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The Origins of Hannah Arendt's Theory of Judgment

In 1955, Hannah Arendt taught a course at Berkeley on “Kant’s Political Theory.” The unpublished typescripts and manuscripts that remain from those lectures make interesting reading. Her verdict on the Kantian political project is damning. His account of political community begins with the assumption of what she terms “worldlessness.” All of Kant’s intellectual energy, according to Arendt, is invested in examining the moral relationship of individuals to themselves. And, from such a beginning, there is no chance of going on to theorize how it is that connections between human beings are forged. For Arendt in 1955, Kant is an anti-political thinker. Arendt’s 1955 criticism of Kant is surprising. Ever since the publication of Ronald Beiner’s edition of Arendt’s 1970 New School lectures on Kant’s political philosophy, readers have assumed that Arendt thought of Kant as a highly significant precursor to her own thinking about politics. I begin simply by emphasizing the difference between Arendt’s early interpretation of Kant’s political significance and her late interpretation. Between 1955 and 1970 a profound reorientation in Arendt’s interpretation of Kant took place. Clearly, that reorientation is centered on her discovery of the role of judgment in Kant, and in politics more generally. I ask two basic questions. First, how did the topos “judging” emerge into Arendt’s thought? Second, how does the intellectual history of her engagement with that topos alter the way that scholars should understand Arendtian judgment?

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