Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II) – Hans Koechler

Dr. Hans Koechler meeting with His Holiness Pope John Paul II on 26 February 1979 at the Vatican's Apostolic Palace. The audience took place following Hans Koechler's lecture on "La fenomenologia del Cardinale Karol Wojtyła. Sul problema d'un'antropologia a base fenomenologica" at the Annual Conference of the Italian Section of the International Phenomenological Research Society in Viterbo near Rome (24 February 1979). Hans Koechler was the first philosopher who presented Karol Wojtyła's phenomenological anthropology to the English-speaking world in a lecture on "The Dialectical Conception of Self-determination: Reflections on the Systematic Approach of Karol Wojtyła" at the International Colloquium "Soi et Autrui" organized by the World Institute of Phenomenology at the University of Fribourg/Switzerland in January 1975. Cf. Analecta Husserliana, Vol. 6 (1977), pp. 75-80.

Vatican City, 26 February 1979

« Karol Wojtyła's Notion of the Irreducible in Man and the Quest for a Just World Order »
Speech delivered at Saint Joseph College, Connecticut, USA, March 2006

Philosophical co-operation

“Cardinal Wojtyła’s conception of man’s self-determination has been introduced to the English-speaking public by Hans Köchler …”

(Andrzej Połtawski, “Ethical Action and Consciousness. Philosophical and Psychiatric Perspectives,” in: Analecta Husserliana, Vol. VII [1978], p. 147.)

The co-operation between Cardinal Wojtyła and Hans Koechler lasted from 1974 until 1979. It was related to basic issues of phenomenology (a philosophical method established by Husserl and Heidegger) and phenomenological anthropology. At the time, both philosophers were members of the World Phenomenology Institute headed by Prof. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (USA). In 1975, Dr. Koechler presented a companion paper to Cardinal Wojtyła’s lecture “Participation or Alienation” at an international phenomenological colloquium in Fribourg (Switzerland). The Cardinal was unable to attend in person, so he provided Dr. Koechler with unpublished manuscripts on the basis of which the latter wrote the first introduction and commentary into the later Pope’s phenomenological philosophy.

The co-operation that followed is documented in an exchange of correspondence and in philosophical literature some of which is listed below.

Article by Karol Wojtyła

“Participation or Alienation?” in: Analecta Husserliana, Vol. VI (1977), pp. 61-73:

“I wish to add my considerations to those of all other speakers at this Fribourg Colloquium on the theme, ‘Soi et autrui.’ Having been honored by an invitation to participate in this Colloquium, I can contribute unfortunately only this written piece of work … In a special way I wish to thank … Dr. H. Köchler, who undertook to write a companion paper related to mine.*

*See Dr. H. Köchler’s ‘Die dialektische Konzeption der Selbstbestimmung.’ (Einige Überlegungen zum systematischen Ansatz von Karol Wojtyła). The author had at his disposal in preparing his companion-paper only two texts which I was able to make available to him. Those were: ‘The Personal Structure of Self-Determination’ published in the volume Tommaso d’Aquino nel suo VII centenario – Congresso Internazionale Roma-Napoli, 17-24 aprile, 1974; also, a French translation of the last two paragraphs from the book, Osoba i Czyn, Polskie Towarzystwo Teologiczne, Kraków 1969. At present the book itself is available only in the original Polish. …

Karol Wojtyła’s letter to Hans Koechler, dated 12 February 1975 (excerpt)

“I extend to you my cordial thanks for your participation in the colloquium in Fribourg ‘Soi et Autrui,’ and in particular because your contribution was closely related to my lecture on ‘Participation or Alienation.’ I value your analysis even higher because I was not able to deliver my lecture in Fribourg personally. … I have read with great attention and satisfaction your text which you forwarded to me (‘The Dialectical Conception of Self-determination’). Only a limited amount of material was available to you as source of information on my conception; in view of this, your profound understanding of my conception deserves even higher respect. I hope that we shall have the opportunity some time to discuss the topic personally. Accept … words of my gratitude and cordial greetings …”

(Trans. from the German original)

N.B.: the personal meeting with John Paul II took place  on 26 February 1979 at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican – following the Italian Phenomenology Conference in Viterbo.

Secondary literature

See, inter alia, Rocco Buttiglione, Karol Wojtyła: The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II. Grand Rapids (Michigan): Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997, p. 331 (this quotation gives a good summary of Hans Koechler’s interpretation):

“Hans Köchler, ‘The Phenomenology of Karol Wojtyła: On the Problem of the Phenomenological Foundation of Anthropology’ (1982),* outlines Wojtyła’s position as a realist phenomenology. Wojtyła accepts that the traditional, nonphenomenological point of departure of anthropology objectifies man; his own point of departure is a phenomenological description of experience. While Wojtyła objects the cosmological point of departure as inadequate in anthropology, he does not limit anthropology to phenomenology, and points to a transphenomenological approach for a complete anthropology. Wojtyła rejects Husserl’s idealistic turn, which leads to a subjectivist reflection and absolutization of consciousness. In addition, he emphasizes the subconscious as an essential moment of the identity of the subject and the passive, non-intentional function of consciousness.

*In Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 42 (1982), pp. 326-34.

Lectures by Hans Koechler 

  • Die dialektische Konzeption der Selbstbestimmung. Überlegungen zum systematischen Ansatz von Karol Wojtyła: The World Institute of Phenomenology (International Colloquium "Soi et Autrui"), University of Fribourg/Switzerland (25 January 1975).

  • Karol Wojtyła. Sul problema di un'antropologia a base fenomenologica: Annual Conference of the Italian Section of the International Phenomenological Research Society, Viterbo/Italy (24 February 1979).

  • Die phänomenologische Konzeption von Karol Wojtyła: Philosophische Gesellschaft Innsbruck, Gesellschaft zur Pflege der Geisteswissenschaften, Innsbruck (12 June 1979).

  • Karol Wojtyła's Notion of the Irreducible in Man and the Quest for a Just World Order: Conference on "Karol Wojtyła's Philosophical Legacy," Philosophy Department, Saint Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut, USA (22 March 2006).

  • Die phänomenologisch-ontologische Grundlage der Anthropologie von Karol Wojtyła: International Conference "The Social Message of John Paul II for Today's World," College of Education, Catholic University of Ružomberok, Poprad, Slovakia (21 March 2013).


Publications by Hans Koechler

  • "The Dialectical Conception of Self-determination. Reflections on the Systematic Approach of Karol Wojtyla," in: Analecta Husserliana, vol.6 (1977), pp. 75-80.

  • "Die dialektische Konzeption der Selbstbestimmung," in: Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie, vol. 101 ( 1979), pp. 1-5.

  • "La fenomenologia del Cardinale Karol Wojtyla. Sul problema d' un'antropologia a base fenomenologica," in: La Nuova Critica, vol. 52 (1979), pp. 69-76.

  • "Die phänomenologisch-ontologische Grundlage der Anthropologie von Karol Wojtyła," in: Salzburger Jahrbuch für Philosophie, vol. 25 (1980), pp. 157-163.

  • "The Phenomenology of Karol Wojtyła. On the Problem of the Phenomenological Foundation of Anthropology," in: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 42 (1982), pp. 326-334.

  • "On the Problem of the Phenomenological Foundation of Anthropology (Karol Wojtyła)," in: Hans Koechler, Phenomenological Realism. Selected Essays. Frankfurt a.M./Bern/New York: Peter Lang, 1986, pp. 91-99.

  • "Karol Wojtyła’s Notion of the Irreducible in Man and the Quest for a Just World Order," in: Nancy Mardas Billias, Agnes B. Curry,  and George F. McLean (eds.), Karol Wojtyla's Philosophical Legacy. (Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change - Series I, Culture and Value, Vol. 35.) Washington, D.C.: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2008, pp. 165-182.

  • "Fenomenologicko-ontologické východiská antropológie Karola Wojtylu." VI. ročník vedeckej konferencie: "Posolstvo Jána Pavla II. pre dnešný svet," 21.–22. 3. 2013. Poprad: Katolícka univerzita v Ružomberku, Pedagogická fakulta, 2013, http://Koechler-Antropologie-Karol_Wojtylu-2013.pdf.

  • "Die phänomenologisch-ontologische Grundlage der Anthropologie von Karol Wojtyla," in: Anton Lisnik, Katarína Greňová, Marián Ambrozy, Iveta Franzenová (eds.), Sociálne posolstvo Jána Pavla II. pre dnešný svet 2013. (Zborník z medzinárodnej konferencie, konanej v dňoch 21.-22. marca 2013 v Poprade.) Ružomberok: VERBUM, 2013, pp. 394-399.