Philosophy Compass 13 (7):e12504 (2018)

Martin Shuster
Goucher College
This article presents Hannah Arendt's novel conception of evil, arguing that what animates and undergirds this conception is an understanding of human agency, of what it means to be a person at all. The banality of evil that Arendt theorizes is exactly the failure to become a person in the first place—it is, in short, the evil of being a nobody. For Arendt, this evil becomes extreme when a mass of such nobodies becomes organized by totalitarianism. This article focuses on the connection between Arendt's understanding of personhood and her conception of evil, showing how Arendt falls into a Kantian tradition of prioritizing apperception— thinking—as central for human agency. In this way, the article shows that thinking—being a person—is central to Arendt's work, thereby prioritizing and making sense of her claim in _The Human Condition_ that one is never “more active” than when thinking.
Keywords apperception  thinking  evil  personhood  agency  subjectivity  Nazi genocide
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DOI 10.1111/phc3.12504
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