March 2, 2015
Thinking and Non-Thinking
In this paper, I will be analyzing and interpreting Arendt Hannah’s lecture, “Thinking and Moral Considerations”, focusing on her take on evilness and the dangers of non-thinking, and the document “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written by Martin Luther King Jr., focusing on the necessity of tension within the mind. Arendt’s argues that evilness is a person’s inability to contemplate what is unjust, and King offers a solution. Both Ardent and King relate their arguments to the words of Socrates. Socrates believed in the necessity of a dialogue and a relationship with ones thoughts, and believed tension in the mind allowed a person to evaluate and question to find meaning and truth. Socrates’ concepts will help to support my explanation of the two texts and their idea that evilness is only a product of thoughtlessness, with thinking comes natural morality, and “creative tension” promotes “a kind of action” leading to “positive peace”.
In our society what is right and what is wrong is presumably decided for us. Laws and restrictions are taught to be the truth, and with these set standards the need to think for oneself is diminished. The threat of non-thinking becomes dangerous. By following the law instead of following our own virtues, we become tied to a blind obedience. Arendt describes this idea as a cliché or “standard codes of expression and conduct”. In her study she contemplates the idea that evilness is caused by the absence of thought and use of clichés.
Arendt along with Socrates believes examination is good for the mind, and “By shielding people against the dangers of examination, it teaches them to hold fast to whatever the prescribed rules of conduct may be at a given time in a given society”(Arendt 436). Socrates, a man who she believes to be a model or professional thinker said, “an unexamined life is not one worth living”. This is because you have no love or desire to discover or find “what is not”. Without this love you cannot have a relationship with ones thoughts. This being said, Arendt concludes that “only people filled with this eros a kind of love), this desiring love of wisdom, beauty, and justice, are capable of thought” (Arendt).
When considering evil, such as in Otto Adolf Eichmann, one of the main organizers of the Nazi regime, Arendt does not believe it is inherent. In an article on the capture and trial of Eichmann, for The New Yorker, Arendt describes Eichmann’s character and contemplates the truth of his corruption or evilness. Eichmann was accused of crimes against the Jewish people, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, and eventually sentenced to death. Arendt stated, "The deeds were monstrous, but the doer ... was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous"(Arendt). She believed it was not his character that of the man that was evil, but the “thoughtlessness” of Eichmann that led him to commit evil acts or his “authentic inability to think". This example of non-thinking shows the dangers of it. If the conversation we have with ourselves when making decisions is gone, any form of morality goes with it. Especially in the hands of someone like Eichmann, non-thinking is extremely dangerous.
If thought is never incited, evilness and corruption can go on unnoticed. However, we were born with a sense of right or wrong. This being said, thinking is natural, and naturally in the opinion of Arendt and Socrates, all humans are good by nature. The idea of non-thinking is in reality unnatural. In the last paragraph, I interpreted Arendt to be saying, in summary, that thinking makes us who we are. If we are who we are only when we think and we are good by nature, then it only makes sense that when we do wrong, we are not who we are and we are non-thinking. By acquiring our human virtues, we can avoid allowing wrong doings and clichés to strip us of our identity.
Clichés can be detrimental if they become