Words I hope never to use: Ontology/Ontological

A new feature on the blog: words that are usually unnecessarily thrown about in the historical profession, and that I hope never to use. Today’s hope-I-never-use-it word: ontological. This is apparently to do with the “nature of being,” but I have yet to see it used in such a way as to make sense. The example in question is from a 1998 article in History and Theory by A.D. Moses about Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners: “By investing anti-Semitism with ontological status–eliminationist anti-Semitism as prime mover–Goldhagen undermines the agency and responsibility of his individual agent, which he elsewhere takes pains to establish” (pg. 217). I get the point–anti-Semitism was what defined the Germans–but is it really necessary to throw “ontology” out there? Why not just say “By making anti-Semitism the essence of being a German, Goldhagen undermines…”?

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