Arendt on thinking and speaking

Huzeyfe asked:

I came across this in Hannah Arendt’s book: Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy:

“Thinking, as Kant agreed with Plato, is the silent dialogue of myself with myself, and that thinking is a ‘solitary business’ (as Hegel once remarked) is one of the few things on which all thinkers were agreed. Also, it is of course by no means true that you need or can even hear the company of others when you happen to be busy thinking; yet, unless you can somehow communicate and expose to the test of others, either orally or in writing, whatever you may have found out when you were alone, this faculty exerted in solitude will disappear.”

I could not quite understand what is signaled in the last sentence. What does “this faculty exerted in solitude will disappear”? Can you elaborate? Also, can you add your thoughts on this thinking?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

Something might have got lost in translation. Try this instead:

“When you are deep in thought, you might hardly take notice of anyone in your company; you might ignore them when they speak, perhaps not even hearing them. On the other hand, if you cannot communicate your solitary thoughts to them, either in speech or in writing, and thereby give others the opportunity to weigh them up, the exertion of your faculties in those moments of solitude will vanish when you are finished, as if it never happened.”

I think the plain meaning of this passage is that thinking is a solitary activity; two people thinking are also solitary, even sitting side by side, each with their own thoughts. But the thinking faculty is helpless in bringing thoughts “into the world”, sooner or later you must speak. Then they will not vanish without a trace; they will be considered by others. Then they will either make their way or be sidelined. But communication is the key for any thoughts that do not wish to be soliloquistic.

One thought on “Arendt on thinking and speaking

  1. I read him as saying ‘Use it or lose it’. It seems possible that if we could not communicate our thoughts then the faculty of thinking, in language as he describes at least, would be profoundly affected and might slowly whither away. I’m still pondering on the extent to which it might do so but the basic point seems plausible. .

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