For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Simone de Beauvoir and Hannah Arendt on labor"

by Veltman, Andrea (2010)


Comparing the typologies of human activities developed by Beauvoir and Arendt, I argue that these philosophers share the same concept of labor as well as a similar insight that labor cannot provide a justification or evaluative measure for human life. But Beauvoir and Arendt think differently about work (as contrasted with labor), and Arendt alone illuminates the inability of constructive work to provide non-utilitarian value for human existence. Beauvoir, on the other hand, exceeds Arendt in examining the ethical implications of our existential need for a plurality of free peers in a public realm.

Key Passage

Arendt never explicitly acknowledges that labor is deeply invested in the female body—borne out in childbearing, child-rearing, and daily caretaking performed by women—or that the purest form of labor, housework, has structured womanhood throughout history. Nor does she comment upon the fundamental injustice involved in women’s relegation to the lowliest category of human activity. This lack of comment may reflect Arendt’s desire to distance herself from women’s liberation movements, or perhaps her determination to separate social and economic issues from politics, on the presupposition that questions of economic justice destroy genuinely political dialogue. Regardless of why Arendt remains conspicuously silent on questions pertaining to women in The Human Condition, her phenomenological analysis of labor invites examination of women’s reproductive experiences in the context of female subordination. (p.62)


Arendt, De Beauvoir, Existential, Ethics, Experience


On De Beauvoir, On Arendt

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