Aurel Kolnai


Biography of Aurel Kolnai

Aurel Thomas Kolnai (December 5, 1900 - June 28, 1973) was a 20th century philosopher and political theorist.

Kolnai was born in Budapest, Hungary to Jewish parents, but moved to Vienna before his twentieth birthday to enter Vienna University, studying under Heinrich Gomperz, Moritz Schlick, Felix Kaufmann, Karl Bühler, and Ludwig von Mises. It was also at this time that he became attracted to the thinking of Franz Brentano and the phenomenological thought of Brentano’s student Edmund Husserl. Kolnai studied under Husserl briefly in 1928 in Freiburg. During the early 1920s, Kolnai wrote as an independent scholar with little success. He graduated summa cum laude in 1926, publishing his dissertation on Der Ethische Wert und die Wirklichkeit, which was received favorably in Germany. In 1926, he also converted to Catholicism, largely influenced by G. K. Chesterton, whom Kolnai viewed as “a brilliant, if unsystematic phenomenologist of common experience.” He then began a career of political journalism, writing for Der Österreichische Volkswirt and Die Schöne Zukunft. Acutely aware of the real threat posed by the Nazi Party in Austria, he began writing for Der Österreichische Ständestaat, a periodical founded to combat Nazism and edited by Dietrich von Hildebrand. During this time, he also published some of his own philosophical writings including his Sexualethik, Der Ekel, Der Inhalt der Politik, and Der Versuch über den Haß. His philosophical writings were well received and generated excellent reviews though unfortunately little profit. During this time, the encroachment of the Nazi Party in Austria remained a major concern and in 1938, he published his critique of National Socialism titled The War Against the West. The Nazi threat compelled Kolnai to leave Austria in 1937, where he was then a citizen, and depart for France where he married Elisabeth Gemes in 1940, also a Catholic convert. The Vichy threat prevented the newly-wed Kolnai from remaining in France, and after a brief stay in England, Kolnai and his wife moved to Quebec where he accepted a teaching position at the University of Laval. Frustrated by what he saw as the oppressive parochial Catholicism and the rigid neo-Thomism, Kolnai left Quebec in 1955 and returned to England on a Nuffield Foundation Travel Grant. Though he had quite an extensive list of publications in five different languages, Kolnai had little luck finding a permanent professorship in Britain, and fraught with financial worries, his health began to rapidly decline. Due largely to the influence of Harry Acton, Bernard Williams, and David Wiggins, Kolnai was able to secure a part-time “Visiting Lectureship” at Bedford College at London University. In England at this time, Kolnai became very influenced by the English common-sense philosophy of G.E. Moore and other British intuitionists such as H.A. Prichard, E.F. Carritt, and W.D. Ross.[4] In 1961, he received a one-year research fellowship at Birmingham. In 1968, he accepted a visiting professor position at Marquette University in Wisconsin which he maintained until 1973 when he died of a heart attack. Kolnai’s wife Elisabeth worked on compiling, translating, and publishing his work until her death in 1982.

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