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Customer reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars

on 1 December 2009
Hans Jonas, previously a pupil of Heidegger, in the main departs from his mentor's work and reaches out in rather sophisticated and at times obscure writing, into the depths of the deeply thinking man's way of understanding "The Phenomenon of Life". Much like the other reviewer I agree with them concerning Jonas's deeply insightful essays on the philosophy of organism and mind, which he categorically states must be aspects of the one philosophy of life. Jonas's essays are in general quite brilliant with snippets of real insight that tower above the ordinary and yet it is written so that this occurs as part of the process of discovery which seems to be going on as he writes.

His first essay considers the development or rather alteration in the philosophy of being extending from ancient Greek times into the modern era: animism, and the remarkable instance of thinking of life as at one time the natural mode of being followed by the idea that death is the natural mode instead or that life is a preparation for it. Dualism is considered as the fundamental barrier underlying the comprehension of life although idealism leads to problems no less troubling than say materialism or mechanism.

In the second essay he looks at the fundamental aspects of philosophical Darwinism with its final application of mechanism to the biological realm which for so long eluded the mechanists. Descartes started the trend with his machine-like approach to animals. The third essay considers the meaning of metabolism using James Jeans's, God as a mathematician quote to initiate the discussion. He notes that a living being is one that is never the same from one moment to the next "perpetual self-renewal through process". As another reviewer mentioned his fourth essay "To Move and to Feel: on the animal soul" is probably the most illuminating in the book. He considers what differs from animal to plant i.e. motility, perception and emotion. the ability to move using the evidence of perception leads to the idea of freedom, however how emotion is related to the above is less obvious althgough Jonas makes it so by simply stating that movement in pursuit or flight must necessarily lead to emotion because of its satisfaction or lack thereof. Plants possess immediacy in life between environment and the organism; animals are more separated than this being required to treat the environment as different from them to some degree at least.

Next, he analyses the ideas of cybernetics and some differences between machines and organisms noting that machines act by feedback mechanisms whereas an organism is "concerned in existing", this applies also to society where the cybernetic idea of information is empty. In the sixth essay he looks at perception through the senses: sight, hearing and touch in the main and how and why they vary in importance to man. He alludes as to why and how concepts such as space and time arise through the function of the senses themselves rather than being free constructions of the mind. This leads directly into the seventh essay on the difference between man and animal i.e. through the concept of image making rather than language or symbols. Again, as a previous reviewer notes, the later essays lack in depth, once he enters the realm of theology Jonas tends to outline his own beliefs rather than analysing them in depth as was done in his earlier essays; again the relationship between Gnosticism and modern thought bears fruit in contrast to the writing on Heidegger and theology.

All together a brilliant style with difficult writing. In contrast to the usual length of time needed to read a book this took considerably longer just to comprehend. Well worth getting, superb at times, original at others.
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