An Ethic of Plurality: Reconciling Politics and Morality in Hannah Arendt

History and Judgment: IWM JVF Conference Vol. 21 (2006)
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My concern in this paper is how to reconcile a central tension in Hannah Arendt’s thinking, one that – if left unresolved – may make us reluctant to endorse her political theory. Arendt was profoundly and painfully aware of the horrors of political evil; in fact, she is almost unparalleled in 20 th century thought in her concern for the consequences of mass political violence, the victims of political atrocities, and the most vulnerable in political society – the stateless, the pariahs, the outcasts. At least, this is the case in her discussions of concrete, historical political situations. Yet in her philosophical writings, she continues to argue that the political realm ultimately redeems human existence, and furthermore, that politics should remain distinct and autonomous from moral evaluation. Political action must be evaluated according to “greatness,” not goodness or any other explicitly moral or even ethical standard. She goes so far as to suggest that politics and morality may be deeply hostile to one another, and can only be reconciled in situations of extreme emergency. This can leave many feeling both perplexed and deeply uncomfortable with the theory of human action that Arendt proposes. Drawing on her notions of political conscience, judgment and - in particular - her account of forgiveness, in this paper I argue that Arendt offers an ethics of plurality, in which what is good is developed from what is most politically important: amor mundi, or love of our shared political world.

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Alice MacLachlan
York University


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