Philosophy and the Holocaust

Robert S. Leventhal

Department of German

University of Virginia

In this section of Responses to the Holocaust: A Hypermedia Sourcebook for the Humanities, we will be examining the philosophical responses to the Shoah that have emerged since 1945. Philosophical responses have taken on three central forms:

An example of the first type of philosophical discourse is Karl Jaspers and his treatment of the Schuldfrage or the question of guilt. Another example would be Hannah Arendt's discussion of Fascism and the Holocaust in works such as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil and Chapter 13 of The Origins of Totalitarianism. An example of the second type of philosophical discourse would be the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, the french jewish philosopher whose work can be read as a sustained philosophical reflection on the moral and ethical implications of the Shoah, and the necessary, fundamental ethical obligation and reponsibility of every individual after the Nazi Genocide of the Jews of Europe. Finally, many philosophers, including Theodor W. Adorno and Jean François Lyotard, have posed the question of the very possibility of philosophy after Auschwitz. Lyotard, whose The Differend takes as its very point of departure the question of the survivor of Auschwitz and the possibility of testimony of a catastrophic event, is of particular interest in this regard and should be a part of any careful examination of the relation between philosophy and the Shoah.

Jean François Lyotard's The Differend

Theodor W. Adorno and the Holocaust

Emmanuel Levinas and the Ethical Responsibility of the Holocaust