The "understanding heart" of Hannah Arendt : understanding as a practice of moral imagination / by Mary Leigh Pittenger.
The German-Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt is perhaps most famous for introducing the controversial phrase “the banality of evil” into moral discourse and for developing a conception of action that emphasizes participation in worldly affairs and respect for plurality. However, in this dissertation I argue that Arendt's most valuable contribution to moral philosophy lies in her practice and conception of understanding—which she also describes as imagination. Arendt, having fled from Germany in 1933, devoted her life and writing to the task of understanding the unprecedented evil that had taken place in the rise of the totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. In a 1954 essay, she identified the “understanding heart,” a metaphor drawn from the Hebrew Bible, as the most essential resource for navigating morally and politically through a post-Holocaust world. My dissertation seeks to identify the primary moral practices that lend themselves to the cultivation of an understanding heart. Based on Arendt's writings, I identify three moral practices: 1) attending to the reality of evil and suffering as they become manifest in one's own time; 2) committing to participation in worldly affairs through speech and action (including the practice of storytelling as a way of making meaning of events); and 3) cultivating a mode of thinking that is world-oriented, imaginative, and dialogic. I argue that Arendt's conception and practice of the understanding heart serves as a valuable model that we can employ to reflect on the urgent moral and ethical issues of our own time.
Record last modified: 2018-05-18 16:20:00
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