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“Thinking” in a World of Appearances Hannah Arendt between Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger

  • John Francis Burke
Part of the The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research book series (ANHU, volume 21)

Abstract

At the conclusion of Hannah Arendt’s masterful treatment of the vita activa, The Human Condition (1958), she suggests that thinking might very well constitute the most active human activity: For if no other test but the experience of being active, no other measure but the extent of sheer activity were to be applied to the various activities within the vita activa, it might well be that thinking as such would surpass them all. Whoever has any experience in this matter will know how right Cato was when he said: Numquam se plus agere quam nihil cum ageret, numquam minus solum esse quam cum solum esset - “Never is he more active when he does nothing, never is he less alone than when he is by himself.”2 However, in terms of Arendt’s major distinction between the vita activa and the vita contemplativa, thinking is much more indigenous to the latter. It is not until The Life of the Mind (1978) that Arendt unpacks the significance of thinking as suggested in the above quotation.3

Keywords

Bodily Organ Sheer Activity Ontological Character True World Karl Jasper 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Hannah Arendt, Thinking, Vol. I of The Life of the Mind, ed. Mary McCarthy (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 1; Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?, trans. J. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 159. In Gray’s translation the third line reads: “Thinking solves no cosmic riddles.” Heidegger, p. 159.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), p. 325.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Many of Arendt’s arguments in Thinking were initially formulated in her preceding essay, “Thinking and Moral Considerations,” Social Research 38 (1971), 417-47.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Thinking, p. 8.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Thinking, p. 4.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil constitutes a significant departure from her previous presentation of evil as radical in The Origin of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich, 1973), p. 459.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Friedrich Nietzsche, “Twilight of the Idols,” in The Portable Nietzsche, trans, and ed., Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press, 1968), pp. 485–86.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Thinking, p. 11; The Portable Nietzsche, p. 486.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Hannah Arendt, “What is Existenz Philosophy?,” Partisan Review 8 (1946), 51–56; Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Freedom and Karl Jaspers’ Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), pp. 122—29.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Thinking, p. 15.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Thinking, pp. 12–13.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The Human Condition, p. 8.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Thinking, p. 19.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Thinking, p. 20.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Thinking, p. 20.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Thinking, p. 23.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Thinking, p. 25.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Thinking, p. 26.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Thinking, p. 39.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Thinking, p. 32.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Thinking, p. 43.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis, ed. Claude Lefort (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1968), pp. 259–60.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Thinking, p. 33.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Thinking, p. 33.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs, trans. Richard McCleary (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1964), pp. 20–21.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Thinking, pp. 40–41.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Thinking, p. 42.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Thinking, p. 45.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Thinking, p. 46.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Thinking, p. 46. Arendt adopts this term from Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of the notion in the Visible and the Invisible, pp. 28—49.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Thinking, p. 48.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Thinking, p. 49.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Thinking, p. 49.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Thinking, p. 50.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Thinking, p. 58.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Thinking, p. 61.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Thinking, p. 61.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Thinking, p. 60.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Thinking, pp. 60–61.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Thinking, p. 65.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Arendt explains: “But Being, since Parmenides the highest concept of Western Philosophy, is a thought-thing that we do not expect to be perceived by the senses or to cause a sensation, whereas realness is akin to sensation.…“ Thinking, p. 51.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Arendt explains: “In other words, the common philosophical understanding of being as the ground of Appearance is true to the phenomenon of Life, but the same cannot be said of the evaluation of Being versus Appearance which is at the bottom of all two-world theories.” Thinking, p. 42.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Karl Jaspers, Philosophy, trans. E. B. Ashton (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), I, pp. 47–64.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Edmund Husserl, “Consciousness and Natural Reality,” in Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: An Anthology, ed. William Barrett and Henry Aiken (New York: Random House, 1962), II, pp. 179–205.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Francis Burke
    • 1
  1. 1.Southwest Texas State UniversityUSA

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