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Renowned German philosopher Ernst Tugendhat dies

March 13, 2023

Ernst Tugendhat, one of the most important proponents of linguistic-analytical philosophy in Germany, has died, aged 92. He considered basic linguistic structures as key to comprehending the way we think.

Ernst Tugendhat at a typewriter
Ernst Tugendhat was one of the most important contemporary philosophersImage: Bernd Weißbrod/dpa/picture alliance

Ernst Tugendhat, considered one of the most important contemporary philosophers, died on Monday in the southern city of Freiburg at the age of 93.

Tugendhat is credited with introducing the analytical philosophy of language to Germany in the 1970s. 

Fellow philosopher Jürgen Habermas wrote in a birthday eulogy in 2020 that Tugendhat had "influenced an entire generation."

Who was Ernst Tugendhat?

Tugendhat was born to Jewish parents in Brno in what is now the Czech Republic in 1930. He and his family fled from the Nazis in 1938, at first to Switzerland then to South America.

After the war, he studied classical philology at Stanford University in the US state of California. He returned to Europe in 1949 to study the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, and attended lectures by Heidegger himself in Freiburg after 1951.

Tugendhat then taught in various German cities, including Freiburg, Heidelberg, Tübingen and Berlin.

Some of his lectures in the 1970s went down in the history of philosophy, including his introduction to linguistic-analytical philosophy. "Only by reflecting on fundamental linguistic structures can we shed light on human understanding," was one of his axioms.

In the 1980s, his interest turned more toward practical philosophy. He came to the conclusion that morality can be based only on social contracts, not on idealistic concepts of liberty or metaphysical ideas of the absolute.

Above all, he considered the notion of equality very important, saying: "You should respect everyone equally and not instrumentalize anyone."

In 1992, he returned to South America to teach in Santiago de Chile.

He then came back to Europe and spent much of his retirement in Tübingen, before moving in 2013 to Freiburg, where he passed away.

Tugendhat was always aware of the impossibility of attaining any certain philosophical truths.

"I have always kept changing my opinions," he once said. "I am like that with all questions: I am never finished."

tj/ar (KNA, dpa)

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