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The Philosophy of Hannah Arendt


Admission requirements

  • Students in the BA programme Philosophy: first year BA has been successfully completed, as well as the second-year course Politieke filosofie.

  • Prerequisites for students from other departments (including contractstudenten): first year BA has been successfully completed as well as the following course(s) in philosophy: History of Modern Political Philosophy, Politieke filosofie.

Fluency in English is required for successful completion of this course, with any level of familiarity with Ancient Greek, French, German, or Latin a bonus.

This course has a limited number of places available for students from other departments.


Hannah Arendt famously insisted, in a televised interview with Günter Gaus in 1964, that she wished to look at politics with eyes unclouded by philosophy, thus considering herself a political theorist rather than a political philosopher. There is no space for truth in politics, according to Arendt, precisely because truth defeats human action, which, to her, is the only expression of human freedom in a plural, shared universe.

This course examines Arendt’s ambivalent relationship with philosophy and evaluates the many insights and tensions arising from her politically-charged philosophical investigations—including her conceptualisation and treatment of action, authority, decisionism, disobedience, evil, freedom, judgment, love, natality, responsibility, power, and violence—all of which confirms her integrity as a thinker-actor who values the life of the mind without losing sight of the need to participate in the common world.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce key concepts, frameworks, and principles in Hannah Arendt’s political theory through in-depth readings and discussions of primary sources, contextualised in resonant foundational and contemporaneous political thought as well as supplemented by seminal secondary interpretations and appropriations of Arendt’s work. Active seminar participation constitutes a safe, supervised space for philosophical experimentation and exchange, towards improving students’ philosophical analysis and communication of ideas; regular writing assignments, with timely formative feedback, aim to hone students’ articulation of philosophical arguments; a mid-term take-home exercise allows students to explore course themes and test interim conclusions out of the classroom; and a final research essay, with peer critique at the research question and abstract formulation stage, aims to exercise students’ capacity for independent philosophical inquiry.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • Hannah Arendt’s conceptualisation and treatment of action, authority, decisionism, disobedience, evil, freedom, judgment, love, natality, responsibility, power, and violence;

  • the consonance and dissonance of the above in the context of the philosophical canon;

  • the complexity of the tensions, and at times untenable opposition, between contemplation and action, freedom and necessity, friend and enemy, individual and community, the social and the political, the legal and the moral.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • articulate and analyse the central themes and concepts in Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy, encapsulated in “to begin, to will, to act”;

  • appreciate the traditions from which and the historical and intellectual context during which Arendt’s political thought developed, as well as the philosophical trajectories stemming from her contribution to 20th-century political thinking;

  • discern political debates in disciplines and situations beyond philosophical and political studies;

  • demonstrate a critical capacity for reading, analysing, and discussing philosophical texts; and

  • develop a rigorous faculty for constructing and presenting philosophical arguments.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2014-2015, BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject or Standaardtraject), derde jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English

Please note:

No class on 1 September due to the official opening of the Leiden University academic year (check “Remarks” below for the self-study assignment on 1 September and preparations for our first meeting on 8 September).

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

  • Excursion

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load (10 EC): 280 hours, approximately divided into:
Attending seminars (13 × 3 hours): 39 hours
Seminar preparation (14 × 5): 70 hours
Self-study (14 × 5): 70 hours
Assignment completion (14 × 5): 70 hours
Research (1 × 28): 28 hours
Excursion (1 × 3): 3 hours

Assessment method

  • Seminar participation: 10%

  • Portfolio of 12 weekly short papers (of 500 – 600 words): 40%

  • Mid-term take-home assignment: 10%

  • Final research paper (of 4500 – 5000 words), including a short presentation of research topic at the abstract critique workshop towards the end of the course: 40%


Blackboard will be used for course information and assignment submission: check our course site regularly for announcements, up-to-date reading assignments, and multi-media material.

Reading list

The core course readings, all drawn from primary texts and journal articles by Hannah Arendt, include key excerpts from:

  • The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958).

  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1965).

  • The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966).

  • Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Viking Press, 1968).

  • Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968).

  • Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).

  • The Life of the Mind (London: Harcourt, 1978).

  • Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

  • On Revolution (London: Penguin, 1990).

  • Love and Saint Augustine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).

  • The Promise of Politics (New York: Schocken Books, 2005).

with supplementary sources, including:

  • Socrates, Dialogues.

  • Plato, The Republic.

  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics and Politics.

  • Augustine, The Confessions.

  • Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment.

  • Hobbes, Leviathan; or the Matter, Forme & Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill.

  • Karl Jaspers, Plato and Augustine (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1962).

  • Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990).

  • Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992).

  • Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

  • Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996).

  • Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship (London: Verso, 1997).

  • Jean-Luc Nancy, Being Singular Plural (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000).

  • Martin Heidegger, Identity and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

and secondary literature by Arendt scholars such as Ronald Beiner, Seyla Benhabib, Richard Bernstein, Susan Bickford, Margaret Canovan, Nancy Fraser, Jerome Kohn, Patchen Markell, Mauricio Passerin d’Entrèves, Hanna Pitkin, Dana Villa, and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl.

Do consider purchasing (some of) the primary texts for extensive study during the course, as well as for future reference and reflection. Many of the supplementary sources are available in the public domain and will be made accessible, alongside the secondary literature, via our course Blackboard site.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the collegerooster in the column under the heading “”.

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte: not applicable


Dr. C. Fu


For the week of 1 September 2014, when we have no class due to the official opening of the university academic year, please

  • watch Günter Gaus’s interview with Hannah Arendt (Zur Person, Series 1, Episode 17, first broadcast on 28 October 1964, accessible at YouTube and

  • compose a reflection in any expressive form immediately after the screening, spending no more than two hours of concentration. Be prepared to share this reflection at our first meeting on 8 September 2014.

In preparation our first meeting on 8 September 2014 (start early!), please read:

  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Part I “The Human Condition” Chapters 1 – 3 (pages 7 – 21), Part V “Action” Chapters 24 – 29 (pages 175 – 211) and Chapters 32 – 34 (pages 230 – 247).

and write a short paper of 500 – 600 words on one aspect of your choice from your understanding of Arendt’s concept of the political, to be uploaded as a word document via our course Blackboard site by 09:00 on the morning of 8 September 2014.