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Philosophical Witnessing

The Holocaust as Presence

Berel Lang

Publication Year: 2009

In this volume, eminent scholar Berel Lang brings the perspective of philosophical analysis to bear on issues related to the Holocaust. Setting out from a conception of philosophical "witnessing" that expands and illuminates the standard view of the witness, he confronts the question of what philosophy can add to the views of the Holocaust provided in other disciplines. Drawing on the philosophical areas of political theory, ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of history, he draws attention especially to the post-Holocaust emphasis on the concepts of genocide and "group rights."
Lang's study, which emphasizes the moral choices that now face post-Holocaust thought, inspires the reader to think of the Holocaust in new ways, showing how its continued presence in contemporary consciousness affects areas of thought and practice not directly associated with that event.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The themes of “philosophical witnessing” and “presence” that balance the two sides of my book’s title have shaped its writing, often explicitly, but always at least tacitly. “Presence” refers to the continuing place of the Holocaust in the contemporary world more than sixty years after its...


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pp. xvii-xviii

Part I: The Holocaust at Philosophy's Address

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1. Philosophical Witnessing: “. . . And only I have survived to tell you”

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pp. 3-16

To consider the concept of philosophical witnessing in relation to the Holocaust and to genocide more generally, I set out from two classical texts. The first of these is the fragmented quotation from the Book of Job in this chapter’s title: “And only I have survived to tell you.” Job himself...

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2. Truth at Risk and the Holocaust’s Response

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pp. 17-32

The title of “humanist” emerged as a recognizable if loosely defined norm in the “humanistic” Renaissance.1 Vague as its boundaries were, the emphasis of that norm on human nature and history and thus away from God’s nature and ruleboth tendencies furthered by an ambitious retrieval of...

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3. Evil and Understanding: A Holocaust Dilemma

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pp. 33-56

The need to account for the appearance of evil in a world assumed to be ruled by goodness and justice provoked Jewish religious and philosophical reflection long before the Holocaust. The “problem” of evil, pointed most sharply in the phenomenon of human suffering and loss, figured in...

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4. Karl Jaspers’ "Die Schuldfrage": A Presence Early and Late

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pp. 57-74

Two conflicting views divide contemporary philosophers in reading the history of philosophy. One group reads that history and the philosophers in it as if they were their own academic contemporaries, measuring their predecessors by what they would have to say (or more often, not say) about...

Part II: Vs. the Unspeakable, the Unshowable, and the Unthinkable

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5. Holocaust-Representation in the Genre of Silence

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pp. 77-91

Isaac Babel referred to one notable period in his career as an exercise in the “genre of silence.” That period marked his response to the pressure of censorship and punishment under Stalin that forced Babel, so explicit and determined a writer, into silence. Even his skill with this genre, however...

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6. Representation and Misrepresentation: On or about the Holocaust

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pp. 92-111

In the Republic, Plato speaks of first applauding Homer and then leading him up toand acrossthe model state’s border. Homer thus would be honored mainly in exile, with the ideal republic more secure in this arrangement, more just: for everybody, including the critics who earlier...

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7. Applied Ethics, Post-Holocaust

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pp. 112-124

Odd as it may seem, the analysis of ethical issues in relation to the Holocaust has not gone very far or struck very deeply. Why this should be the case warrants scrutiny in its own right, and I do not attempt that here, although certain contributory reasons seem obvious. The most striking of...

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8. The Jewish Declaration of War against the Nazis

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pp. 125-136

In addition to the large decisions and actions that drove the Nazi genocide, the history of the Holocaust includes numerous small-scale “episodes” initiatives, transactions, scenarios, confluencesthat although sounding now in a minor key, reflect in their combination of improbability...

Part III: The Presence as Future

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9. From the Holocaust to Group Rights: Minorities in a Majority World

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pp. 139-155

This chapter has two aims: first, to outline the development during the second half of the twentieth century in reaction to the atrocity of the Holocaust of the idea and practice of “group rights”: rights that belong to groups as groups and only on that basis to the groups’ individual members...

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10. Metaphysical Racism (Or: Biological Warfare by Other Means)

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pp. 156-170

In the sense of the British expression, that “So-and-so had a good war,” metaphysics, undeniably, has had a bad (last) century. Battered in its cradle by the cash values of pragmatism; squeezed in young adulthood between the narrows of logical positivism and all-seeing phenomenology...

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11. Hyphenated-Jews and the Anxiety of Identity

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pp. 171-186

My unlikely starting point here is a trivial item of grammar, or, to slight it further, of punctuationlittle noticed even on occasions when grammar or punctuation do raise serious conceptual questions. The lowly hyphen is bound by few set rules; it also rests on a convenient escape clause that...

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12. Reconciliation: Not Revenge, Not Forgiveness, Perhaps Not Even Justice

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pp. 187-202

In a world where globalization is in everybody’s mind or waiting to enter it, the country of South Africa may still seem remote in history no less than in geography from centers in the “West.” This was even more notable about twenty years ago when a startling sequence of events was set in motion...

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Afterword: Wound and Scar

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pp. 203-206

One difference between memory and history as it is written is that forgetfulness belongs to one but not to the other. This does not mean that the written record has no gaps, that ideology and repression do not affect its writing or reception, but that the gaps or unexplained swerves that appear...

Appendix: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

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pp. 207-210


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pp. 211-230


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pp. 231-234

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658269
E-ISBN-10: 1584658266
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657415

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Moral and ethical aspects.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Influence.
  • Good and evil.
  • Jewish philosophy.
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