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

The vita  activa,  human  life  in  so  far  as  it  is  actively  engaged  in  doing something, is always rooted in a world of men and of man- made things which it never leaves or altogether transcends. Things and men form the environment for each of man's activities, which would  be  pointless  without  such  location;  yet  this  environment,  the  world  into  which  we  are  born,  would  not  exist  without  the  human  activity  which  produced  it,  as  in  the  case  of  fabricated  things;  which  takes  care  of  it,  as  in  the  case  of  cultivated  land;  or  which  established  it  through  organization,  as  in  the  case  of  the  body  politic.  No  human  life,  not  even  the  life  of  the  hermit  in  nature's  wilderness,  is  possible  without  a  world  which  directly  or  indirectly testifies to the presence of other human beings. All  human  activities  are  conditioned  by  the  fact  that  men  live  together, but it is only action that cannot even be imagined out- side  the  society  of  men.  The  activity  of  labor  does  not  need  the  presence  of  others,  though  a  being  laboring  in  complete  solitude  would  not  be  human  but  an  animal  laborans  in  the  word's  most  literal  significance.  Man  working  and  fabricating  and  building  a  world  inhabited  only  by  himself  would  still  be  a  fabricator,  though  not  homo  faber:  he  would  have  lost  his  specifically  human  quality  and,  rather,  be  a  god—not,  to  be  sure,  the  Creator,  but  a  divine demiurge as Plato described him in one of his myths. (p.22)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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