Judgment and the reification of the faculties: A reconstructive reading of Arendt's Life of the Mind

Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (1-2):157-176 (2008)
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Abstract

The core argument in this paper is that, to reconstruct the last unwritten section on Judging in Hannah Arendt's Life of the Mind , it is necessary to address what Arendt was doing with the book as a whole and how the different parts relate internally to one another. This is no easy matter, especially as the existing sections on Thinking and Willing are quite different in tone from one another. My proposition is that the work should be read as a critique of the life of the `modern' mind, and especially of the differentiation of the modern mind into distinct and reified faculties. The work as a whole is an attempt to understand the distorted forms of modernization that result from the division of the life of the mind into opposing faculties. It is, so to speak, a critique of the combined and uneven development of the life of the modern mind. While Arendt famously argues that the activity of thinking itself conditions people against evildoing, the spectre that informs her analysis of both thinking and willing is the danger of nihilism inherent in these mental activities. The work raises vital questions concerning the conditions under which this danger is actualized and the means by which it might be averted. What this entails for our reconstruction of the missing section on judgment is that, rather than see it as the core of Arendt's contribution to political thought or as the promised solution to an impasse, we should explore the equivocations of judging. This aporetic reading of the text helps clarify Arendt's concerns over the separation of the life of the mind from the world and the role of both judging and understanding in renewing its connections to the world

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Robert Fine
University of Warwick

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