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Reviewed by:
  • Philosophy after Hiroshima
  • Eduardo Mendieta
Philosophy after Hiroshima. Edited by Edward Demenchonok. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. Pp. xii + 548. Hardcover $74.99.

There is a philosophical tradition that sustains it is impossible to philosophize without doing the history of philosophy. This tradition is as old as philosophy itself, if we begin with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, all of whom philosophized by referring to their predecessors. Aristotle began his major treatises with short but sharp précis of what had been thought about the specific subject. If we are to claim to be part of this tradition, then it becomes imperative that we think of what has defined the history of philosophy; that is, we have to think what forces, events, trends, preoccupations, and historical junctures have punctuated this history. In the shadow of this imperative, it is noteworthy that we have largely neglected the way in which philosophy has been determined by war. If philosophy is its history and history has been shaped by war, then philosophy is the history of war, or the history of the major wars that have shaped human society.

Indeed, there is a way in which we can write the history of philosophy as the story of the major wars of human history. For example, consider ancient Greek philosophy and the Peloponnesian War: Socrates was a hoplite in this war. Or early Christian philosophy and the Barbarian invasions: Augustine's City of God is an apology for Christianity against the accusation that Christians were to blame for the [End Page 420] demise of the Roman empire. Or Medieval philosophy and the Crusades: Avicenna, Averroes, Thomas Aquinas, and so on cannot be understood outside both the struggle against Islam and the process of translating from the Arab and Greek texts that have come down to us through Islamic mediation. Or modern philosophy and the religious wars that gave birth to the modern European states and the conquest of the Americas: on the one hand, there are de las Casas and Vitoria, and on the other, Hobbes and Locke, whose philosophies are incomprehensible without taking into account not only the epistemic and theological challenge of the New World, but also the rise of religious pluralism and the beginnings of the secularization of the state in light of the confessional wars, which had gone on for centuries.

It is one of the virtues of Edward Demenchonok's edited volume Philosophy after Hiroshima that it takes seriously the imperative to think about the relationship between philosophy and war. In the present excellent volume, this relationship is approached through the question of what can and should philosophy be thinking about in the shadow of Hiroshima? Nearly all the essays that make up this volume follow the premise that philosophers in the West, and above all the United States, have not thought hard enough, or in a seriously sustained way, about what Hiroshima means as a point of departure for formal thought. Philosophy after Hiroshima is a most welcome contribution — nay, an indispensable accomplishment — to the philosophical task of making sense of what Hiroshima means and should mean to us.

Post-World War II philosophy is framed by the Holocaust; Auschwitz is a metonym for the horrors of genocide — but above all for the murderous paroxysms of blind instrumental reason. From Sartre to Levinas, Derrida, Apel, and Habermas, the last half century of philosophy has labored under the burden of this great crime. Yet, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also events of unthinkable human cruelty, metonyms for unhinged total war, the destruction of cities, and genocide at the push of a button.

Demenchonok's book, consisting of seventeen essays, covers every major issue related to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first group of essays are gathered under the general heading of "Remembering the Past." One essay deals with the earliest responses by philosophers to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Camus, Russell, Sartre, and Dewey, whose writings are reconstructed and analyzed. There is a fascinating essay that compares the media coverage from the United States, Japan, Germany, England, and the Middle East in order to track the wide range of coverage and points of view. Another essay offers us...