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Karen Feldman on Hannah Arendt – Part 1

Karen Feldman teaches in the Departments of Rhetoric and German. Her areas of specialization include hermeneutics and phenomenology, the Frankfurt School, German Idealism, feminist theory, literary theory and aesthetics. She is the author of Binding Words: Conscience and Text in Hobbes, Hegel and Heidegger (Northwestern University Press, forthcoming in 2005) and co-editor of Continental Philosophy: […]

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[ Music ]
This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
And we're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
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[ Speaking in foreign language ]
[ Speaking in foreign language ]
That's for me, the Hannah Arendt, by way of saying Augustine's language of love in the
past sessions.
In one other language do you make a declaration of love to Hannah Arendt?
If you can hear us out there, I suspect that Augustine's Latin has the best chance of getting her to turn her head and listen.
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[ Music ]
Late have I loved you, oh beauty, so ancient and so new.
Late have I loved you.
And it's true, in my younger days I was nourished on Nietzsche, Kant, Heidegger, and eventually Hegel.
But only lately have I come to discover that Hannah Arendt is the one thinker who, more than any other, peels away all that is superfluous and
inessential in philosophy, in order to bring thinking back into the world, to return it as it were to the matter itself.
[ Speaking in foreign language ]
Is that taf pragma or topragma?
I think it's topragma, taf pragma.
One thing I really need to do before it gets too latest to learn Greek properly, because I don't want to go into the afterlife at a disadvantage.
Or let me put it this way, I don't want to go to limbo and be denied a seat that the philosophy banquet, because my Greek is not good enough.
What's that?
I know just a few weeks ago the Vatican officially declared that limbo no longer exists, or at least that is no longer part of the church's core doctrine, which amounts to the same thing.
Talk about the performative power of speech acts.
But I'm told by very reliable sources in the nether world that the Vatican will not get away with this, that it will have to back down.
You can't simply declare limbo out of existence.
Where are you going to relocate Plato and Aristotle, Homer and Virgil?
Heidegger and Hegel.
No, I'm assuming that when my time comes, limbo will still exist, and that having spent so much of my time on earth holding converse with the
dead, I will be going there to continue the symposium, with that august crowd of virtuous pagans, collapsed Catholics, misbegotten Protestants, and the great unbaptized.
And the first person I'll be seeking out among the thinkers in limbo will be Hannah Arendt.
Will she dame to talk to me?
It all depends on whether she believes there is anything worth saying in the afterlife.
After all, while she was alive, she was not very interested in the trans-temporal, superhistorical conversation of philosophy.
For her words were tied to action and action was tied to history.
Who knows whether she would have any use for words in a place where new beginnings, presumably are not possible,
and where words do not act into history.
Hannah Arendt never fell into the trap of philosophy.
Too many philosophers try to find their way back to the world by leading thinking as far away from it as possible.
Not Arendt.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see whether the worldlessness of limbo, ways, or doesn't weigh honor.
It will be interesting to see whether in limbo she lives as Dante puts it in Dizio since Espei Mei, in desire without hope.
Not desire for the Christian heaven, but desire for the human world of action, which for Arendt is the true and perhaps only homeland for human thinking.
One thing is certain, the words that she spoke during her sojourn on earth participated in the kind of action which she took to be the essence of human freedom,
which she understood in turn as human self-disclosure in the public realm.
Those words of hers and the thoughts that went with them are still very much with us in their still unrealized consequences.
And today we're going to try to make as much sense of them as we can with my guest Karen Feldman, who joins me in the studios of KZSU.
Karen Feldman has a PhD in philosophy, and she teaches in the departments of rhetoric and German studies at UC Berkeley.
She's my very first guest from UC Berkeley, the first of several I hope, and we can't do better when it comes to people from Berkeley than to start with this fascinating young philosopher,
whose book, binding words, conscience and rhetoric in Hobbes, Hegel and Heidegger was published last year by Northwestern University Press.
Karen, welcome to the program.
Thank you for inviting me.
I know you're from UC Berkeley, but I consider you half at least half a Stanford colleague because you've been part of our philosophical reading group for several years and have participated in a number of events here at Stanford, including conferences on Heidegger.
And one coming up on the second of June on Heidegger in space.
So we'll call you a Stanford Berkeley colleague for the purposes of this show.
Now, Heidegger is reported to have begun one of his seminars on Aristotle by saying that,
"Arasol was born, he worked, and he died.
Now let's turn to his thought."
Now, the unor I, I suspect, believe that a thinker's life is that irrelevant to his or her thought, especially if the thinker in question is Hannah Arendt.
What aspects of Arendt's biography would you like to draw attention to before we turn to her thinking?
Well, just to give some basic biographical information, Arendt was born in 1906 in Hanover.
She grew up in Königsberg in East Prussia to a mostly secular Jewish family.
She studied philosophy, theology, and Greek with Martin Heidegger, Rolf Bultmann, and Carl Yasper's.
She fled national socialism in 1933 to Paris, and then to the United States.
She did some work with Zionist organizations, although also already in the 1940s, argued for the necessity of a Jewish Arab Federation rather than a Jewish state alone.
In the United States, Arendt taught at several universities.
She was most closely associated with the new school for social research in New York, but she also taught at the University of Chicago and Princeton and at Berkeley.
Her first major book was the Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951, which was a historical study, and a also thinking study.
We'll talk more about that, about the Third Reich and Stalinism.
She wrote the Human Condition in 1958, and also published a biography of Raheel von Hagen, a Jewish woman who lived in intellectual circles in Berlin in the late 18th and early 19th century.
More famously, Arendt wrote a series of articles for the New Yorker magazine on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1963.
It was published as a book in 1963 that the book was called "Eichmann in Jerusalem, the banality of evil."
She wrote some short books on revolution and violence and on Jewish identity.
She has this incredible rich correspondence with Yasper, the American author Mary McCarthy, a good friend of hers, and others.
And lastly, she wrote a multivaluum work called "Life of the Mind."
And the first two volumes were on thinking and willing.
She had just barely begun the third volume on judging when she died in 1975.
But there are actually some irony about even talking about Arendt this way.
One of them is that in the Human Condition, Arendt writes about who someone is and how this who can never be reduced to what someone is.
What someone is, of course, reflected in what we tell about them and the qualities they have that we can narrate or describe.
And who someone is instead is a matter of their action in the world of their appearance in the public sphere.
So, a little concept of action is a complicated one which we'll come back to.
But it is ironic that we end up with a what of Arendt even in this biography.
Are you saying that if I go and meet her in limbo, I'm only going to get the what and not the who?
Well, this is a good question because, well, it's more about limbo perhaps, and about Arendt and her who.
But the sphere of action and of the world of human beings was the sphere in which the who happens, in which the who appears to others.
So, I guess it depends on the worldliness of limbo.
Your monologue suggested that limbo is not worldly.
This is perhaps more your expertise in mind about limbo.
But I think the living world, the mortal world is the one that she was absolutely concerned with.
Yeah, no doubt.
I wanted to add that you said that she studied theology and I just want to mention that she did write a dissertation on the concept of love and a gust.
And otherwise, my reference to a gust in my leading, some make full sense.
Well, of course, a declaration of love to Arendt would be in the language of a gust in since that was her dissertation topic.
She wrote about several dimensions of love, neighborly love, love for the creator, and love for the created.
The origins of totalitarianism, which you mentioned that her first book was born out of her direct experience with the Nazi regime in Germany.
And, of course, Stalinism.
And from what I understand, what I remember of that book, that she thought that totalitarianism was a completely new form.
I think she was the first to actually categorize it as a form of government the way you would speak of democracy, oligarchy, or republics, and tyrannies, and so forth.
And completely new, insofar as they were predicated on certain theories in the case of communism, a theory of history.
That history had a certain necessity about it, and that it was destined, or there was a necessity where it was going to end up one way or another in the dictatorship of the proletariat or whatever you want.
And, Naziism, on the other hand, was based on an ideology of nature.
Rather than, namely, there was a natural superiority to the area and race and so forth.
And that these regimes understood themselves as doing the work or carrying out some kind of implicit, either law of nature, in the case of the Nazis, or law of history, in the case of the Stalinist.
And I think that she was right to point to the fact that there was something completely new about totalitarianism.
Yeah, one of the other elements of the newness of totalitarianism that aren't first to is the complete abolition of a sheltered private sphere, once again, to return to that theme of the private, that in totalitarianism, whether national, socialist, or under Stalin, that anything becomes possible, or if she writes everything became possible, precisely because there was no shelter that families were broken up,
that any sphere of shelter from the public no longer existed.
And this was precisely something new in the history of the world, something absolutely dangerous.
All right, writes in the human condition and elsewhere about the importance of newness, about the miraculous quality that human history can have new events, things emerge on the scene, unprecedented, spontaneous, not accountable by any natural causality.
And so there are elements of her thought that are focused on newness, miracle, natureality, and the appearance of the unprecedented.
However, it's not the case that everything new is good and valuable for human beings, precisely totalitarianism would be an instance in which the new is disastrous catastrophic and tragic.
The way those totalitarian regimes, both national socialism and Stalinist communism, when you mentioned that they wanted to almost abolish the private sphere, or get into people's head through propaganda, this kind of systematic use of propaganda where you will always be hearing the same voice telling you the same thing inside your head, almost as if to preclude the possibility of the public.
Is this a sense of the possibility of any kind of genuine thinking is essential for the perpetuation of these totalitarian regimes because precisely nothing is more inimical to such a regime than thought, no?
Precisely that as is clear in her discussion of Eichmann, for instance, that thoughtlessness turns out to be the source of radical evil for our end as opposed to some diabolical motivation.
The totalitarianism in this context as the involving an abolition of thought, of the possibility for that internal dialogue with oneself represents part of the dangers in modernity of the lack of imagination, the lack of ability to think.
Do you understand thinking in Hanaharan? Let's take this one at a time.
We know that thinking is a phenomenon that cuts across her career really from the human condition that book which came out in the late 50s after the origins of totalitarianism.
I don't know if you consider it to be one of her major books, I suppose.
The human condition? Yes. It's one of my favorites. It's contested. Some people love it. Some people hate it.
There are a lot of controversies around that book. The apparent nostalgia for ancient Greece, the apparent romanticism, although then there are many very interesting views about whether this was romantic, whether it was conservative, whether it was nostalgic, whether it was a
fact, radical, the many ways to read that book. I consider that book a rich wonderful resource. We read it in the philosophical reading group a couple of years ago and it made for a fascinating reading group partially because we couldn't agree on it.
At that time, nobody was an expert on it. It produced, in fact, a very lively dialogue where there was radical disagreement about the very same words and paragraphs.
I take it to be one of her most fruitful books to read and discuss. There are people who will say that it's flawed in this and that way and certainly there are flaws, but those flaws don't make it less of a resource.
We'll talk later about the life of the mind, which I think is her other main work, but it's true that in our philosophical reading group, which is a group of anywhere from 20 to 30 people, there are some authors who can divide the participants into factions.
And it's true that there was a lot of disagreement about what certain concepts might have meant or what words meant, but I don't recall there being any kind of animosity towards the author, Hannah Arendt herself, as has been the case in other readings, with Heidegger, for example.
There are questions about whether the opposition is very important in opposition and categories that she sets up in that book. Whether they hold the most important one perhaps being the, I guess it would be too, the public and the private that she writes about at length.
And then, which do not at all overlap to that first opposition, the social and the political that in that group and in classes when I've taught it, people get into all kinds of questions about whether these categories are tenable, whether the boundaries are permeable, whether they're even true, whether it's all just based on an nostalgia anyway, whether it's complete fiction.
So, I think some people could say, "Oh, it's just sloppy thought," and I've heard people say that, but in my view, and this is why I like the human condition so much, Arendt is in a way, a kind of a rorshock for people, a rorshock test, the psychological test with inkblots, where people describe what they see in the inkblots, and that tells more about the personality of the person, obviously, than it does about the inkblots themselves.
So, people write about Arendt, when people talk about it in the reading group elsewhere, in my classes, I always end up learning so much about the person talking, whether they believe that the categories stand, whether they believe the categories are absolutely untenable and therefore Arendt should be thrown away, whether they believe that the categories are problematic, but for that reason, all the more fascinating.
To me, this always says so much about the person I'm talking to.
Did you learn something about me and my lead-in?
Well, that you didn't want to know, man.
No, actually, the lead-in confirmed what I know about you and your fascination for Arendt, which makes so much sense to me.
It was at the time in the reading group, I think one of the reasons that particular session went so well, that term, was that you and other strong personalities in that group, shall we say, did not already have preformed opinions,
and to go through the term where some of the strongest personalities around, did not already have said opinions, until watch those opinions get formed and switched and to be part of a dialogue in which opinions shifted and from week to week, people changed their mind and ended up on other sides.
That was fascinating.
But in other regards, with regard to your own work, I see Arendt as so much in your vein for the way she, as I've told you at other times, she,
she has a way of literalizing certain high-to-garian moments and concepts.
For her, of course, Mitzind, being with others, this concept that appears in being in time in Heidegger and elsewhere, and that Arendt picks up this being with others, proves to be so central to Arendt, and it is about being with other people about, when Heidegger writes about disclosure and truth.
For Arendt, disclosure is the disclosure of the who, which is not the same thing as the self. It's the acting who, it's the person in action in front of others.
So this literalization of Heideggerian concepts such as disclosure or Mitzind, I do see in your own work being toward death in your book on the dead.
I always, I guess this is just my abstract way of looking at things, but I always thought of that as just kind of a variation on negativity and some abstract ontological terms.
But from your book, I got the idea that, oh, being toward death is about how we are toward dead people.
This absolute literalization and anthropologization, I see as Arendtian, even though I guess your book was written before you knew much about Arendt, that there is this literalization of categories that I have.
I guess philosophical way abstracted.
Well, literalization is one way of saying it, but the risk you take when you say literalization is that you're assuming that it should be approach really on the rhetorical, on the order of rhetoric and figurative.
I'm not sure that when Heidegger speaks about Mitzind, about being with others, he doesn't mean actually being with others.
The problem with Heidegger, I think, is not that he intended these concepts figuratively.
The problem with Heidegger is that he had such disdain for anthropology.
He had such disdain for anything that was contaminated by the empirical that he didn't do the hard work of fleshing out a concept like being with others in the political sphere and the social sphere and the personal sphere and so forth.
It really is Hanah Arat, who I don't want to say that she does his unfinished work, but she understood what was really dramatic, original and exciting and sexy in Heidegger's thinking and then drove that home in a way that He Himself refused to do for some reason.
I agree that there's something about her work and the way she takes up these concepts like disclosure in Heidegger, the concepts of possibility that is very exciting that in my mind, it doesn't become less philosophical for becoming what you call anthropological, what other people might call political, or what I don't know, because we just say it's she humanizes Heidegger.
The design may never be hungry in Heidegger, but certainly, Arat is absolutely concerned about the way our possibilities are shaped by the world around us.
In fact, the other concept that Arat takes from Heidegger and obviously blows up into the center of her thought we could say, worldliness as opposed to worldlessness.
Certainly Heidegger talks about world at length in many of his lecture courses and in being in time, concept of being in the world is very important, but Arat really expands world into something that is
concrete and explicit and real in a way that Heidegger is being in the world does not do.
There are people who would argue with this.
I mean Heidegger talks about tools and bridges and objects and so there are readings of Heidegger where you could say, oh, it is all about things in the world and there are some people, I think Andrew Mitchell talks about this and other people we know talk about Heidegger and things.
But Arat isn't about things, world as the human world, the historical world, the world of events and appearance.
This is really something that Arat does, I don't think one can understand fully without the Heideggerian background, but that is made very special in her work.
I agree with that.
Well, maybe we can go back a minute now to the human condition because world is crucial concept.
And the human condition is, as she says, it is an investigation of what she calls the Vita Activa, the active life, as opposed to the contemplative life.
And she divides the active life into three major dimensions, called in English, labour, work and action.
Labour being the type to nature, the biological rhythms of production and consumption, it leaves no traces behind.
Work on the, by country distinction is specific to the human insofar as work creates the world.
And the artifacts of the world and the interconnectedness.
And the main making, the production of products.
The production of labour is reproduction and the production of things for our needs.
And work is the sphere of utility of the objects that we use, that make our world a world in the usable sense.
So, yeah, the utility of objects.
And it's also the permanence of the world.
There was a world before us and then there will be a world we assumed until recently anyway.
We always assume that there will be a world after us.
And this permanence which binds the generations together, it's the world made possible by work which provides a permanence that a human lifetime doesn't have.
There's the durability of things in the world, yes.
Of course, as you're talking about, the permanence of things and institutions.
And institutions, as I was going to say.
But so the third element you started to refer to here, action is perhaps the most complicated.
And there is even critical debate about what action is an aren't, can it ever really exist, what counts as an action and how action is different from or supplemented by speech.
Or is the same as speech in certain respects.
What doesn't she define action as both words and deeds?
She does. But then elsewhere she says things like action requires words and what she calls the web of stories to really exist.
So she says so many things about action and speech and their relationship that I think it's a fascinating topic to try to figure out what actions are actually speech, where they are not speech.
So in certain places in the human condition, our end talks about action and it seems to be something like what we do in public among equals, which is new, spontaneous, not accountable by any natural causes, let's say.
And it has consequences in history or it has consequences in the political public realm, let's say.
I did a show two weeks ago on Athenian democracy and there my guest, Josh Ober, exciting Herodotus said that speech, the freedom of every citizen to get up and have his voice heard in the public assembly was a very foundation of Greek democracy.
Would you agree that Hannah Arendt had something like that in mind that it's not just speech in accidental circumstances or what we might say to each other privately intimately, but no, it's in the public sphere where words lead to acts or lead to public consequences.
Absolutely because speech for Arendt is not just talking, I mean one way to understand I think some of these concepts that aren't deploys speech, world, political, even birth or miracle, one way to understand these terms is to think of them or when I teach in class, I think that with a capital letter, speeches and just talking, action isn't just whatever you do by speech in the human condition, Arendt means the kind of speech that is among equals and in this political sphere.
But what I find complicated and fascinating and problematic is on the one hand, what I just said about action, it seems to be something we do in front of others.
On the other hand, she also says in the human condition in the chapter on action that action requires speech and as I said the web of stories that get told about it to really become action.
So it's as if it only becomes action when it's told, the stories of heroes are told and so their action is almost created retroactively. On the on another hand, she says at a different point, well, many are or even most actions are performed in the manner of speech.
What on earth does that mean in the manner of speech as speech in speech like speech and then at the end of that chapter on action, a section I really enjoy. She writes about forgiveness and promising and she does write that these are actions and yet they seem to be actions that are transacted in speech.
So what does she mean by promise and forgiveness? She writes about forgiveness as a human capacity essentially to absolve people of the responsibility for the unintended consequences of their actions.
Anything and everything we do in the world connects to innumerable consequences, things that we don't know could happen results because we are a chain, we are also even in free action part of a natural causality, things just happen as a result of our actions.
And our answer is nobody could act under the burden of such responsibility. So there is forgiveness which in a way, excal paints us for the unintended consequence of our actions.
Is it only for the unintended consequences? Is there any such thing as forgiveness for intentionally committed immoral act?
She does write in Aishman about that at greater length.
Aikman is a book that she wrote famous book called The Aikman, The Banality of Evil.
Yes, and there she writes about how some acts are not forgivable. But in the human condition, we actually forgive people for the sake of the person, not for the sake of the act.
So it's one place in action where the personal and the chapter on action which seems to be about politics, where the personal kind of comes back in.
So forgiveness, one way I thought about forgiveness is in a way only with forgiveness that cuts us off from a future of absolutely connected consequences can anything new happen.
Anything new that seems to happen might appear to be related to other events that have happened going to other events. But somehow the possibility to break with the chain of consequences that I think forgiveness represents, that possibility of a break with a chain of consequences makes for the possibility of what she calls miracles, something new and spontaneous, unprecedented act, promising the counterpart to forgiveness in that chapter, according to R&D,
And so the way that we can secure a future amid all the uncertainty of the world and its absolute ungovernability, we can make promises to each other and thereby secure ourselves a future, where otherwise the future would be so uncertain as to be daunting and perhaps also render us unable to act.
And so promise and forgiveness are intrinsically related to the sphere of action.
And I think she makes a point that they are distinctly human phenomena at that.
And you've heard me speak at a Hanar and colloquium that we had here at Stanford a few years ago about the way in which certain moments in which you act into nature, rather than into nature,
rather than into history. And you know how concerned I am about what's going on with contemporary technology, especially biotechnology, she says or suggests, she doesn't actually say it, but I kind of bring out what I think is implicit, that the order of nature is different than the order of the human and of history and there is something unforgiving in the natural world and that you cannot undo the consequences through forgiveness in when you act into nature.
And the same way that you might be able to forgive something that has been acted into history. And I think that we might be that Hanar aren't thinking is still extremely relevant to us when it comes to this warning that we better be careful about how we acted in nature because it is a realm without forgiveness.
The acting into nature question that I know is very close to you and I know you have thought a lot about and written about and we have talked about it.
It's thoughtful, it's important, but I still have to say I think it's where you hairse and eyes aren't in certain regards. Acting into nature, she does write about it, but I guess I from a rent, he in a standpoint if I can assume that.
I just don't know whether your concerns would be her concerns for a couple of reasons and I've talked about this in my class, I raised your discussion of acting into nature in my class and we've talked about it and my students had many arguments against you and in your absence.
But I'm sure you did a good job defending me though.
The acting into nature, so first problem would be that aren't does seem and it does seem in many places to suggest that the human world is absolutely artificial, it is not the world of nature and so of course what you're saying makes some sense.
But on the other hand, I just don't know that even for aren't whether the absolute distinction you would wish to make would hold. Acting, even if it's acting in the human world in her sense, is always acting in nature because we are in bodies and because we do not only inhabit the human world but also the natural world.
If you construct a gora, you're wiping out some plants and bugs and so that the human world is superimposed onto the natural world.
Superimposed is fine but you're not intervening and changing the very constituency of the material world.
Well and precisely the acting into nature that she refers to in her description if I remember it properly is about human beings recreating the spontaneous processes of nature.
Obviously the atom bomb being something that you know even in her time would have been in the forefront of people's minds.
So yes, the recreation of the spontaneous processes of nature would be acting into nature.
But again, listen, what would you agree Karen that for someone who had lived not through the Holocaust from the inside she was never in Auschwitz or anything but who suffered that event.
That's closely as she did. It's not relevant whether she would have thought so or not. We can argue about it but when you see what's going on in contemporary biotechnology and the kind of eugenics that were being experimented with in Auschwitz with mangile and this whole attempt to get into the very fabric by which the biotic generates itself and to change it.
And determine it and create a desired kind of result by appropriation of the biological processes themselves.
I think it smacks very much like a having the danger of leading down a path that I think would have been horrified by.
Clearly there are risks in this technology but for instance in the introduction to the human condition, aren't rights and I know some of your justification for your view on acting into nature comes from this but aren't rights about how science is simply happening.
Scientists are just proceeding and doing research and nobody is deciding about that. Nobody is thinking about that. It's just happening that it's not something anyone's thinking about and she writes in that introduction that her goal is for us to think what we are doing.
We think what we are doing in this transit of sense to think what we are doing, not just think about it to think it. I don't think that thinking what we are doing necessarily would entail rejecting what we are doing or refusing what we are doing.
So I think aren't is more about a call to thinking it than it is about rejecting it and deciding in advance which directions are allowable or not.
I will go along with that as long as we are agreed that there is a call to thinking that she represents with this regard.
Now let's talk about thinking because it applies in many spheres and we will end up bringing it back to this idea of acting in the nature.
Why is this important? Why is this important? Because of course the life of the mind, her last work that didn't get finished was a volume of thinking, a volume of willing and then they just barely begun.
So thinking I would say for our end is in a certain continuity with judging and judging would be in a certain continuity with acting. Thinking she writes is a matter of the internal dialogue with one's self, one's own interlocutor and that is for our end I would say a kind of a practice to judging where judging is the ability to think from another standpoint.
All right, means heavily on Kant in this regard. We are judging is again the ability to, well at least in aesthetic judgment is the ability to think from another's point of view.
And then of course acting is the concretization, I won't say literalization, but the concretization or anthropologization of that where we act among others or with others.
So thinking is crucial as this stage in which there is a dialogue with one's self, but I would argue that it's not separate from the world, it's not about inwardness, it's not about me inside myself, rather it is about worldliness.
What does it have to do with plurality? That's another Kant, she assumes or throws out there that being human means to belong to a plurality.
This is significant in the human condition elsewhere that we are born into a world with others. I mean this is mid-line. We are always with others and among others.
And this is the condition of world that we are in. It is the human condition.
What enables thinking, what enables me to think in such a way that I can see the world from the point of view of someone else?
Imagination would be the quality that R.N. describes. This is the problem that she ascribes to Aichman.
She says Aichman lacked imagination. This is why he was absolutely thoughtless. She writes about Aichman that he spoke in cliches, that he had this empty talk, and that it was, that people in fact suspected that behind his empty talk and his own
ridiculous cliches was some diabolical thought. And her controversial conclusion was, no, there is absolutely nothing behind his cliches and his empty talk. That there really is no thinking there. And she says it's precisely owing to a lack of imagination.
He spoke bureaucraties. He simply repeated cliches and he was unable to even account much for himself because of this lack of thought that is
predicate unlike of imagination. Well, and there you go. And that's where she's that phrase, "Bennality of evil." Much misunderstood, I think. The in context she spoke about the monstrous thoughtless and wordless
"Bennality of evil." Thoughtless and wordless ascribe it to him. And if you cannot think in that sense of the term thinking, then we just put your dialogue with either someone else in your own head or another real other in the world, then everything is possible. This kind of banal evil becomes possible.
Yes, that there would be no possibility to be in another's perspective. In judging, of course, this becomes also a question. And from the question of Eichmann's thoughtlessness, let's say, in her coverage of the Eichmann and Jerusalem trial, she turns the question of judging as well on several levels we could say.
First of all, the judges in the actual trial were in the position aren't notes of trying to judge this crime with no legal precedence, with no jurisprudential concepts. And so their judgment of the trial was itself a new thing. But in addition to that, there's the question that aren't raises in the Eichmann context of the possibility of people to judge for themselves what is morally right or morally wrong.
She refers to the fact that European laws in many countries have a provision that no one must follow a law that is patently immoral. And of course, if the law doesn't guide you to an understanding of what's patently moral or patently immoral, only one's own judgment is left for that.
So, in the Eichmann book is interested in his thoughtlessness, but also in the judgment of the judges without any legal precedence and the lack of judgment on the part of the many people who embrace national socialism who went along with the program, who participated in genocide and atrocity.
And in fact, she says in Eichmann the only question of this book, which history has said otherwise, but the only question in this book is that of justice and justice is a matter of judgment.
It's not enough, she says to say that either Eichmann was a tiny cog in a machine, and it's also not enough to say he was the motor behind the machine.
Both of these models of dealing with Eichmann, the defense said he was just a tiny cog in the machine, and then some prosecutors would say he was a horrible monster who was the motor behind the machine.
She says it doesn't matter what matters is whether he's the motor in the machine or the cog what matters is the inability to make moral judgments.
His inability or our inability.
Yes, well, his lack of thinking of course would produce a lack of judgment because thinking the dialogue would be so.
So is thinking a precondition for judgment?
I mean, if we are not able to think, are we really able to judge, or can we have good judgment without necessarily thinking about it?
Well, at some point it sounds in awe and it's just thinking we're the precursor, but I would say that I don't know, to pick apart the chronology here wouldn't be so helpful.
But I guess I'm trying to get at, because eventually I'd like to get back to this idea of acting into nature, is that there are because plurality is one of the basic conditions of the human condition.
Likewise, is what you call "natality" you've used that word before.
That means new beginnings are always possible.
And the unprecedented, the miraculous is possible.
Now sometimes when you have phenomena which are unprecedented like totalitarianism or Nazism, they destroy all the criteria or standards of judgment that had been traditionally the foundation for judgment.
And there you find yourself without standard, without a universal rule to bring to bear on a particular case.
And you have to think in the presence of the unprecedented, and you have to judge, especially, because judgment cannot be the victim or casualty of newness.
So, and sometimes when the universal principle is lacking, you still have to bring judgment to bear and that if Eichmann couldn't do it, he's not absolved of his guilt.
Absolutely, Aaron says in the trial that it's even right that he should hang, because he committed the crimes.
And she says it is the acts being judged.
And so, judgment is of right or wrong.
Thinking obviously covers a lot more territory and has many more possibilities, because someone can have a dialogue with oneself about many things.
But judgment is about right or wrong, and acts must be judged.
And so, thinking would be a preparation for judgment, but it's not a preparation for other things.
And judgment is also not the only plurality continues to be an issue even in judgment, let's say.
plurality, I think, is the only way we can understand our end's concern for action in the human condition elsewhere.
I agree.
And this is where if we go back then to what you were saying earlier about the preface to the human condition, where there's an invitation for us to think what is happening in the sciences.
But as you said, in the sciences things just happened.
The real challenges to think about it.
And we might find ourselves in a similar sort of situation when you're trying to think a phenomenon which was as newest totalitarianism was in the first half of the 20th century.
Now, in the beginning of the 21st century, when we were faced with the completely unprecedented phenomena that are coming about as a result of this incredibly enhanced
mastery and possession of nature that modern technology has handed over to us, has consigned over to us.
Now, I don't think it's a question of whether the fetus is a person or not a person that these kind of old standards of criteria of judgment or universal rules are not going to help us decide, or not can even help us think of the inconceivable magnitude and unprecedented
consequences of the kinds of acts that we are taking without thinking about.
I think you're evoking here a conflict that might already be in our end or attention that might already be there between what we have talked about with regard to judgment and then the question of politics, which we haven't talked that much about, because judgment is about, is as we've discussed in terms of the IHMAN book, a matter of one's own judgment of right or wrong.
And again, it should be something one can do, even in the midst of a society or a world that is disastrously misguided and wrong.
So, judgment is something that we must be able to do individually and aren't suggested in the IHMAN book.
But in the human condition, in the section on action, politics comes up and we haven't talked as much about that.
Politics is being in the sphere of equals, acting with and among them in a very public way.
There are various interpretations of what this means and whether it's even possible.
And so, let's talk more about politics perhaps and try to clarify that with respect to judgment.
Yeah, we should do that. But since, why don't we wrap up this session here, Karen, because we have to get off the air so that baseball can take over the broadcast.
And what we'll do is it will continue our conversation and make air at sometime in the future.
But in the meantime, we'll put it up online and make it available through iTunes and through our web page.
And thank you for coming on for this first session.
Thanks for having me here.
Thank you for watching.
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