Respecting plurality in times of change: Hannah Arendt's conceptions of political, personal, and ethical responsibility

Stephen Schulman, Marquette University

Abstract

In this dissertation, my goal is to explore and to offer an internal critique of Hannah Arendt's work on responsibility. I will argue that it is necessary to take into account two experiences which set the stage for all of her thinking on this subject: first, her experience of totalitarianism and, second, her finding that the Western philosophic tradition--far from counteracting totalitarianism--actually helped create the conditions that made it possible. She takes from these experiences the two primary concerns, plurality and novelty, for all of her work and these concerns determine the way she organizes her thinking on responsibility. After examining the lessons Arendt learned from totalitarianism in Chapters One and Two, I will turn to Arendt's account of political, personal and ethical responsibility to reveal how her description of each type of responsibility is driven by her understanding of plurality and novelty. Chapter Three will focus on Arendt's notion of public responsibility which is her attempt to account for how humans can counteract totalitarianism and totalitarian solutions to the problems of modernity through public, cooperative action. Arendt, however, acknowledges that there are times when humanness is being attacked and a person finds herself entirely abandoned by others, i.e., when she is and can be part of no public. In Chapter Four, I will show that, when public action is not possible, Arendt holds that one must find a way to remain personally responsible even in a crisis and she claims that this requires that the individual think and judge for herself. Finally, in Chapter Five, I will look at Arendt's notion of ethical responsibility, in which she recognizes that there are times when a person finds herself within a community of others and finds herself both responsible and needing to act alone.

Recommended Citation

Schulman, Stephen, "Respecting plurality in times of change: Hannah Arendt's conceptions of political, personal, and ethical responsibility" (2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3133746.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3133746

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