Hannah Arendt Center Conferences

Lunchtime Talk with Wout Cornelissen: Writing about Willing: Arendt and "the Spring of Action"

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 Arendt Center
12:30 pm
This event occurred on:  Wed. February 19, 12:30 pm

In The Human Condition, Arendt offers a phenomenology of action and of political action in particular. She criticizes the traditional understanding of politics in terms of rule, i.e., sovereign command. She argues that this conception of politics is informed by the image of the craftsman who, isolated from his fellow human beings, organizes certain means in order to realize his chosen end, viz. to make an artifact. Because of her critique of this instrumentalist account of politics, it is often believed that she defends a conception of politics being an end-in-itself instead. Yet this reading has led to criticisms of the unrealistic nature of her account. For, in reality, political action is usually – if not always – directed towards the realization of specific ends. Since Arendt tied the notion of the will so strongly to that of the conception of politics she rejects, the actual role of aims and intentions in political action remains under-theorized. Only in her last work, The Life of the Mind, which she did not live to finish, Arendt explicitly turns to the question of the nature of the mental activity of willing and its relation to acting.

Cornelissen will first trace certain moments in Arendt’s earlier writing in which she refers to the role of the will as “the spring of action”. Next, he will bring these moments into discussion with a preliminary reconstruction of her explicit account of the activity of willing in The Life of the Mind. In doing so, he will also draw attention to the way in which her activity of writing, which she tends to conceive of as a form of making, is itself shaped by conditions of which it is not in complete command.