Hannah Arendt on judgement: Thinking for politics

Many of Hannah Arendt's readers argue that differences between her earlier and later work on judgment are significant enough to constitute an actual break or rupture. Of Arendt's completed works, the 'Postscriptum' to Thinking , the first volume of The Life of the Mind , and her Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy are widely considered to be her definitive remarks on judgment. These texts are privileged for two primary reasons. First, they were written after Arendt's controversial text, Eichmann in Jerusalem . It was Arendt's recognition of the role that Eichmann's inability to think played in his war crimes which motivated her to analyse more fully not only the 'mental activity' of thinking, but those of willing, and judging as well. Second, in The Life of the Mind and the Kant Lectures , Arendt treats judgment as a distinct mental activity; in her earlier work judgment is connected to both politics and thought. In this essay I argue that while Arendt does indeed reformulate her notion of judgment, she does not depoliticize it. I begin by calling into question Ronald Beiner's claim that Arendt's later work on judgment can stand in for the unwritten third volume of The Life of the Mind . I then consider two more specific claims, the first of which is that judgment is relevant only in 'rare' times of 'crisis'. I argue that a crisis as Arendt understands it is not necessarily and merely a 'rare' and short-lived phenomenon. The effects of what Arendt refers to as 'dark times' are long-term and pervasive and, moreover, the function of making judgments within such an expanded context is politically germane. Second, I problematize the idea that conceiving of judgment as a distinct mental faculty necessarily disconnects it from politics. I examine the nature of Arendt's relationship to Kant and argue that she appropriates and reconceptualizes his work in such a way that judgment, while a distinct faculty, nonetheless retains its political relevance. I conclude by suggesting that the impulse to systematize Arendt's unsystematic treatment of judgment ought to be resisted.
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DOI 10.1080/09672550210121531
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