Hanna Fenichel Pitkin : Politics, Justice, Action
Hanna Pitkin has made key contributions to the field of political philosophy, pushing forward and clarifying the ways that political theorists think about action as the exercise of political freedom. In so doing, she has offered insightful studies of the problems of modern politics that theorists are called to address, and has addressed them herself in a range of theoretical genres. She is an innovator in bringing conceptual work inspired by ordinary language philosophy to the field of political philosophy, as well as a penetrating and exacting interpreter of texts who draws on the insights of psychoanalysis, gender, and historical study. This collection of her works approaches each of these dimensions of Pitkin’s contributions in turn, recognizing that she typically blends these modes of engagement in much of her political theorizing.
- The Modern Condition and the Impetus to Theorize. At several moments in her career, Pitkin has offered sustained reflection on what aspects of modern political life prompt the impulse to theorize politics. She has also drawn out with great nuance the pitfalls that modern life and philosophy also present for that enterprise, for example, in attempts to naturalize human community or in turning to theoretical abstraction. Her study of Wittgenstein in particular structured her most penetrating study of these questions. Pitkin suggests an agenda for political theorizing to engage the dilemmas of modernity in ways that grasp the importance of paradox as a portal of insight into the modern condition, and eschews attempts at easy resolution. In keeping with this, Pitkin has herself explored a variety of conceptual paradoxes that arise in the work of other theorists (e.g., regarding freedom, interest, and obligation), each as symptomatic of modern dilemmas. In each encounter, Pitkin offers a clearer picture of the problems of political modernity and the outlines of political responses to them.
- Moral Philosophy, Judgment, Justice: Pitkin has turned at several points in her career to the concept of justice as one that particularly brings together questions of agency and responsibility, the insights of moral philosophy, and judgment. Characteristic of her work, her engagements with justice have drawn upon a variety of methodological resources and theoretical inspirations. Her work engages ordinary language philosophy, pedagogical practice, and textual study, to yield a complex and subtle set of observations, all of which open moral philosophy and matters of judgment to questions of action and responsibility in the exercise of political freedom.
- Action: Political agency and its obstacles are a key theme in Pitkin’s work and a main area of her theoretical innovation. She has approached the question of political agency from several directions. In some works, she has examined the appeal of autonomy as a picture of political agency, probing in particular the gendered dimension of the fantasy of autonomy. In other works – perhaps most famously, in her work on representation – Pitkin has explored the ways that the institutional arrangements of modern liberal societies attempt to link of individual and political agency—and the pitfalls of these approaches. Finally, Pitkin has offered a picture of political freedom as maintaining the tension, between individual "parts" and collective "wholes," that these modern institutional arrangements attempt to resolve. Finally, through her groundbreaking and definitive work on Hannah Arendt, Pitkin has meditated on the political and social conditions that most impede our ability to grasp agency as a practice of political freedom, and gestured to paths that may lead forward.