For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Human Condition

by Arendt, Hannah (2013)


A work of striking originality bursting with unexpected insights, The Human Condition is in many respects more relevant now than when it first appeared in 1958. In her study of the state of modern humanity, Hannah Arendt considers humankind from the perspective of the actions of which it is capable. The problems Arendt identified then—diminishing human agency and political freedom, the paradox that as human powers increase through technological and humanistic inquiry, we are less equipped to control the consequences of our actions—continue to confront us today. This new edition, published to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of its original publication, contains an improved and expanded index and a new introduction by noted Arendt scholar Margaret Canovan which incisively analyzes the book's argument and examines its present relevance. A classic in political and social theory, The Human Condition is a work that has proved both timeless and perpetually timely. Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was one of the leading social theorists in the United States. Her Lectures on Kant's Political Philosophy and Love and Saint Augustine are also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Key Passage

Fabrication,  the  work  of  homo  faber,  consists  in  reification.  Solidity,  inherent  in  all,  even  the  most  fragile,  things,  comes  from  the  material  worked  upon,  but  this  material  itself  is  not  simply  given  and there, like the fruits of field and trees which we may gather or leave alone without changing the household of nature. Material is already a product of human hands which have removed it from its natural  location,  either  killing  a  life  process,  as  in  the  case  of  the  tree  which  must  be  destroyed  in  order  to  provide  wood,  or  interrupting  one  of  nature's  slower  processes,  as  in  the  case  of  iron,  stone, or marble torn out of the womb of the earth. This element of  violation  and  violence  is  present  in  all  fabrication,  and  homo faber, the  creator  of  the  human  artifice,  has  always  been  a  destroyer of nature. The animal laborms, which with its body and the help of tame animals nourishes life, may be the lord and master of all  living  creatures,  but  he  still  remains  the  servant  of  nature  and  the earth; only homo faber conducts himself as lord and master of the whole earth. Since his productivity was seen in the image of a Creator-God, so that where God creates ex nihilo, man creates out of given substance, human productivity was by definition bound to result  in  a  Promethean  revolt  because  it  could  erect  a  man-made  world only after destroying part of God-created nature. (p.139)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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