Hannah Arendt on conscience and evil

Philosophy and Social Criticism 27 (5):1-33 (2001)
Though there exists a vast literature dealing with Hannah Arendt's thoughts on evil in general and Adolf Eichmann in particular, few attempts have been made to assess Arendt's position on evil by tracing its connection with her reflections on conscience. This essay examines the nature and significance of such a connection. Beginning with her doctoral dissertation on St Augustine and ending with her posthumously published studies in The Life of the Mind, Arendt's oeuvre exhibits strong thematic continuity: the triad thinking-conscience-evil forms its most enduring core. A puzzling core, to be sure, considering the controversies triggered, especially regarding her notion of the 'banality of evil'. By placing the role of conscience at the very center of Arendt's lifelong reflections, this essay explores the - in many ways related - influence exerted by St Augustine and Heidegger. Heidegger's conception of conscience in Sein und Zeit is identified as a crucial source for understanding - so the claim holds - why Arendt found Heidegger's philosophy particularly wanting as regards the question of evil. Key Words: Arendt • Augustine • conscience • evil • Heidegger • Socrates • thinking.
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DOI 10.1177/019145370102700501
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