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The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt

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Judith Butler. Hannah Arendt, Ethics, and Responsibility. 2009 1/10

Walmart Services. Get to Know Us. The phi- losopher requires education, the quality of education is related to the quality of the state, and so, Plato gloomily concludes, a corrupt state is likely to smother the rarest philosophical souls. At best, such a state engenders critics, individuals who are in but not of their society.

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Ideally, the political regime is one that accords with philosophical insight. In a corrupt regime, however, the philosopher will avoid entanglement in pol- itics and free himself from the opinions and passions of the polis. This Platonic vision, Arendt believes, is normative for Western political thought.

For Platonists, this is the only means for dis- tinguishing between political philosophy and mere ideological discourse. In other words, the very idea of political philosophy necessitates an apolitical starting-point. The gulf between philosophy and politics could hardly be more starkly rendered: philosophy demands a principled withdrawal from public life, while politics means living according to ideas that are at best half- true and at worst false.

If, as she says, it occasioned a radical change in per- spective, it distorted our understanding of acting and thinking by demoniz- ing the one and glorifying the other. In reality, thinking is not as autonomous as the Platonic tradition would have it, nor acting as thoughtless. Is her atti- tude, then, predominantly nostalgic? Arendt is often accused of hankering after the lost Greek polis, but her critics are confusing nostalgia and mourn- ing. The work of mourning, as Freud understands it, is to dissipate our attachment to a lost object.

To mourn, on the other hand, is to face loss — to experience its true extent and meaning. For him, each member of the polis possesses his individual doxa, his opinion or viewpoint on the world, and any such doxa is to be regarded, not as a falsehood or a distor- tion of reality, but as a potential truth waiting to be unfolded: To Socrates, as to his fellow citizens, doxa was the formulation in speech of what dokei moi, that is, of what appears to me.

This doxa had as its topic. It was not, therefore, subjective fantasy and arbitrariness, but also not something absolute and valid for all. The assump- tion was that the world opens up differently to every man, according to his position in it. For Socrates, all such foundations — including Platonic ideas, no matter how purged of social and historical distortions — are themselves subject to transformation.

Socrates is aware that anything we think we know might be wrong, and that we come to realize this when we expose our ideas to the scrutiny of others. The corollary of this position, however, is that in every opinion, some truth resides: Every man has his own doxa, his own opening to the world, and Socrates must therefore always begin with questions; he cannot know beforehand what kind of dokei moi, of it-appears-to-me, the other possesses. Socrates wanted to bring out this truth which everyone potentially possesses. In the realm of human affairs, reality and so by exten- sion, truth is multiple.

Because he did not regard truth as inherently opposed to opinion, Socrates saw no need to make a rigorous distinction between philosophy and persua- sion, the political art par excellence. The role of the philosopher, then, is.

The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt by Dana Richard Villa

The dif- ference with Plato is decisive: Socrates did not want to educate the citizens so much as he wanted to improve their doxai, which constituted the political life in which he too took part. He avoids public affairs, but does not retreat to private life. The self is the only person from whom I cannot depart, whom I cannot leave, with whom I am welded together. Taking Aristotle as a stand-in for Socrates, she writes: Aristotle concludes that it is friendship not justice as Plato maintained in the Republic, that great dialogue about justice that appears to be the bond of communities.

For Aristotle, friendship is higher than justice, because justice is no longer necessary between friends. A Socratic philosophy of multiple perspectives, amenable to rich and surprising development, accords well with the politics of a diverse citizenry: it is democracy perfected. Wonder at being versus the tyranny of truth The essential medium of human affairs is speech, but the inner spring of phi- losophy, Arendt says, is akin to speechlessness.

The wonder that man endures or which befalls him cannot be related in words because it is too general for words.