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Between Socrates and Kant. Thinking and sensus communis in Arendt’s conception of the banality of evil

Patrick Roney


The aim of this paper is to show how Hannah Arendt develops her concept of the banality of evil through a phenomenological appropriation of Kant’s theory of judgment and of the principle of sensus communis in particular. Even though Arendt initially defined the banality of evil as a form of thoughtlessness grounded upon her understanding of thinking as an inner dialogue with one’s ‘other’ self, I argue that she develops the concept much more extensively in relation to Kant’s doctrine of reflective judgment and the possibility of a sensus communis as a pre-conceptual model of unforced consensus for the public space. I further argue that her reading of Kant is carried out together with both an existential-ontological re-appraisal of appearances and its relation to the transcendental imagination. Through the emphasis on the sensus communis, the banality of evil can then be re-defined as a refusal of the same.


Banality of evil; Socrates; Kant; Thoughtlessness; Sensus communis;

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