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But the question of the uniqueness and magnitude of Auschwitz is itself a philosophical one; thinking about it could take us to Kant and Hegel, Dostoevsky and Job.One need not settle questions about the relationship of Auschwitz to other crimes and suffering to take it as paradigmatic of the sort of evil that contemporary philosophy rarely examines.On the contrary, one reason given for the absence of philosophical reflection is the magnitude of the task.
- And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful.
The eighteenth century used the word Lisbon much as we use the word Auschwitz today. It takes no more than the name of a place to mean: the collapse of the most basic trust in the world, the grounds that make civilization possible.
On this view Lisbon and Auschwitz are two completely different kinds of events.
Lisbon denotes the sort of thing insurance companies call natural disasters, to remove them from the sphere of human action.
Historical reports and eyewitness testimony appeared in unprecedented volume, but conceptual reflection has been slow in coming.
It cannot be the case that philosophers failed to notice an event of this magnitude.Wall Street Journal, 3 September 2002 NYTimes, 5 October 2002 NYTimes, 6 October 2002 Times Literary Supplement, 18 October 2002 Milliyet, 24 October 2002 NRC Handelsblad, 8 November 2002 Die Welt, 14 December 2002 Washington Post, 15 December 2002 First Things, January 2003 Forward, 28 March 2003 Culture Wars, 02/2003 Common Knowledge, Spring 2003 Filosofie Magazine, April 2003 Christian Century, April 5, 2003 CHOICE, June 2003 Weekly Standard, 9 June 2003 New York Review of Books, 12 June 2003 Galileu, Número 149, Decembro 2003 Harper's Magazine, January 2004 literaturkritik.de, Nr.7, Juli 2004 Freitag 34, 13. September 2004 Introduction The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity.(One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one's eyes.) The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a person at all.This book traces changes that have occurred in our understanding of the self and its place in the world from the early Enlightenment to the late twentieth century.Taking intellectual reactions to Lisbon and Auschwitz as central poles of inquiry is a way of locating the beginning and end of the modern.Auschwitz, by contrast, stands for all that is meant when we use the word evil today: absolute wrongdoing that leaves no room for account or expiation.Initially, then, no two events will strike us as more different.Most contemporary versions of the history of philosophy will view this claim to be less false than incomprehensible.For the problem of evil is thought to be a theological one.The mistake seems to lie in accepting the eighteenth century's use of the word evil to refer to both acts of human cruelty and instances of human suffering.That mistake might come naturally to a group of theists, who were willing to give God the responsibility for both, but it shouldn't confuse the rest of us.