Philosopher Ágnes Heller, full member of the MTA passes away

Ágnes Heller (1929–2019)

Philosopher Ágnes Heller, full member of the MTA unexpectedly passed away at the age of 91 on 19 July.

Ágnes Heller was born in Budapest in 1929. During World War 2, stricter and stricter anti-Semitic laws made life for her and her family all but unbearable, but Ágnes Heller managed to escape deportation.

After the war, she studied Hungarian grammar and literature as well as philosophy at a Budapest university. She obtained her degree in 1951. In 1955, she received her doctorate in philosophy, and in 1967 she gained her doctoral degree in philosophy (equivalent to a PhD). In 1958, she was summarily dismissed from the university owing to her role in the 1956 revolution. She taught at a secondary grammar school for the next five years while her writings could not be published anywhere.

From 1963 on, she studied philosophy as a member of the Sociology Research group of the MTA. In 1968, she signed the petition against the invasion of Czechoslovakia, for which she was yet again reprimanded. In a 1973 resolution, the Political Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP) declared Ágnes Heller’s views anti-Marxist. In the following four years, being “politically unemployable” she made a living by translating materials.

In 1977, she left Hungary together with her second husband philosopher Ferenc Fehér. At first, she taught at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and from 1986 on she became a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. She returned to Hungary in 1989, and from 1995 she taught at the Philosophy Department of the Szeged University (JATE) and the Aesthetics Department of ELTE, Budapest, while she also held courses in New York. Although she retired in 1999, she continued teaching from 2010 as a professor emeritus at the Aesthetics Department of ELTE. She was elected a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1990, and she became a full member in 1995.

Ágnes Heller’s main field of interest was ethics and the philosophy of history. At the beginning of her career, her thoughts were characterized by Marxism and belonged to the new left wing. Later she analyzed ethics and the modern world from a postmodern perspective, offering new approaches to solve important problems of social theory.

She was awarded, among others, the Lessing and the Széchenyi Award, as well as the Goethe Plaque.

Both the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the city of Budapest have declared their honour for Ágnes Heller.