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

In  other  words,  the  distinction  between  productive  and  unproductive  labor  contains,  albeit  in  a  prejudicial  manner,  the  more  fundamental  distinction  between  work  and  labor.16  It  is  indeed  the  mark of all laboring that it leaves nothing behind, that the result of its effort is almost as quickly consumed as the effort is spent. And yet  this  effort,  despite  its  futility,  is  born  of  a  great  urgency  and  motivated  by  a  more  powerful  drive  than  anything  else,  because  life  itself  depends  upon  it.  The  modern  age  in  general  and  Karl  Marx  in  particular,  overwhelmed,  as  it  were,  by  the  unprecedented  actual  productivity  of  Western  mankind,  had  an  almost  ir-  resistible tendency to look upon all labor as work and to speak of the animal  laborans  in  terms  much  more  fitting  for  homo  faber,  hoping all the time that only one more step was needed to eliminate labor and necessity altogether. (p.87)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

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