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

It is surprising at first glance, however, that the modern age— with its reversal of all traditions, the traditional rank of action and contemplation  no  less  than  the  traditional  hierarchy  within  the  vita activa itself, with its glorification of labor as the source of all values and its elevation of the animal laborans to the position traditionally held by the animal rationale—should not have brought forth a  single  theory  in  which  animal  laborans  and homo  faber,  "the labour of our body and the work of our hands," are clearly distinguished.  Instead,  we  find  first  the  distinction  between  productive  and unproductive labor, then somewhat later the differentiation be- tween  skilled  and  unskilled  work,  and,  finally,  outranking  both  because seemingly of more elementary significance, the division of all activities into manual and intellectual labor. Of the three, how- ever,  only  the  distinction  between  productive  and  unproductive  labor goes to the heart of the matter, and it is no accident that the two  greatest  theorists  in  the  field,  Adam  Smith  and  Karl  Marx,  based the whole structure of their argument upon it.  (p.85)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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