A nuanced extrapolation of Hannah Arendt’s theory of judgment through her highly provocative reading of Immanuel Kant
More than a half century after it was first published, Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism rose to the top of best-seller lists as readers grappled with the triumph of Trumpism. Arendt, Kant, and the Enigma of Judgment directs our attention to her later thought, the posthumously published and highly provocative Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Martin Blumenthal-Barby puts this work in dialogue with Arendt’s other writings, including her notes on Kant’s Critique of Judgment, to outline her own theory of judgment for the twentieth century. In an era of post-truths and artificial intelligence, the idea that authentic judgment—for example, the ability to distinguish right from wrong—is incommensurable with abstract, automated processes lies at the center of Arendt’s late work and at the fore of our collective reckoning.
Rather than presenting us with a fixed account, Blumenthal-Barby suggests, Arendt’s drawing and redrawing of conceptual distinctions is itself an enactment of judgment, a process that challenges and complicates what she says at every turn. In so doing, Arendt, in thoroughly Kantian fashion, establishes judgment as a performative category that can never be taught but only demonstrated. As sharp as it is timely, this incisive book reminds us why a shared reality matters in a time of intense political polarization and why the democratic project, vulnerable as it may appear today, crucially depends on it.
Acknowledgments Prologue Introduction I. The Act of Spectatorship II. The Judgment of Taste III. The Exemplarity of Particulars Notes Works Cited Index
MARTIN BLUMENTHAL-BARBY is an associate professor of German and film studies at Rice University. He is the author of Inconceivable Effects: Ethics through Twentieth-Century German Literature, Thought, and Film and The Asymmetrical Gaze: Film and Surveillance (Der asymmetrische Blick: Film und Überwachung).
“At a time in our intellectual and political history in which distinguishing between truth and lie, right and wrong, good and evil seems more pressing than ever, reflecting on how we judge is essential for our institutions. With this truly exquisite book, Martin Blumenthal-Barby shows how Arendt’s masterful, if elusive, theory of judgment can serve to reimagine politics in our time.” —Amir Eshel, author of Poetic Thinking Today: An Essay
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