The Problem of Authority in Arendt and Aristotle

By Benjamin, Andrew | Philosophy Today, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

The Problem of Authority in Arendt and Aristotle


Benjamin, Andrew, Philosophy Today


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Justice refers to the ethical category of the existing, virtue the ethical category of the demanded.

-Walter Benjamin, Notes to a Work on the Category of Justice

If there is a predicament, one in which 'we' are-one in which this 'we' is understood as designating a relationship between forms of experience and therefore both subjectivity and a sense of historical time, where time is there to be thought philosophically-then what arises as a concern to be addressed pertains to the categories or concepts in which this predicament is to be thought.1 The present demands to be thought. What is central to the philosophical project is how to distinguish between differing and conflicting correlations. However, it is the ineliminability of thought that generates the following opening question: What are the categories, the modes of thought appropriate to the predicament in which 'we' are and thus in which 'we' take a stand? Though it should always be noted that this 'we' is itself the site of an already present asymmetrical relation between the 'we' that is held as a yet-to-be determined potentiality and the 'we' whose overdetermined presence is assumed as simply given by a certain conception of both law and politics. The latter is the 'we' of a posited and then naturalized normativity, while the former is the 'we' that is always there as the sense of collectivity-community and subjectivity-resulting both from this exposure and the undoing of processes of naturalization; hence, the undoing of normativity in the name of an-other possibility. Within the present predicament in which predicament as praedicamentum names the state or the condition, thus the categories in terms of which what is, is presented and constrains thought, that constraint, thus the constrained, involves, at the same time, as much an appeal to the logical and to reason as it does to the understanding. There is, moreover, an inevitable link to praedicare and thus to stating or declaring. The predicament can be stated. There is a condition which in conditioning leads to forms of utterance and thus to speech. Without understating the predicament, in other words, without thinking thinking's own predicament, thought is refused an address; equally, thought would have failed to address. As a point of departure therefore it becomes possible to ask the question of the predicament within which Aristotle may have responded to the demand to think; questions of this nature pertain, equally, to Arendt. While she may have engaged with Aristotle and thus with Ancient thought more generally, that engagement was set by the predicament constraining thought. Borrowings and engagements will have always been determined in advance by their own predicament.

1

Life as understood by Aristotle bequeaths a number of problems. The one that is of direct concern in this instance is the relationship between 'life' and 'the good life.' How is such a distinction to be understood? What type of distinction is it? These questions are to be approached here initially in terms of the temporality of eudaimonia and thus, equally, of the position of the eudaimon. Once this position can be generalised it indicates the presence of a founding reciprocity between time, and the ontology of being a subject. This point arises in Arendt's engagement with Aristotle's use of the terms 'eudaimon' and 'eudaimonia.' In this regard she argues the following:

To be eudaimon and to have been eudaimon, according to Aristotle, are the same, just as to live well (...) and to have 'lived well' are the same as long as life lasts; they are not states or activities which change a person's quality, such as learning and having learned, which indicates two altogether different attributes of the same person at different times.2

'Learning' and'having learned' have beginnings and ends. If there is a capacity to learn then its actualization is'having learned. …

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