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.
The distinction between labor and work which I propose is unusual. The phenomenal evidence in its favor is too striking to be ignored, and yet historically it is a fact that apart from a few scattered remarks, which moreover were never developed even in the theories of their authors, there is hardly anything in either the pre- modern tradition of political thought or in the large body of modern labor theories to support it. Against this scarcity of historical evidence, however, stands one very articulate and obstinate testimony, namely, the simple fact that every European language, ancient and modern, contains two etymologically unrelated words for what we have to come to think of as the same activity, and re- tains them in the face of their persistent synonymous usage. Thus, Locke's distinction between working hands and a laboring body is somewhat reminiscent of the ancient Greek distinction between the cheirotechnes, the craftsman, to whom the German Handwerker corresponds, and those who, like "slaves and tame animals with their bodies minister to the necessities of life," or in the Greek idiom, to somati ergazesthai, work with their bodies (yet even here, labor and work are already treated as identical, since the word used is not ponein [labor] but ergazesthai [work]). Only in one respect, which, however, is linguistically the most important one, did ancient and modern usage of the two words as synonyms fail altogether, namely in the formation of a corresponding noun. Here again we find complete unanimity; the word "labor," understood as a noun, never designates the finished product, the result of laboring, but remains a verbal noun to be classed with the gerund, whereas the product itself is invariably derived from the word for work, even when current usage has followed the actual modern development so closely that the verb form of the word "work" has become rather obsolete. (p.79)
KeywordsArendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber
ThemesThe Human Condition , Arendt Citations
Links to Reference
How to contribute.