Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller died on Friday, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) said. Heller, 90, was a member of MTA, Professor Emerita of the New School for Social Research of New York and a winner of Hungary’s prestigious Széchenyi National Prize, it said.
Born in 1929, Heller was raised in a middle-class Jewish family. During the Holocaust she managed to escape deportation. She graduated from Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University in 1951. From 1947 to 1949 and from 1953 to 1958 she was member of the Communist Party but she was expelled both times. Due to her involvement in the 1956 revolution, she was dismissed from the university.
As a student of Marxist philosopher György Lukács, Heller was a core member of the Budapest School philosophical forum that sought to promote Marxist criticism in the 1960s. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Treaty forces in 1968, she signed the “Korčula Letter” condemning the invasion. After Lukács’s death in 1971, she was subjected to official surveillance and general harassment in Hungary. In 1973 the Communist Party’s Political Committee declared her philosophical views anti-Marxist and dismissed her from her job. Rather than remain as dissidents, Heller and her husband, philosopher Ferenc Fehér, chose to go to exile in Australia in 1977.
Heller returned to Hungary in 1989 to become a university lecturer in Budapest and Szeged. In the meantime, she served as a guest professor in New York.
She has written over 40 ethics, philosophy and political theory books. She received the Hannah Arendt Prize in 1996, the Sonning Prize in 2006 and the Goethe Medal in 2010.
News portals reported on Friday afternoon that Heller was seen going to swim in Lake Balaton at MTA’s Balatonalmádi holiday home, but she did not return. Local police told MTI that a body was recovered in the lake. They ruled out the possibility of crime.