Hannah Arendt’s theory of judgment
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Hannah Arendt’s theory of judgment book
In this chapter I would like to reconstruct Hannah Arendt’s theory of judgment and relate it to some of the issues I have explored in the last two chapters. In Chapter 1 I argued that Arendt’s conception of modernity is characterized by a deep concern about the loss of meaning (Freiheitsverlust) and loss of freedom (Sinnverlust) brought about by world alienation, earth alienation, the rise of the social, and the disappearance of the public sphere. In Arendt’s view the processes of world alienation and earth alienation have undermined the possibility of forming stable identities, of establishing an adequate sense of reality, and of endowing our existence with meaning. The rise of the social and the disappearance of the public sphere have, in turn, eroded the opportunities for engaging in spontaneous action with others and for creating free public spaces of interaction and discourse. Against this predicament Arendt sets out to revindicate the importance of memory, that is, of a selective reappropriation of the past that can critically illuminate the present, and the value of action, understood as the free and spontaneous intercourse among a plurality of agents mediated by speech and persuasion. In this chapter I want to examine another proposed remedy to the losses incurred by modernity, namely, the exercise of our capacity for judgment, and to reconstruct Arendt’s theory with respect to this most crucial faculty. As Michael Denneny has observed, “action, the central category in Arendt’s political thought, is matched by judgment as the faculty that responds to and evaluates actions.” Indeed, “with the wisdom of hindsight it is now fairly clear that the whole corpus of Hannah Arendt’s political thought can be articulated around two foci: the concept of action and the significance
of judgment in the world of opinion.”1 Let us then look more closely at the way in which Arendt developed her theory of judgment, and the reasons why it plays such a central role in her theory of politics.