Sunday, May 10, 2009

18b Hannah Arendt and philosophical method

Hannah Arendt has written about a multitude of political and historical subjects. You can not summarize that in one description, that charaterizes her political philosophpy. But everywhere you read about her phenomenological background, influences of Heidegger and Jaspers.

Biased as I am by my personal Analytical and empiricist background, I read her essay "On violence" (1970). Fascinating reading.

Ideas and theoretical considerations well supported by a broad knowledge of history and philosophy. And indeed a clarifying analysis of meaning of violence in politics.

But how do I have to understand this philosophically? I don't get far with a epistemological approach in the analytic sense. A logical analysis of the text might be an interesting enterprise, but doesnt get to the point.

So, my question was, how do I have to understand what Hannah Arendt writes. In other words: What is her philosophical method, her way of thinking.

When she discusses the meaning of words as 'power', 'strength', 'force', 'authority' and 'violence' she, maybe, describes her main inner drive in the following quote:

"Behind the apparent confusion is a firm conviction in whose light all distinctions would be, at best, of minor importance: the conviction that the most crucial political issue is, and always has been, the question Who rules Whom?"

And now her philosophical method. I'll illustrate that begining with a somewhat extensive quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia. While reading it, try to ask yourself about this text; is the author right? Is this plausible? Is this just abstract talk or even drivel?

"For Arendt, action is one of the fundamental categories of the human condition and constitutes the highest realization of the vita activa. Arendt analyzes the vita activa via three categories which correspond to the three fundamental activities of our being-in-the-world: labor, work, and action.

Labor is the activity which is tied to the human condition of life, work the activity which is tied to the condition of worldliness, and action the activity tied to the condition of plurality. For Arendt each activity is autonomous, in the sense of having its own distinctive principles and of being judged by different criteria.

Labor is judged by its ability to sustain human life, to cater to our biological needs of consumption and reproduction, work is judged by its ability to build and maintain a world fit for human use, and action is judged by its ability to disclose the identity of the agent, to affirm the reality of the world, and to actualize our capacity for freedom." -END QUOTE -

This quote concerns her book "The Human Condition" and the author gives us a fine example of the typical Heideggerian character of the way human existence is described by HAnnah Arendt. I never liked Heidegger and his philosophy, but today he gained a bit of my understanding and I mean serious understanding.

What we see here is a philosophical, or maybe you even could say an epistemological method, called Hermeneutics, from the Greek verb ἑρμηνεύω, which means 'to interpret'. Its origin lies in Germany, Wilhelm Dilthey (1833 - 1911).

Dilthey strongly rejected using a model formed exclusively from the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften), and instead proposed developing a separate model for the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften).

His argument centered around the idea that in the natural sciences we seek to explain phenomena in terms of cause and effect, or the general and the particular;

in contrast, in the human sciences, we seek to understand in terms of the relations of the part and the whole. We come with interpretations.

Heidegger took the hermeutics on step further and formulated an ontological hermeutics: to exist is to understand. Understanding his existence is one of the most fundamental characteristics of human existence.

And maybe this is one of the most fundamental differences in philosophical method: on the one hand we have the logical, analytical approach of philosophical questions with an emphasis on the epistemological themes;

but on the other hand you see an interpreting method (hermeneutics), which not primarily focusses on language, but uses language as it is to interpret the Being of Man, Being-in-the-world to understand this in terms of the relations of the part and the whole.

These are two fundamentally different methods of philosophical thinking, where the former mainly focusses on the phenomenon of knowledge and the later focusses on human existence as such. As if each method resides in its own half of the brain.

Thus you have to understand the work of Hannah Arendt, from the hermeutic perspective. While Heidedegger lost me in his highly abstract theories about Being and Time, which made my Analytical hairs stand up (as we say in Dutch - as a student I wasnt as bold as nowadays), I will certainly read Hannah Arendt's hermeneutic approch of human existence.

The Discussion

[13:28] Cailleach Shan: Whew!
[13:28] herman Bergson: One word to Itsme, because he came up with the Eichmann trail and how Hannah Arendt was attacked, because of the way she reported about it. A quote from "On Violence"
[13:28] Alarice Beaumont: oh my
[13:28] herman Bergson: Unfortunately Itsme isnt here..
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: ah
[13:29] herman Bergson: But last time he refered to the Eichmann process and how she was critisized about the way she reported about it..
[13:29] herman Bergson: she regared Eichmann as a nobody while the world liked to see him as a monster....
[13:30] Corona Anatine: a monstrous nobody perhasps
[13:30] herman Bergson: just read this quote form her essay 'On Violence' and you'll understand her point of view
[13:30] herman Bergson: "Today we ought to add tha latest and perhaps formidable form of dominion: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody."
[13:31] herman Bergson: That is how she saw Eichmann in my opinion: a Nobody, yet lethal.
[13:31] herman Bergson: So much on Hannah Arendt
[13:32] Paula Dix: wow lots to think about
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: understood the quote re work and labor but this not
[13:32] Qwark Allen: yes
[13:32] Gemma Cleanslate: and action is judged by its ability to disclose the identity of the agent, to affirm the reality of the world, and to actualize our capacity for freedom." -END QUOTE -
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: we have had so many nobodies just before and since the eichmann trial.. more that 30 mill.people killed.. the banality of terror..
[13:32] hope63 Shepherd: but they had no jewish lobby in the world medias..
[13:33] herman Bergson: What is the main issue here to talk about is the fundamental difference in philosophical method
[13:33] Cailleach Shan: I don't understand the difference between labour and work as in Hannah's statement.
[13:33] Corona Anatine: possibly they are scalar and vector
[13:33] Paula Dix: herman the two methods can be seen as complimentary?
[13:34] herman Bergson: The quote I gave you is in fact of no importance..only as a sample of Heideggerian way of thinking
[13:34] Gemma Cleanslate: ok lol
[13:34] Mickorod Renard: labor is where u feed your basic needs
[13:34] herman Bergson: Yes Paula...
[13:34] Mickorod Renard: like animals feed
[13:34] hope63 Shepherd: labour is what is needed to survive.. work is what we can craete.. couldone say so herman?
[13:34] herman Bergson: stop this talk about labor..
[13:34] herman Bergson: that is not the issue
[13:34] Cailleach Shan: ooops.
[13:34] Mickorod Renard: sorry
[13:35] herman Bergson: what is the issue is hermeneutics as philosopical method
[13:35] hope63 Shepherd: you are here to work.. fellow studenst
[13:35] Paula Dix: there is a paralel with reinassance when men become center of thinking universe?
[13:36] herman Bergson: a bit far fetched I would say...but ok..:-)
[13:36] Corona Anatine: so the difference fundamental is one of direction
[13:36] Corona Anatine: one way goes from world to humanity
[13:36] Corona Anatine: the other ftom humanity to world
[13:36] Paula Dix: lol i mean, before it was take god(s) and put men in place, now its take science objects and put men in place
[13:36] herman Bergson: what this is about that in a person as Hannah Arendt you meet someone who writes interesting books
[13:37] herman Bergson: they are interesting interpretations of history
[13:37] hope63 Shepherd: which give way to other interpretations..
[13:37] herman Bergson: Things is..what should we think about these interpretations
[13:37] Paula Dix: Ive read about her today, and it mentioned the question about banality of evil... surely related to this bureaucracy idea... but whats her conclusion? evil is banal?
[13:38] herman Bergson: yes Hope..THAT is the issue at stake
[13:38] herman Bergson: why this interpretation and why not that other interpretation
[13:38] hope63 Shepherd: but.. in the end.. all meets again.. like before.. where answers lead to other questions..
[13:38] Mickorod Renard: there are many ways of interpreting information
[13:38] herman Bergson: a complete different approach than Analytical philosophy
[13:38] Cailleach Shan: So are you saying that there is no 'one' definition for anything. All is open to individual interpretations?
[13:39] herman Bergson: Well...Cailleach..there you hit a nerve....
[13:39] Gemma Cleanslate: that has comeup before too
[13:39] herman Bergson: I mean...A interprets the situation like this
[13:40] herman Bergson: B like that C like that...
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: not only open cal.. isn't all based on interpretaion of what they thought to know..
[13:40] Paula Dix: and all are right...
[13:40] herman Bergson: Hermeneutics was introduced as a real epistemological method...
[13:40] herman Bergson: might expect that it leads to equal interpretations
[13:40] hope63 Shepherd: which would demand more profound communication..
[13:41] herman Bergson: but that is the doesnt
[13:41] Paula Dix: yes, is that what it means? they are still not "there"??
[13:41] Corona Anatine: that is a flawed argument tho herman
[13:41] Samuel Okelly: in what way does this this differ qualitatively from reativism?
[13:41] Corona Anatine: cos not all interpretations can be said to have equal value
[13:42] hope63 Shepherd: who is to judge the values..
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes Samuel..another good point..
[13:42] Cailleach Shan: We are speaking about the 'process' here I think.
[13:42] herman Bergson: Are all interpretations equal??
[13:42] herman Bergson: interchangeble
[13:42] herman Bergson: I tend to say NO
[13:42] Corona Anatine: i agree
[13:43] herman Bergson: some interpretations are more plausible than others
[13:43] Corona Anatine: quite so
[13:43] herman Bergson: and here philosophy kicks in again..
[13:43] herman Bergson: ok..why is one interpretation more plausible than the other
[13:44] Tanja Jarvinen: well it depends on what you base it on ?
[13:44] hope63 Shepherd: well.. if we use the falsification method..
[13:44] herman Bergson: So reading Hannah Arendt on political philosophy isnt the same as reading the daily column in the newspaper...there is a difference
[13:45] Cailleach Shan: She has a lifetime of study to give her word credence.
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: it is her method
[13:45] herman Bergson: Yes Cailleach..this is one aspect
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: daily columns are besaed on a prequalified value..
[13:45] Corona Anatine: biased
[13:45] hope63 Shepherd: thank you corona.)
[13:46] Paula Dix: biased or based?
[13:46] Corona Anatine: yw
[13:46] Mickorod Renard: I suppose an issue that happened in one persons history may be seen as different in another persons history and should be interpreted seperatly.
[13:46] hope63 Shepherd: both make sense paula..
[13:46] Paula Dix: lol
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: well i think that philosophical differences are all biased on the backgrounds of the philosopher
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well..what I want to make clear is that hermeneutics is a method of interpreting reality..
[13:47] herman Bergson: a completely different approach from Analytical philosophy
[13:47] hope63 Shepherd: or intuition..
[13:47] Mickorod Renard: yes,,so is this where we are at hannahs case?
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: i looked for a good explanation of it and could not find one
[13:47] Paula Dix: herman, in what it differs? It still uses the same logic, doesnt?
[13:48] herman Bergson: Yes PAula...
[13:48] Corona Anatine: the logic is the same
[13:48] Corona Anatine: but different premises will lead to different conclusions
[13:49] herman Bergson: But I would say that in contrast withthe analytical approach to life, the hermeneutic appoach is more literary and poetic. Just think of a man like Sartre
[13:49] Paula Dix: ok, so it would also uses psychology?
[13:49] herman Bergson: Let me put it this way...
[13:50] hope63 Shepherd: but may be hannah and sartre saw that an approaqch to get their ideass to a larger crowd..
[13:50] herman Bergson: It looks like there are two ways at looking at the world...
[13:50] herman Bergson: on the one hand the scientific way....
[13:50] herman Bergson: on the other hand the artistic way
[13:50] Corona Anatine: holistic and incremental
[13:50] Tanja Jarvinen: how and why?
[13:51] Mickorod Renard: the hermeneutic appoach is used widely in religious interpretation,,of the scriptures
[13:51] Cailleach Shan: I think it's a bit like computers. "Rubbish in.... rubbish out!
[13:51] Cailleach Shan: Gold in Gold out
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: i did see that mick
[13:51] herman Bergson: Yes Tanja..that is immediately the next question
[13:51] Paula Dix: i dont know, for me both are the same, i mean, you dont have one without the other
[13:51] herman Bergson: Yes Mickorod...
[13:52] herman Bergson: I dont know....
[13:52] herman Bergson: It is how you look at reality...
[13:52] Corona Anatine: the parallel is perhaps ith a motor vehicle - the analytic mehtond will produce a collection of parts
[13:53] herman Bergson: primarily I prefer the scientific way...philosophically it means realism
[13:53] Corona Anatine: the holistic methond also finds velocity
[13:53] hope63 Shepherd: conceive.. not look..
[13:53] Paula Dix: i love science and love art and for me one enhances the other,,, not the other way
[13:53] Mickorod Renard: I gotta go guys n dols..c u soon,,,,,thank you Herman
[13:54] herman Bergson: Exactly that is just NOT the difference Corona
[13:54] Corona Anatine: ok
[13:54] Paula Dix: bye Mick
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: I sorry..
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: yes i have to go too and will nto be here thursday I'm Sorry! to say
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: thanks Herman
[13:54] Qwark Allen: ******* Herman *******
[13:54] Qwark Allen: ty
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: I sorry..
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: you I'm Sorry!
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: Bye
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: all
[13:54] Paula Dix: by e Gemma
[13:54] herman Bergson: Ok....:-)
[13:54] Qwark Allen: cya later
[13:55] herman Bergson: Bye you who are leaving
[13:55] Rodney Handrick: bye Gemma
[13:55] Rodney Handrick: bye qwark
[13:55] Samuel Okelly: thanks herman! tc every1 :)
[13:55] Mickorod Renard: bye,,thankyou

Posted by herman_bergson on 2009-02-20 06:27:28

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