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Does the phrase "The holocaust was a unique event in history for two reasons:" mean that the following two reasons will individually cause uniqueness or will in conjunction cause the uniqueness? Here is the phrase in context:

Fackenheim argued that the holocaust was a unique event in history for two reasons: (1) The Nazis persecuted the Jews not because of their religious beliefs or practices as in former times, but strictly because of their genetic makeup. (2) The demonic will of persecutors to exterminate the Jews superseded their aims at winning the War.

I feel as though both must be in conjunction to be unique as it is not the first time in history that people have been persecuted because of genes (black people have been persecuted for that reason). Therefore the author must either be wrong or the two reasons must be in conjunction to be unique.

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It can mean both. Natural language is an ambiguous system. I'd suggest: "The holocaust was a unique event in two ways" –  Armen Ծիրունյան Apr 15 '12 at 12:30
There's no way to tell what it means without more context. It can mean either or both of those things. –  David Schwartz Apr 15 '12 at 12:34
Well obviously the author is just completely wrong on the uniqueness of (1). In fact he's also wrong about (2). Many a war got lost for precisely that reason. Shrug. Another day, another person is wrong on the Internet. –  RegDwigнt Apr 15 '12 at 12:54
Reg, I am writing an essay on this and the examples that you must have when you say "Many a war got lost for precisely that reason." will be very useful. Please could you email me your email: David@1usemail.com so we can talk further? –  David Apr 15 '12 at 13:53

2 Answers 2

I would expect it to mean that each reason on its own made the event unique.

If it were a confluence of factors, I would expect to see language explicitly to that effect. However, I wouldn't say that your wording necessarily rules out the latter idea. Some suggested rewordings for clarity might include:

The holocaust was a unique event in history for two different reasons.

Two factors combined to make the holocaust a unique event.

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Even in light of OP's addition of context, I stand by my answer. I would still expect that phrasing to mean that each reason makes the event unique. –  zpletan Apr 15 '12 at 12:55
+1. The sentence clearly means that each reason individually made the event unique. Whether that's what the author meant to say is another issue entirely; but if this is not in fact what they meant, then they should have been far more careful with their words. –  user16269 Apr 15 '12 at 13:04
@DavidWallace (or anyone else), if you can say why it clearly means that each reason individually made the event unique, you should either edit my answer to include that information, or else post a new one. I just went with my gut here, and would love to see an answer that explains why this is so. –  zpletan Apr 15 '12 at 13:06

The construct X is unique for two reasons may suggest that the author is using the secondary meaning of the word unique:

unique |yo͞oˈnēk| (adj.)
(1) being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else: the situation was unique in modern politics.
(2) particularly remarkable, special, or unusual: a unique opportunity to see the spectacular Bolshoi Ballet.

In other words, the author isn't necessarily claiming that the Holocaust was completely unparalleled, rather, that the confluences of the two factors listed made it an especially rare or tragic historical event.

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