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Totalizing Identities

By May 28, 2003January 24th, 2018Articles, Publication: Journal, Vita

Long, Christopher P. “Totalizing Identities: The Ambiguous Legacy of Aristotle and Hegel after Auschwitz,” Philosophy and Social Criticism 29, 2 (2003): 213-244.

The Holocaust throws the study of the history of philosophy into crisis. Critiques of Western thinking leveled by such thinkers as Adorno, Levinas, and more recently by so-called “postmodern” theorists have suggested that Western philosophy is inherently totalizing, and that it must be read differently or altogether abandoned after Auschwitz. This article intentionally re-reads Aristotle and Hegel, two philosophers who have to some justifiable degree been indicted for the totalizing tendencies of their thinking, through the shattered lens of the Holocaust in order not only to locate the dangerous dimensions of the legacy of such thinking, but also to show how such a re-reading of the history of philosophy may locate other, more liberating aspects of the tradition. The article focuses on the question of ontological identity. By investigating the manner in which the totalizing dimensions of Aristotle’s thinking are both eclipsed and implicitly endorsed by Hegel’s appropriation of Aristotle’s conception of God, and further by following the surplus of Hegel’s misinterpretation back into the heart of Aristotle’s ontology where we find a more open conception of ontological identity, we come to recognize not only the dangers endemic to certain strands of traditional philosophical thinking, but also the resources the history of this thinking itself brings to bear on the attempt to do justice to ontological identity after Auschwitz.

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