonas developed his philosophical biology, a series of potent new threats to life as we know it emerged. World War II bequeathed two horrific signifiers for future generations to ponder: Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Humanity?s capacity to alter the balance of nature affects not just our species but potentially the totality of organic life. Jonas invokes this fact to argue for an ontological extension of our ethical horizon: a broadening of ethics that would transcend the human realm and encompass being as such.

Keywords: Auschwitz; Germany; Hans Jonas; Hiroshima; Jews

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