Abstract.Theoretical accounts of genocide and mass atrocity commonly embrace the thesis of norm transformation. This thesis holds, first, that individual and institutional participation in such crimes is at least partially explained by transformations in basic norms that structure social and political life. It holds, second, that preventing future occurrences of such crimes requires changing norms that currently govern the actions of particular individual and institutional actors. This paper clarifies, defends, and extends the thesis of norm transformation. It clarifies this thesis by providing a general account of the nature and dynamics of norms. It defends this thesis against charges of circularity and against the claim that norms are not, in fact, fundamental guides to action. Finally, it extends this thesis by arguing that changes in norms before, during, and after mass atrocities count among the considerations that ought to be included in assessments of legal and moral accountability for such crimes.
Philosophical accounts of moral progress commonly acknowledge the problem of mass atrocities. But the implications of such events for our ability to perceive, and achieve, progress are rarely considered in detail. This paper aims to address this gap. The paper takes as its starting point Allen Buchanan’s evolutionary theory of moral progress in his 2020 book Our Moral Fate. Through critical analysis of Buchanan’s theory, the paper shows that moral philosophers seeking to draw evidence from atrocities must pay closer attention to social scientific research into such crimes, and particularly to findings concerning the diverse motives, intentions, and ideological influences on perpetrators. At the same time, the paper suggests that mass atrocities exhibit the action-guiding influence not only of moral norms, but also of social and legal norms. The paper concludes by briefly considering the significance of mass atrocities for theories of moral progress beyond Our Moral Fate.
Recent studies of centennials focus on explaining the social and political contexts for such commemorations. This paper develops an alternative, naturalistic theory of these long-range anniversaries. The paper starts by describing the value of a naturalistic account of complex cultural formations, and by reviewing basic demographic and physiological facts underlying centennial observances. Next, the paper provides a novel taxonomy of three central social functions of centennials, highlighting their roles as standards of greatness, mirrors of progress, and spurs to renovation. Each of these functions reflects the existence of certain predictable limits to human lifespans. The paper concludes by considering some transformations in form and function that centennials might undergo in a potential future of extended longevity.
Holocaust museums record and memorialize deeply affecting historical events. They can nevertheless be described and criticized using standard categories of museum analysis. This paper departs from previous studies of Holocaust museums by focusing not on ethical or aesthetic issues, but rather on ontological, epistemic, and taxonomic considerations. I begin by analysing the ontological basis of the educational value of various objects commonly displayed in Holocaust museums. I argue that this educational value is not intrinsic to the objects themselves, but rather stems from the extrinsic relations established between objects in museum exhibitions and displays. Next, I consider the epistemic, or knowledge-creating, function of Holocaust museums. I argue that the structure of public displays in such museums reflects the particular, document-based epistemology that continues to characterize Holocaust historiography and other fields of Holocaust research. Finally, I turn to examine taxonomic features of Holocaust museums. As I explain, both professional and ‘artefactual’ networks link the activities and display strategies of national, regional, and local Holocaust museums. A brief conclusion sketches some implications of my analysis for ongoing debates about the ethical function of Holocaust museums.
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