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Arendt and the American Pragmatists: Her Debate with Dewey and Some American Strains in Her Thought


Arendt and Dewey argue that action is only political when undertaken in a certain way and fear the abolition of a realm in which action can remain political in the strongest sense of the term. But unlike Dewey, Arendt seems to bar some activities from admittance to the public sphere on the grounds that they are insufficiently political. These purportedly nonpolitical activities include urgent measures undertaken to alleviate human want, the application of the sciences to human life, and endeavors to free the populous from political life itself. Dewey however selectively allows these activities to be considered political if and when they prove they are not a threat to the plurality, the hallmark of the public realm. Science must accommodate rather than stifle plurality of opinion, political activity must strive toward an end other than freedom from political life, and action must be performed by actors exercising judgment, in accord with principles. In this way, Dewey's work show us in more concrete detail than Arendt's, but in the same spirit, how the private sphere can overlap with the political sphere without infiltrating it or robbing it of its distinctness.

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