Soon after the death of Petr Pokorný in January 2020, the Protestant Theological Faculty in Prague now finds itself mourning the death of another former professor, the philosopher Ladislav Hejdánek, who was active in dissident circles under the Communist regime.
Hejdánek was born in Prague on 10 May 1927. He started to study mathematical logic at Charles University, but soon changed subjects and studied philosophy under the leading Czech philosophers Jan Blahoslav Kozák and Jan Patočka, completing his studies in 1952. At this time he was actively involved in the Academic YMCA, an influential association for Protestant students. In February 1948 he was one of 200 students who marched to Prague Castle in an attempt to persuade President Beneš not to accept the resignation of the non-Communist ministers.
Under the Communist regime he was unable to work in his field, except for a brief period during the Prague Spring, when he worked at the Philosophical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1971 he was dismissed from the Institute and imprisoned for distributing leaflets considered to be opposed to the regime. During the 1970s and 1980s, like many other dissidents, he had various jobs as porter, storeman, and stoker.
In the 1960s he was actively involved in New Orientation, a reform movement in the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren. He was a signatory of Charter 77, and was its spokesperson twice in the years 1977-1980. In the 1980s he organised underground philosophy seminars in private apartments, which were attended by leading foreign philosophers such as Paul Ricoeur, Jacques Derrida, and Richard Rorty.
When the Communist regime fell in 1989, he was invited by Václav Havel to become a minister in the interim government. He declined, preferring to devote himself to philosophy. He was appointed Associate Professor at the Protestant Theological Faculty in 1990, and Professor at the Arts Faculty of Charles University in 1992. He continued to teach at both institutions until his retirement in 2004.
In 1953 Hejdánek married Heda Kofroňková and they had four daughters. He was a lover of nature and a cultivator of cactuses. He received a number of state and other awards and decorations.
As a philosopher, Hejdánek was influenced by the Czech philosophers Emanuel Rádl and Jan Patočka, but he was a very original thinker, critical of these influences and also of religion and the university environment. He proclaimed: „I am a disciple of Socrates, because I am convinced that the true place of philosophy is on the streets and in people’s everyday lives, not in enclosed university laboratories where incommunicable intellectual experiments take place.“