For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Human Condition

by Arendt, Hannah (1958)

Key Passage

‘What needs explanation is not the modern esteem of homo Faber but the fact that this esteem was so quickly followed by the elevation of laboring to the highest position in the hierarchical order of the vita activa. This second reversal of hierarchy within the vita activa came about more gradually and less dramatically than either the reversal of contemplation and action in general or the reversal of action and fabrication in particular. The elevation of laboring was preceded by certain deviations and variations from the traditional mentality of homo faber which were highly characteristic of the modern age and which, indeed, arose almost automatically from the very nature of the events that ushered it in. What changed the mentality of homo Jaber was the central position of the concept of process in modernity. As far a s homo Jaber was concerned, the modern shift of emphasis from the "what" to the "how," from the thing itself to its fabrication process, was by no means an unmixed blessing. It deprived man as maker and builder of those fixed and permanent standards and measurements which, prior to the modern age, have always served him as guides for his doing and criteria for his judgment. It is not only and perhaps not even primarily the development of commercial society that, with the triumphal victory of exchange value over use value, first introduced the principle of interchangeability, then the relativization, and finally the devaluation, of all values. For the mentality of modern man, as it was determined by the development of modern science and the concomitant unfolding of modern philosophy, it was at least as decisive that man began to consider himself part and parcel of the two superhuman, all-encompassing processes of nature and history, both of which seemed doomed to an infinite progress without ever reaching any inherent telos or approaching any preordained idea.’ p. 306-307 (p.306)


Vita Activa, Homo Faber, Arendt, Politics, Freedom, Agency


Praxis and Poesis, The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

Links to Reference



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