Overcoming the mentor: Heidegger's present and the presence of Heidegger in Karl Löwith's and Hans Jonas' postwar thought

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German scholars of Jewish origin who were students of Martin Heidegger in the 1920s and 1930s are frequently criticized for their supposed postwar refusal to 'disavow earlier liaisons with Heidegger.' These scholars are thus indicted for being fundamentally anti-liberal or apolitical, and for those reasons dangerous disciples of Heidegger. By examining the works of Karl Löwith and Hans Jonas, two of Heidegger's influential former students, the following paper presents a more nuanced reading of the relationship between master and disciples, namely that Jonas and Löwith operate with Heidegger's philosophical grammar in order to turn against Heidegger, philosophically and politically. Within this framework, the article fleshes out the crucial importance of theology to the understanding of Jonas' and Löwith's philosophical critique of Heidegger's thought. Following this theological turn, the paper demonstrates the complexity of Jonas' and Löwith's postwar approach, that is an anti-Heideggerian ethical and political quest which is anchored nonetheless in Heidegger's philosophy. As such, Jonas' and Löwith's political projects demonstrate the manner in which Heideggerian categories are not exhausted by Heidegger's own political interpretation; they grippingly denotes the aptitude to steer Heideggerian philosophy towards new ethical and political shores.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-264
Number of pages12
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
My thanks go to Ofer Nur and Dirk A. Moses for their helpful comments on earlier drafts and for their ongoing scholarly assistance and friendship. I thank also Ethan Kleinberg for his challenging remarks on an earlier draft, the anonymous readers and the editor of History of European Ideas.


  • Hans Jonas
  • Karl Löwith
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Modernity
  • Postwar philosophy
  • Secularization
  • Theology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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