Does Arendt believe in positivism, in using our senses and empirical evidence, instead of traditionalism to acquire knowledge?

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thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hannah Arendt did not explicitly reject positivism; however she saw it as over-reliance on observable facts and the undermining of human mental phenomena. She attempted to distinguish between several underlying factors: wisdom vs. knowledge and truth vs. meaning.

Positivism asserts that information can only be sourced from logical conclusions and what can be experienced through the senses or empirical evidence. This line of philosophy disregards the mental phenomenon of intuition and introspection and conflicts sharply with the idea that knowledge can be acquired without inference or rational thinking.

Arendt agrees that it is thinking that has enabled man to understand what the senses communicate and it plays an important role in reasoning and the development of meaning. She also agrees that mental phenomena are important in solving and correcting some of the existing scientific flaws. She asserts that thinking for the purpose of gathering truth is a mistake; instead thinking should be employed with the aim of gathering knowledge.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hannah Arendt rejects the idea that positivism, which relies on empirical evidence to validate knowledge, can help people arrive at truth. She believes that a dogmatic application of what she called "simple-minded positivism" leaves out other mental phenomena and relies only on facts. In relying only on facts, people who practice positivism, she believes, are not using their rational faculties to arrive at meaning. In her work, Life of the Mind, she distinguishes truth from meaning and understanding from reason or thinking. People who strive to understand can rely on knowable facts, but beyond understanding, reason or thinking helps people arrive at knowledge that lies beyond facts. Only by engaging in thinking can people understand the meaning of the world. In this process, people do not always arrive at facts but instead develop their own sense of the meaning of the world. Through this process, people develop social responsibility and avoid the "banality of evil" that occurred in Nazi Germany and other places.

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The Human Condition

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