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Ágnes Heller

Ágnes Heller
Ágnes Heller Göteborg Book Fair 2015.jpg
Ágnes Heller (2015)
Born 12 May 1929
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Main interests
Political theory

Ágnes Heller (born 12 May 1929) is a Hungarian philosopher.

Ágnes Heller was raised in a middle-classJewish family. During World War II her father used his legal training and knowledge of German to help people get together the necessary paperwork to emigrate from Nazi Europe. In 1944, Heller’s father was deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp where he died before the war ended. Heller and her mother managed to avoid deportation.

With regard to the influence of the Holocaust on her work, Heller has said:

In 1947, Heller began to study physics and chemistry at the University of Budapest. She changed her focus to philosophy, however, when her boyfriend at the time urged her to listen to the lecture of the philosopher György Lukács, on the intersections of philosophy and culture. She was immediately taken by how much his lecture addressed her concerns and interests in how to live in the modern world, especially after the experience of World War II and the Holocaust.

1947 was also the year that Heller joined the Communist Party while at a Zionist work camp and began to develop her interest in Marxism. However, she felt that the Party was stifling the ability of its adherents to think freely due to the belief in Democratic centralism (total allegiance) to the Party. She was expelled from it for the first time in 1949, the year that Mátyás Rákosi came into power and ushered in the years of Stalinist rule.

After 1953 and the installation of Imre Nagy as Prime Minister, Heller was able to safely undertake her doctoral studies under the supervision of Lukács, and in 1955 she began to teach at the University of Budapest.

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Nicholas Winton
Wallenberg Medalist
Succeeded by
Masha Gessen

I was always interested in the question: How could this possibly happen? How can I understand this? And this experience of the holocaust was joined with my experience in the totalitarian regime. This brought up very similar questions in my soul-search and world investigation: how could this happen? How could people do things like this? So I had to find out what morality is all about, what is the nature of good and evil, what can I do about crime, what can I figure out about the sources of morality and evil? That was the first inquiry. The other inquiry was a social question: what kind of world can produce this? What kind of world allows such things to happen? What is modernity all about? Can we expect redemption?
the regime just could not tolerate any other opinion; that is what a totalitarian regime is. But a totalitarian regime cannot totalize entirely, it cannot dismiss pluralism; pluralism exists in the modern world, but it can outlaw pluralism. To outlaw pluralism means that the Party decided which kind of dissenting opinion was allowed. That is, you could not write something without it being allowed by the Party. But we had started to write and think independently and that was such a tremendous challenge against the way the whole system worked. They could not possibly tolerate not playing by the rules of the game. And we did not play by the rules of the game.
  • "The Marxist Theory of Revolution and the Revolution in Everyday Life" (Telos, Fall 1970)
  • "On the New Adventures of the Dialectic" (Telos, Spring 1977)
  • "Forms of Equality" (Telos, Summer 1977)
  • "Comedy and Rationality" (Telos, Fall 1980)
  • "The Antinomies of Peace" (Telos, Fall 1982)
  • "From Red to Green" (Telos, Spring 1984)
  • "Lukacs and the Holy Family" (Telos, Winter 1984-5)
  • A mai történelmi regény ("The Historical Novel Today", in Hungarian), Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 2011.
  • The insolubility of the "Jewish question", or Why was I born Hebrew, and why not negro? Budapest: Múlt és Jövő Kiadó, 2004.
  • Beyond Justice, Oxford, Boston: Basil Blackwell, 1988.
  • Can Modernity Survive?, Cambridge, Berkeley, Los Angeles: Polity Press and University of California Press, 1990.
  • Dictatorship Over Needs (with F. Fehér and G. Markus). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983.
  • Doomsday or Deterrence (with F. Fehér). White Plains: M. E. Sharpe, 1986
  • Eastern Left – Western Left (Freedom, Totalitarianism, Democracy) (with F. Fehér). Cambridge, New York: Polity Press, Humanities Press, 1987.
  • An Ethics of Personality, Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1996.
  • From Yalta to Glasnost (The Dismantling of Stalin's Empire) (with F. Fehér). Oxford, Boston: 1990.
  • General Ethics, Oxford, Boston: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
  • The Grandeur and Twilight of Radical Universalism (with F. Fehér). New Brunswick: Transaction, 1990.
  • The Humanisation of Socialism (with A. Hegedus et al.), (collected papers trans. from Hungarian). London: Allison and Busby, 1976.
  • Hungary, 1956 Revisited: The Message of a Revolution A Quarter of a Century After (with F. Fehér). London, Boston, Sydney: George Allen and Unwin, 1983.
  • Immortal Comedy: The Comic Phenomenon in Art, Literature, and Life, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc, November 2005.
  • Individuum and Praxis (Positionen der Budapester Schule), (collected essays trans. from Hungarian, with G. Lukács et al.). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1975.
  • On Instincts (English trans. of Hungarian original). Assen: Van Gorcum, 1979.
  • Lukács Revalued, editor. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983 (paperback, 1984).
  • A Philosophy of Morals, Oxford, Boston: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
  • The Postmodern Political Condition (with F. Fehér), Cambridge, New York: Polity Press Columbia University Press, 1989.
  • The Power of Shame (A Rationalist Perspective), London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.
  • Reconstructing Aesthetics, editor with F. Fehér. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986.
  • Renaissance Man (English trans. of Hungarian original). London, Boston, Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978.
  • A Theory of Modernity, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge MA, 1999.
  • The Theory of Need in Marx, London: Allison and Busby, 1976.
  • The Time is Out of Joint: Shakespeare as Philosopher of History, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge MA, 2000.
  • Towards a Marxist Theory of Value, Carbondale: University of Southern Illinois, Telos Books, 1972.
  • R. J. Crampton Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century-And Beyond. Second Edition. London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Ferenc Fehér and Agnes Heller (1983), Hungary 1956 Revisited: The Message of a revolution- a Quarter of a Century After, London, UK: George Allen and Unwin Publishers Ltd
  • John Grumley (2005), Ágnes Heller: A Moralist in the Vortex of History, London, UK: Pluto Press
  • Curriculum vitae of Ágnes Heller Archived April 8, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  • Agnes Heller (2000), The Frankfurt School, 2 December 2005.
  • Csaba Polony, "Interview with Ágnes Heller"
  • Simon Tormey (2001), Ágnes Heller: Socialism, Autonomy and the Postmodern, Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press
  • Fu Qilin, "Budapest School Aesthetics: An Interview with Agnes Heller", Thesis Eleven, 2008, Vol. 1, no. 94.
  • Agnes Heller, "Preface to A Study of Agnes Heller's thoughts about Aesthetic Modernity by Fu Qilin", Compatarative Literature, 2006, vol. 8, no. 1


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