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The Ethics of Memory

The Ethics of Memory

Avishai Margalit

ISBN 9780674040595

Publication date: 07/01/2009

Much of the intense current interest in collective memory concerns the politics of memory. In a book that asks, "Is there an ethics of memory?" Avishai Margalit addresses a separate, perhaps more pressing, set of concerns.

The idea he pursues is that the past, connecting people to each other, makes possible the kinds of "thick" relations we can call truly ethical. Thick relations, he argues, are those that we have with family and friends, lovers and neighbors, our tribe and our nation--and they are all dependent on shared memories. But we also have "thin" relations with total strangers, people with whom we have nothing in common except our common humanity. A central idea of the ethics of memory is that when radical evil attacks our shared humanity, we ought as human beings to remember the victims.

Margalit's work offers a philosophy for our time, when, in the wake of overwhelming atrocities, memory can seem more crippling than liberating, a force more for revenge than for reconciliation. Morally powerful, deeply learned, and elegantly written, The Ethics of Memory draws on the resources of millennia of Western philosophy and religion to provide us with healing ideas that will engage all of us who care about the nature of our relations to others.


  • To say that it makes a substantial contribution to scholarship on an important topic would be an understatement. There is nothing like it in literature. It is morally powerful, deeply learned, closely argued, and elegantly and engagingly written. Margalit has an unparalleled ability to write clearly and forcefully about subjects that concern almost everyone, yet about which almost no one can say anything without sounding either banal or sentimental. He combines a remarkable sense of literary and cultural nuance with an analytic philosopher's eye for conceptual clarity and fine distinctions.

    —Arthur Ripstein, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto


  • Avishai Margalit is Schulman Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former George F. Kennan Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

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