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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

Chapter 4 - Thinking before Theory


Arendt argued that political thought and discourse have traditionally been misconceived by philosophers, who have typically measured them against philosophical standards, and so conceived them as crude or defective forms of philosophy. This chapter explains how she reconceived the main faculties of political thought (opinion, judgment, imagination), the central forms of political thought (narrative thought, exemplary thought, and what she called “representative thought”), and the central mode of political discourse (persuasion). She saw political thought and discourse as primarily non-theoretical, in contrast to the theoretical forms of thought and discourse central to philosophy. Her project was to rethink these non-theoretical forms of thought and discourse in light of their powers in the realm of politics, rather than in light of their weakness in the realm of philosophy. This distinction between theoretical and non-theoretical thought and discourse sets up the question of the next chapter: How did the political theories of classical philosophers distort or obscure the non-theoretical understanding of politics implicit in Greek literature and history?