Hannah Arendt – Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (1970, published 1982)

This is a blow-by-blow summary of Arendt’s argument with some analysis interspersed:

In Kant, nature = history, the historical subject is conceived as the human species, bios and zoe before the emergence of the polis (8). The second critique is directed at man conceived in this way–as man as a creature in the natural world–while the (first part of) the third critique is Kant’s unrealized political philosophy, directed at man as a political, not merely social, being (9). What starts out as a critique of taste (a popular topic in the eighteenth-century) becomes an analysis of what is “behind taste”–i.e. judgment (10). [Already we see Arendt importing categories of modern thought that denigrate taste as such…but more later.] The frist part of the 3rd critique speak of men in the plural, as they really are and live; the second part speaks of the human species (13). [Here we see Arendt hedging, preparing to sideline the problematic entrance of purposiveness, teleology and the divine tout court in the second part.] How is judgment different from reason? Reason tells me what to do and speaks in imperatives; judgment arises from contemplative pleasure and delight (15).

Arendt helpfully summarizes the relation between the three critiques:

To summarize: Human species = mankind = part of nature = subject to history…teleological judgment: second part fo Critique of Judgment.

Man = reasonable being, subject to the laws of practical reason which he gives to himself, autonomous, an end in himself…realm of intelligible beings = Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Pure Reason.

Men = Earthbound creatures, living in communities, endowed with sommon sense, sensus communis, a community sense; not autonomous, needing each other’s company even for thinking (“freedom of the pen”) – first part of the Critique of Judgment: aesthetic judgment. (26-7)

Arendt then beings to work up to a theory of general communicability by way of “critical thinking.” Critical thinking is precsiely that which does not succumb to dogmatic metaphysics, on the one hand, or skepticism, on the other. It can never be “caught hold of” by a single institutional thought. Critical thinking is precisely that sort of thought that does nto claim general validity, but rather general communicability. “It is accomplished by ‘comparing our judgment with the possible rather than the actual judgment of others'” (43). In other words, sensus communis does not refer to the lowest common denominator of thought, but to that which is possible for any person to think within a given community. Here we mark the relative limit of taste. Thus the tasting subject becomes the Kantian “world-spectator,” or cosmopolitan, onlooker that assumes a progressive narrative. [This is a convergence of the first and second parts of the 3rd critique, one should note.]

Now some tricky stuff on taste and imagination: Arendt claims that imagination solves the riddle of incommunicability of taste (64-5), by converting, by way of reflection, the merely objective sensual proceses of tasting and smelling into object of an inner sense. By reflecting on its representation, pleasure or displeasure can be aroused and communication is made possible. [That Arendt excises corporeal experience all together from the political potential of taste is disappointing, to say the least.] Imagination makes present what is absent, which means that tasting experience must be converted into a existential absence for the sake of representation: immediacy is sacrificed for the mediated. This is because, in Kant, what pleases is not the act of perception (now indistinguishable from sensation itself), but the operation of reflection. [Some careful parsing of the difference between the agreeable, the beautiful and the sublime is in order.] By removing the object, one establishes the conditions of impartiality (67). Or, as Arendt puts it, cleverly, “the nonsubjective element in the nonobjective senses is intersubjectivity. (you must be alone in order to think; you need to company to enjoy a meal” (67).

There is therefore, according to Arendt, two mental operations that occur in judgment: imagination, which prepares the way for reflection (68). “The sense of taste is a sense in which one, as it were, senses oneself; it is an inner sense” (68). [What about that delicious Burgundy? what happened to it?] And reflection is the operation of actually judging something. [Well Arendt’s division is pretty flimsy, because the excision of the object which supposedly takes place in reflection has already happened in taste and imagination.]

The rest of the lectures are marked by a steady reversion to Smithean forms of sympathy. Ugh. Tastes are to be judged according to their communicability. What? Why? Judgment becomes conditioned on “mental enlargement,” a fully de-corporealized mode of cognitive relation: able to think from the other’s standpoint (74). [As if that were possible.] Then out of nowhere comes the idea of “exemplary validity,” which seems to relegate the modality of the aesthetic’s a relationship to politics to secondary status. More important is the process of simile by which we establish associative properties that can be imitated. A disappointing conclusion that doe snot follow from the very provocative thoughts in the beginning and middle. A postscript follows in which she writes, “The judgment has exemplary validity to the degree that the example is well chosen” (84), which puts us right back at the beginning.



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