Ordinary Men: Genocide, Determinism, Agency and Moral Culpability
Philosophy of the Social Sciences
© The Author(s) 2017. Reprints and permissions: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
In the space of their 16-month posting to Poland, the 500 men of Police Battalion 101 genocidally massacred 38,000 Jews by rifle and pistol fire. Although they were acting as members of a formal security force, these men knew that they could avoid participation in killing operations with impunity, and a substantial minority did so. Why, then, did so many participate in the genocidal killing when they knew they did not have to? Landmark historical studies by Christopher Browning and Daniel Goldhagen proffer contrasting explanatory answers to this troublesome question. This article focuses on a criticism that has often been leveled at the internal coherence of Goldhagen’s controversial explanatory theory. Goldhagen’s explanation is that the men freely, willingly, and responsibly participated in the genocidal killing because of their beliefs about Jews—beliefs that they were causally determined to hold. Critics charge that this is incoherent: How could perpetrators have been passive recipients of deterministically acquired action-determining beliefs and freely responsible agents of genocidal killing? I defend Goldhagen’s explanation against this charge of incoherence, and go on to explore the implications of his account, and Browning’s, for the moral culpability of the perpetrators.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from SAGE Publications via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 48 (1), pp. 3-32