Philosophy after Hiroshima from Power Politics to the Ethics of Nonviolence and Co-Responsibility

Article excerpt

PHILOSOPHERS from many different countries came to Hiroshima, Japan, in the summer of 2007 to discuss the problems of war and peace on the occasion of the Seventh World Congress of the International Society for Universal Dialogue (ISUD). The theme was After Hiroshima: Collective Memory, Philosophical Reflection and World Peace. The essays included in this volume were originally presented at that conference and reflect some of the aspects of these discussions.

In the first three parts of this introductory essay, I will address ideas conveyed by discussions during the Hiroshima conference regarding an open history, as well as various aspects of violence-prone globalization and its challenges to ethics and to peace. Then, within this context, the fourth part of this introduction will provide a brief review of some of the main themes arising out of the conference and elaborated in the essays of the volume.

I

From the Metaphysical Claims of Historicism Toward an Open History and Ethics of Co-Responsibility

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY was marked by a sharp contrast between achievements in technology-based material production and the unprecedented violence of the two world wars, the Cold War, the nuclear arms face, and many other civil wars and international conflicts that collectively took millions of human lives. This globalization of violence poses challenges to philosophy and calls for its transformation.

The breakdown of civilization led Theodor Adorno to proclaim in 1949 that "[t]o write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." He worried that "mankind, instead of entering into a truly human condition, is sinking into a new kind of barbarism." After Auschwitz and Hiroshima, a relapse into barbarism is not merely a hypothetical threat: "Auschwitz was this relapse, and barbarianism continues as long as the fundamental conditions that favored that relapse continue largely unchanged.... Furthermore, one cannot dismiss the thought that the invention of the atomic bomb, which can obliterate hundreds of thousands of people literally in one blow, belongs in the same historical context as genocide." (1)

The monstrosity that took place has shattered the basis for reconciling speculative metaphysical thought with experience, and: "After Auschwitz, our feelings resist any claim of the positivity of existence as sanctimonious, as wronging the victims." (2)

According to him, philosophy has failed badly in its efforts to comprehend this social catastrophe. He criticized philosophy as the "Western legacy of positivity," and called on philosophy to reflect on its own failure and its own complicity in such events. If philosophy is to be possible today, it must be a philosophy that regards human suffering as the precondition of thought and as the undoing of all claims to totality. Adorno's statements, aimed against "empty and cold forgetting" or shallow rhetoric about those tragic events, reflected the concerns of many intellectuals about the role of philosophy, its failures in the past, and the need for its transformation in order to fulfill its potential for humanity in the wake of the Holocaust and Hiroshima.

An important aspect of this transformation was a critical rethinking of previous concepts in the philosophy of history, in order to surmount the deterministic and teleological tendencies of existing historicism. In this way, Adorno and others hoped, it might be possible to develop the concept of an open history. This necessity had already been indicated by Karl Popper, who in his publications after World War II criticized the ideology of historicism in its various versions, asserting its connection to the tragic events of European history.

In tracing the roots of historicist metaphysics to Plato, Hegel, and Mill, Popper critically examines its interrelated doctrines of "specific historical laws which can be discovered, and upon which prediction regarding the future of mankind can be based," and its notion of the chosen people, "selected as the instrument of destiny, ultimately to inherit the earth," who are struggling for supremacy. …

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