Erich Unger's Essays

Most of these essays were written in German, and they have been translated into English by his daughter Esther Ehrman. The essay introductions on this page are written by Esther Ehrman.

Special Universals - a Jewish Perspective?
This short essay was written in the 1930s while Unger was living in Paris. His attitude to the intellectual fashions of the day was ambiguous. He was fascinated by the fact that Jewish minds had so much to contribute and wondered whether there is such a thing as a Jewish mindset.

A Jewish history of the Second World War
Written by Erich Unger before he died in 1950, this 'Jewish History' traces the development and the changing fortunes of the war from its inception. It sets out to present a Jewish perspective. It is not the perspective of the protagonists in that war, as Unger repeatedly emphasises. The reader must judge whether it is a justified perspective.

Conversation on Immortality
During World War 2, German Jews living in England were interned together with other German nationals. A sizeable group was sent to the Isle of Man. The Jewish internees included academics, musicians and other professionals and they soon organised themselves for lectures, discussions, concerts and more. Unger was among the internees and his essay on Immortality, written in the 1940s, makes use of that experience as a setting for the essay - not knowing whether one would survive made the subject topical.

As did Greek philosophers, as did Maimonides and Leibnitz, Unger explores the non-corporeal character of the Self. Unger's interest is the relationship of that Self, conscious and un/sub conscious, to the individual and to the collective and whether that would enable its survival.

The Living and the Divine
The opening sections discuss Unger's philosophical line in fairly general terms. The bulk of the essay is devoted to his particular view on the evolution of life that ultimately allows man to apprehend a higher reality.

The essay can also be seen as an example of the application of 'the imagination of reason', a faculty that enables us to understand the world beyond our immediate experience.(cf. E.Unger, The Imagination of Reason, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1952).

The Story of the Garden of Eden
In this essay on the second chapter of the Book of Genesis in the Pentateuch, a single example serves to demonstrate the possibility that a so-called mythological narrative can not only anticipate that which will later be termed reality, but can itself provide knowledge equivalent in value to that later knowledge.

Hermann Cohen and Martin Buber
Both the essays presented here were intended by Unger as Chapters in a book on Modern Jewish Philosophy. Unger did not live to complete the work and these essays remained unpublished. They were written in English.

Do Philosophers Disagree?
In this essay, Unger addresses the vexed question of the disagreements between schools of philosophy. Can truth be both black and white? Differences may be caused by problems of language, but the underlying conflicts can only be resolved if we examine the true function of philosophy.

Mankind and the Planet, past, present and future
This fairly ambitious essay takes a philosophical view of the evolution of man, projecting a group/society development. Unger discusses the inter action of man and nature and the parallel progress of the group form and ethics towards a goal that would seem to tally with the ultimate Biblical values, although that is not how it is presented.

Scepticism regarding the Nature of God
This unfinished essay struggles with the problem that, by definition, the concept of the Divine, is outside of the limits of humankind and how, other than through revelation, the human mind can understand and hence relate to the Divine. Unger suggests that we do have the necessary tools.

Reason and Judaism
This short essay is complete, but I believe it was not published because the ideas would seem to need quite a lot of elaboration. Unger argues that ritual has an important place in a religion because he sees it as continuing the commentators' role of understanding the Biblical text. Reason can only go so far, but is guided in its explanations beyond that point by making guesses that are rational.

Cosmo Religious Concepts God Man and Evolution
In this unfinished essay Unger embarks on an unusual argumentation in the discussion on evolution. The Divine is totally 'other', yet the whole of reality is part of the Divine. Creation/becoming is, as it were, a Divine function and Unger argues that human evolution would not affect the biological individual; it would take the direction of a human group unit.

Originality of Jews
In this - again unfinished - essay, Unger sets out to give a reply to the cliche that Jewish contribution to general culture has always been derivative, with great interpreters of music, literature etc, but lacking originality. He suggests that evidence of number theory can be found in the Pentateuch, well before the ideas of Pythagoras.