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Hannah Arendt: From Kantian Aesthetics to the Practice of Political Judgment

Instructor(s): Linda Zerilli
Spring 2024
Green abstract painting

The third volume of Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind was never written. As her editor, Mary McCarthy, observed: “After her death, a sheet of paper was found in her typewriter, blank except for the heading ‘Judging’ and two epigraphs. Sometime between the Saturday of finishing ‘Willing’ [the second volume of the aforementioned work] and the Thursday of her death, she must have sat down to confront the final section.”

In this course we will consider the possibility that Arendt does in fact address the problem of validity (which, with Kant she calls “subjective validity”), with one important caveat: she does not think that validity in itself is the all-important problem or task for political judgment-the affirmation of political community as the realm of human plurality and freedom is. We will examine those aspects of Kant’s Critique of Judgment that she neglected, such as the non-cognitive function of productive imagination and the limits of reproductive imagination in the aesthetic of the sublime. We shall also consider the rather different critical view, advanced by postmodern thinkers like Lyotard, that Arendt does not repudiate but rather shares Habermas’ attempt to ground political community on a practice of judgment at whose center stands not the demand to create political community anew, but the idea that radical differences of opinion are in principle resolvable by means of proofs.


PLSC 44810 | CCCT 44810