Here are some recent book titles: Philosophy After Hiroshima (2009); Moral Philosophy After 9/11 (2005); Ethics for a Broken World: Imagining Philosophy After Catastrophe (2011); The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy After the Holocaust (1999); Ethics After the Holocaust: Perspectives, Critiques, and Responses (1999); The Double Binds of Ethics After the Holocaust: Salvaging the Fragments (2009).
The truly dedicated can take courses named Ethics after the Holocaust or Philosophy After Auschwitz. (Then there are the other things Google reveals, such as Philosophy After Enron, or more benign cases like Philosophy After Kierkegaard, which is hardly far from Philosophy After Some Other Philosophy.)
Leave aside the details of what these actually contain: what’s supposed to be calling out to the potential purchaser, catching a curious eye so that the blurb gets read? There seems to be a built-in suggestion that an aftermath of awfulness poses a challenge to philosophy: that ‘philosophy after’ such an event must react to it. But why so? (Of course, it’s historically interesting that Arendt came upon the idea of banal evil at Nuremberg, much as it’s historically interesting that Wittgenstein worked on the Tractatus in the trenches of the First World War; but both of them were aiming for more than a historically local import.) Particular philosophies and philosophers certainly might have trouble grappling with the fact of mass killing, particularly anyone who had been drawn to Heidegger; this was also and differently true for Leibniz and what we might call Philosophy After Lisbon. Yet philosophy on the whole is hugely resistant to any sense that things can never be the same again, and has been at least since the Athenians failed to kill off Socratic enquiry. (Maybe that’s in part why Ethics for a Broken World is a critically backward-looking text, setting out to be more reappraisal than utter revolution.)
So what’s the eye-catching appeal of ‘Philosophy After’ texts? Maybe it’s for people who agree with Adorno that ‘culture has failed’ (or is failing) and are looking for green shoots of hope. Maybe it’s for historicists who think that if you really want to understand an era’s philosophies, you'd better know what shell-shocked its philosophers. Or maybe the thought is that if philosophy is to be of help to human beings in life, then it had better have something interesting to say about the most numbingly bleak of human deeds.
Comments usually take time to appear, because they are manually scrutinised for signs of spam. Please wait for your host to come along and set matters to rights.