The son of Jewish parents, Klibansky was born in Paris. His father, a German wine merchant, was forced to take his family back to Germany at the outbreak of the First World War. Klibansky attended the Goethe-Gymnasium in Frankfurt-am-Main, then the renowned Odenwald School where he got a solid grounding in Latin and Greek. From 1923 he studied philosophy and classical philology at Heidelberg University.
In 1926 the philosopher Ernst Cassirer invited him to Hamburg where he was introduced to the art historian and collector Aby Warburg and became a member of the circle of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg. The contact with Warburg was a great inspiration and deepened his interest in Mediaeval and Renaissance philosophers. His first publication, an edition of a Latin treatise by the 16th-century French philosopher and mathematician Charles de Bovelles, appeared an as appendix to Cassirer's Individuum und Kosmos in der Philosophie der Renaissance published by the Warburg Bibliothek in 1927 (and translated in 1963 as Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy). In the Warburg circle, Klibansky also came in contact with the codicologist Fritz Saxl and the art historian Erwin Panofsky. He persuaded them that their monograph on Dürer’s Melencolia I (1923) needed further development. This became one of Klibansky’s life projects. Saturn and Melancholy was published eventually in 1964. It contained his most extended discussion of the history of ideas and was enlarged and updated in various translations, especially in French (1989) and German (1990).
In 1928 Klibansky completed his doctoral dissertation on the School of Chartres, highly praised by the famous mediaevalist Étienne Gilson, but it was never published because of the worsening of the situation for Jewish academics. While still working at his dissertation, he became an assistant at the Heidelberg Academy, for which he planned a historically critical edition of Nicholas of Cues. In 1932, after his Habilitationsschrift (post-doctoral thesis) on philosophy and history, he worked out a plan for a second collected works project, the critical edition of the Latin writings of Meister Eckhart. He had already begun teaching in Heidelberg when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and put an end to his hopes of an academic career in Germany. Because he demonstrated that the Latin works of Meister Eckhart were inspired by Arabian and Jewish philosophers such as Maimonides, and because he proudly affirmed his Jewish ancestry and rejected Nazi demands to drop his various projects, he was barred from his office, his papers were confiscated and his life threatened. He succeeded in leaving for Britain in July 1933. Before his departure, he was instrumental in securing the removal of Warburg’s library to London, where it opened in 1934 as the Warburg Institute.
With support from the Academic Assistance Council, Klibansky obtained lectureships at King's College London, then Oriel College, Oxford, and Liverpool University. Under the auspices of the Warburg Institute he began a series of editions of Latin and Arabic commentaries on, or translations of, Plato, the Corpus platonicum medii aevi, Plato Latinum and Plato arabum. An introductory volume, The Continuity of the Platonic Tradition during the Middle Ages, appeared in 1939. With Richard Hunt he also edited the series Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies for the Warburg Institute.
During the Second World War, Klibansky, who took British citizenship in 1938, was attached to the Political Warfare Executive. After the German defeat in North Africa, he was asked to prepare intelligence for the Allied invasion of Italy. He is credited with having persuaded the Allies not to bombard St Nikolaus Hospital in Kues, which houses a precious collection of Cusanus’ manuscripts. After the war, he was briefly Director of Studies at the Warburg Institute, but was offered the Frothingham Professorship of Logic and Metaphysics at McGill University, Montreal, a post he held from 1946 to 1975. After his retirement, he became a Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, between 1981 and 1995 and an Honorary Fellow thereafter.
His years at McGill coincided with his involvement with the postwar development of the International Institute of Philosophy in Paris. He was editorial director of the Bibliography of Philosophy from 1954 and undertook under the auspices of the Institute a vast program of editions whose aim was to disseminate texts that presented a philosophical case for toleration. He also founded and edited a series of survey volumes, "Philosophy and World Community", the latest, La philosophie en Europe, with David Pears in 1993. These were noteworthy for the emphasis given to the philosophy of science, and for promoting the dialogue between Western and Eastern philosophies. A man of action, Klibansky was active in defending those who were subject to harassment in dictatorial regimes, such as the Czech philosopher and human rights defender Jan Patočka.
Klibansky’s own work continued with an edition of Hume’s letters and of the Latin text of Locke’s Letter on Toleration. He also returned to editing Cusanus, and to Platonism with a study (co-written with Frank Regen) of the manuscript tradition of the philosophical writings of Apuleius (1993). In his final years, he was persuaded to contribute to an autobiographical portrait in the form of a published volume of conversations, Le philosophe et la mémoire du siècle. Entretiens avec Georges Leroux, translated into German and Spanish, and to a National Film Board of Canada movie, Klibansky, la philosophie et la vie (2002, also available with English subtitles). His last work was devoted to the history of the International Institute of Philosophy, Idées sans frontières (with Ethel Groffier, 2005).
In 1986 he was made Ehrensenator of his alma mater in Heidelberg. In 1993 he was awarded the prestigious Lessing prize of the city of Hamburg and two years later, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1995 also, he received the Italian Nonino prize "for a personality of our time" (Past winners of Nonino prizes include illustrious names such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Peter Brook, Edgar Morin, Jorge Semprún). Honors followed in Canada also. In 1999 he was made a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec. In 2000 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in recognition for being "one of the greatest intellectuals of our time". The Raymond Klibansky Prize is awarded each year for the best books in the humanities that have received support from the Aid to Scholarly Publications Programme (ASPP), part of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. One prize each is awarded to the best English book and the best French book.
(See : "Professor Raymond Klibansky" by Jill Kraye, The Independent, Friday 4 Nov 2005, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-raymond-klibansky-513790.html)