Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 423-445

First online:

Understanding the Moral Phenomenology of the Third Reich

  • Geoffrey ScarreAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Durham

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This paper discusses the issue of German moral responsibility for the Holocaust in the light of the thesis of Daniel Goldhagen and others that inherited negative stereotypes of Jews and Jewishness were prime causal factors contributing to the genocide. It is argued that in so far as the Germans of the Third Reich were dupes of an 'hallucinatory ideology,' they strikingly exemplify the 'paradox of moral luck' outlined by Thomas Nagel, that people are not morally responsible for what they are and are not responsible for. The implications of this paradox for the appraisal of German guilt are explored in relation to the views of a number of recent writers on the Holocaust.

evil Goldhagen Holocaust ideology luck and blindness moral responsibility