History and Theory 61 (2):352-368 (2022)

Bennett Gilbert
Portland State University
While much of Donald Bloxham's History and Morality is devoted to analyzing the evaluative processes of historians, Bloxham develops and relies on two strong philosophical concepts. The first is his claim that context must be understood as causality because a historical context is one of the causes of actions. Bloxham uses this to argue that historians must ascribe responsibility to past actors rather than blame their cultures. A wide critique of moral relativism emerges from this principle. The second is a distinction between a type of account that explains past events or entities in terms of their internal, unified natures and a type that understands them in terms of their relations to the rest of their world. Here, Bloxham's great concern is the isolation of forces from one another that helps to put them into conflict. The twentieth-century nation-state is the most important example of this. The “internalist” approach was part of what led to the Holocaust, to which Bloxham has dedicated most of his scholarly life. These two concepts anchor and justify historians in morally evaluating the decisions and deeds they study. But these ideas also point to deeper and more fully philosophical conceptions supporting moral evaluation that historians should practice in an exemplary way and that link historical consciousness to the chief issues of moral philosophy.
Keywords historiography  philosophy of history  hustorical theory  ethics  moral philosophy  Holocaust
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DOI 10.1111/hith.12255
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