Daimon ... the Citizen: Arendt and Plato’s Socrates

JVF Conference Papers

In this essay I will discuss an important concept within Hannah Arendt’s political thought, a concept that she discusses in several books: The Human Condition (1958), The Life of the Mind. Volume one: Thinking (first published 1978), and in a collection of her essays entitled Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (first published 1961). The concept I shall discuss is that of the daimon. Daimon is a Greek word that most philosophers associate with Plato. In the Platonic dialogues, daimon refers to a mysterious spirit, and in particular, to a spirit or inner voice that spoke to Socrates, mostly in a negative way (for instance, see Hippias Major, 304 b-c). In Arendt’s thought, daimon has a completely different meaning. In fact, Arendt resurrects a different Greek tradition of daimon. In this tradition, the term describes an individual’s political aspect. Arendt does not directly refer to Plato’s use of the term with regard to Socrates. However, in her discussion of daimon, the figure of Socrates plays an important role, namely, as the “ideal” thinker and citizen.

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