This seminar explores Hannah Arendt’s reflections on judgment, especially as these were shaped by her experience reporting for The New Yorker at the 1961 war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. After exploring the issues Arendt raises in Eichmann in Jerusalem, and before turning to her most mature reflections on the theme of judgment in particular, we will examine Arendt's understanding of the human situation "between past and future" in the essay collection that bears the same name. These essays will help contextualize Arendt's last (and uncompleted) reflections on judgment as that 'faculty' which might yet help us think and act in unprecedented social and political situations where traditional wisdom has collapsed and universal rules have proved incapable of providing moral guidance. Arendt asks how we can come to understand our time, with its unprecedented crimes, and thereby reconcile ourselves to (without condoning) our past and present. Such understanding is essential, she says, if we are to be able to take up the possibility of an alternative future path amidst the various crises of culture, tradition, and authority that characterize modern existence. This exploration will finally lead us to Arendt's latest thoughts concerning judging specifically, a subject which she intended to form the subject matter of her third, uncompleted, volume of The Life of the Mind. In looking at the material collected in the volume Responsibility and Judgment, we will also ask what members of specifically religious communities might learn from Arendt's reflections (a question Arendt does not herself ask): Are faith communities prone to fostering ideological formations that inhibit their members' capacity to engage in the kind of thinking that Arendt says is a necessary condition of our ability to judge? Should members of faith communities be held responsible for engaging (or failing to engage) in the task of critical self-reflection? How do the beliefs and actions of different religious communities contribute to the ability of their members to become effective judges of a world that is shared and constituted by a plurality of persons who are members of different communities? How might Arendt's insights help religious adherents rediscover the spiritual and intellectual resources of their traditions that could awaken hope and reveal novel possibility for action?
ICS 220502 F16
Dr. Ronald A. Kuipers