In “Tool, Image, and Grave: On What Is Beyond the Animal in Man,” Jonas compares and contrasts humans and other animals. The distinguishing feature of humans is the ability to form representative ideas, which Jonas views as a mark of greater freedom and responsibility. He notes that humans have a surplus of capacities and capabilities that have nothing to do with biology and survival. Humans have, for example, self-generated purposes that afford luxuries, not merely necessities. Jonas evaluates the significance of human artifacts that, he thinks, point decisively to particular and unique human qualities. A tool is produced as a result of an idea in the human imagination that as an expression of freedom is imposed on matter. This idea, or form, in the imagination is not the result of any biological function of the organism as is the case with a spider and its web, for example. Image making, such as that which produced early rock drawings, is biologically useless. The interest that humans have in such a nonpractical exercise is associated with the freely created idea from which the image is derived. The image is a representation of a general sort, and it is understood by its creator to be such. Jonas contends that other animals do not have the aptitude to differentiate, in this way, between perceptions and representations. Lastly, on the subject of the “grave,” he notes that commemoration of the dead through burial is associated with beliefs pertaining to things invisible and immaterial. The grave signifies the unique human capacity to reflect on one’s own origin and destiny and to have a concept of self. The human endowment of being able to form ideas that are representations and not mere perceptions is the source of the human ability to be concerned with what ought to be, not merely with what is.
In “The Burden and Blessing of Mortality,” Jonas observes that all life is mortal. The real threat of annihilation, or death, is with every organism from the beginning. The organism, however, clings to life by performing its metabolic processes, and, in so doing, attributes value to itself. In fact, it is only because of the possibility of life’s cessation that there can be this “clinging” and this “value.” Life, then, is the source of all value.