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Auschwitz

Auschwitz This contribution to the final installment of the Common Knowledge symposium on contextualism is a reply to another contribution, Peter Burke's “Alternative Modes of Thought.” Or rather, this essay responds to the historians and social scientists whom Burke cites as arguing that only some ways of thinking are possible in any given place and time. Richmond's response is that a human context in which there is but one mode of thought in evidence, and no evident ambivalence regarding it, is a context in which great numbers have died, violently and recently. His essay takes the form of a report on his eleven research visits since 1985 to the death camp at Auschwitz. In Nazi-occupied Europe, he concludes, “ ‘alternative modes of thought’ were by no means impossible. Rather, people who thought differently from the regime were gathered to Auschwitz and other such camps, then murdered and incinerated. The Nazi ‘mental framework,’ if that is what it was, had to be imposed, and the millions incapable of participating in it had to die rapidly. . . . The problem for us, in the Nazis’ wake, is that the their ‘mode of thought’ is so alien that we have yet to find a context that enables us to understand it. . . . The need, then, is not for the context that intellectual, cultural, and social historians might provide, but for the aid of phenomenologists, because what we are hoping to understand is—in the words of Thomas Nagel's essay ‘What Is It Like to Be a Bat?’—a ‘fundamentally alien form of life.’ ” http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Common Knowledge Duke University Press

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Copyright
© 2022 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0961-754X
eISSN
1538-4578
DOI
10.1215/0961754x-9713577
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

This contribution to the final installment of the Common Knowledge symposium on contextualism is a reply to another contribution, Peter Burke's “Alternative Modes of Thought.” Or rather, this essay responds to the historians and social scientists whom Burke cites as arguing that only some ways of thinking are possible in any given place and time. Richmond's response is that a human context in which there is but one mode of thought in evidence, and no evident ambivalence regarding it, is a context in which great numbers have died, violently and recently. His essay takes the form of a report on his eleven research visits since 1985 to the death camp at Auschwitz. In Nazi-occupied Europe, he concludes, “ ‘alternative modes of thought’ were by no means impossible. Rather, people who thought differently from the regime were gathered to Auschwitz and other such camps, then murdered and incinerated. The Nazi ‘mental framework,’ if that is what it was, had to be imposed, and the millions incapable of participating in it had to die rapidly. . . . The problem for us, in the Nazis’ wake, is that the their ‘mode of thought’ is so alien that we have yet to find a context that enables us to understand it. . . . The need, then, is not for the context that intellectual, cultural, and social historians might provide, but for the aid of phenomenologists, because what we are hoping to understand is—in the words of Thomas Nagel's essay ‘What Is It Like to Be a Bat?’—a ‘fundamentally alien form of life.’ ”

Journal

Common KnowledgeDuke University Press

Published: Jan 1, 2022

References