Arendt – Answers to the Predicaments of Action

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      For Arendt the power to promise and the power of forgiveness are the answers to what she calls the predicaments of action, since in action lies unpredictability and irreversibility, such as we see in politics. Forgiveness and promise do this by allowing a recovery of relationship that could have been broken or strained by action by allowing for “islands of security without which not even continuity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationships between men” in  what she calls “the ocean of uncertainty, which the future is by definition” (237). The temporal sides of both allow for continuity in the realm that is human relationships. Since forgiving is in reference to past actions and restorations of relations, while promising allows for these relations to continue in the future.

     The remedies are that of actions potentialities for forgiveness and promise, since forgiveness cannot actually undo the action that has been promised but it can stop the chain of reactions while also simultaneously answer the actions irreversibility. Since mutual promise creates certainty of the future in direct contrast to the extreme uncertainty that is action.

      Arendt maintains that the power of promise is “the only alternative to a mastery which relies on domination of one’s self and rule over others”? (244) The act of making promises aids in unpredictability in two ways. The first being the basic unreliability of men in the sense of not being able to guarantee who they are today will be who they are tomorrow. And the second being the impossibility of being able to predict the consequences of actions that take place among a community of equal bodies where we all have the same capacity to act because action requires that we act in the presence of others this means we do not control the reactions or consequences of our actions that will occur. Sovereignty which is the ideal of uncompromising self-sufficiency and mastership is the complete opposite to the condition of action which is plurality, meaning we cannot be sovereign. And sovereignty cannot be freedom, since freedom requires action to be realised, and action requires plurality.

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition. 1958

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