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

Quite different is the case of the more popular category of manual and intellectual work. Here, the underlying tie between the la- borer of the hand and the laborer of the head is again the laboring process,  in  one  case  performed  by  the  head,  in  the  other  by  some  other part of the body. Thinking, however, which is presumably the  activity  of  the  head,  though  it  is  in  some  way  like  laboring—  also a process which probably comes to an end only with life it- self—is  even  less  "productive"  than  labor;  if  labor  leaves  no  permanent  trace,  thinking  leaves  nothing  tangible  at  all.  By  itself,  thinking  never  materializes  into  any  objects.  Whenever  the  intellectual  worker  wishes  to  manifest  his  thoughts,  he  must  use  his  hands  and  acquire  manual  skills  just  like  any  other  worker.  In  other  words,  thinking  and  working  are  two  different  activities  which  never  quite  coincide;  the  thinker  who  wants  the  world  to  know  the  "content"  of  his  thoughts  must  first  of  all  stop  thinking  and  remember  his  thoughts.  Remembrance  in  this,  as  in  all  other  cases,  prepares  the  intangible  and  the  futile  for  their  eventual  materialization;  it  is  the  beginning  of  the  work  process,  and  like  the  craftsman's consideration of the model which will guide his work, its  most  immaterial  stage.  The  work  itself  then  always  requires  some material upon which it will be performed and which through fabrication,  the  activity  of  homo  faber,  will  be  transformed  into  a  worldly object. The specific work quality of intellectual work is no  less  due  to  the  "work  of  our  hands"  than  any  other  kind  of  work. (p.90)


Arendt, Technology, Modernity, Animal Laborans, Homo Faber


The Human Condition [1958], Arendt Citations

Links to Reference



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