In her discussion of conscience as the inevitable by-product of thinking (Life of the Mind ), Hannah Arendt quotes Heidegger’s Was Heisst Denken:
For Arendt, the figure of Socrates offers a crucial model:
Socrates himself describes this quality of movement with reference to the metaphor of the wind: “The winds themselves are invisible, yet what they do is manifest to us and we somehow feel their approach.”
While tracking this philosophical mistral from Socrates through to Arendt and back again to Socrates, we received an email from a friend who was completely oblivious to our ethereal tell-taling, yet who must have sensed something loose in the air, for the poem was from Rilke, in the Bly translation:
Rilkean ”growth” – the growth enabled by such recurrent decisive defeats – represents an expansion both of the quality of conscience, with regards to the silent dialogue with the self and of the quality of the judgement, which is the manifestation of the wind of thought within the world of appearances.
When Arendt meditates upon Eichmann, she zeros in on ”… the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.” Absent the winds of thought, conscience remains inert; absent conscience, the thoughtless subject knows no evil, and thereby becomes capable of any action, and any thing.