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The Human Condition Paperback – Jun 1958


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (T) (June 1958)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226025934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226025933
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 431 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #89,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By B. Alcat on April 4 2004
Format: Paperback
In "The human condition", Arendt distinguishes three kinds of activities the human being is capable of: labor, action and work. I will attempt to explain the first two, and I will leave the third to you so as to motivate you to read the book :)
Labor is, according to Arendt, those human activities whose main aim is to allow men to survive, for example eating, drinking and sleeping. These activities belong to the private sphere, and while the human being strives painstakingly to perform them, he is not free.
On the other hand, Action is the moment when the human being develops the capacity that distinguishes him, the ability of being free. This is the public sphere, where men, after having provided for themselves and their families what was needed to "continue in existence", can at last be free.
Arendt shows us the historical evolution of these concepts, and how that evolution is connected to the evolution of the concept of work. At the end of this book, you will have analyzed with her the human condition, from the point of view of the activities that the human being is capable of. What is more, you will be able to have a valid view regarding the past, and an interesting perspective on what is happening now, and on what the future may bring to us. Yes, it is true that this book was released a long time ago, but I believe that it is still as important now as it was then.

Arendt (1906-1975) was a respected professor and thinker, who wrote books that greatly influenced quite a few of her contemporaries. Even though her more significant book was "Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951), "The human condition" is also essential in order to understand her ideas.
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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
73 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Here, "perseverance" is the right word :) April 4 2004
By B. Alcat - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In "The human condition", Arendt distinguishes three kinds of activities the human being is capable of: labor, action and work. I will attempt to explain the first two, and I will leave the third to you so as to motivate you to read the book :)
Labor is, according to Arendt, those human activities whose main aim is to allow men to survive, for example eating, drinking and sleeping. These activities belong to the private sphere, and while the human being strives painstakingly to perform them, he is not free.
On the other hand, Action is the moment when the human being develops the capacity that distinguishes him, the ability of being free. This is the public sphere, where men, after having provided for themselves and their families what was needed to "continue in existence", can at last be free.
Arendt shows us the historical evolution of these concepts, and how that evolution is connected to the evolution of the concept of work. At the end of this book, you will have analyzed with her the human condition, from the point of view of the activities that the human being is capable of. What is more, you will be able to have a valid view regarding the past, and an interesting perspective on what is happening now, and on what the future may bring to us. Yes, it is true that this book was released a long time ago, but I believe that it is still as important now as it was then.

Arendt (1906-1975) was a respected professor and thinker, who wrote books that greatly influenced quite a few of her contemporaries. Even though her more significant book was "Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951), "The human condition" is also essential in order to understand her ideas. Not only that, it will probably help you to understand our society, or at least to contemplate it through the eyes of a remarkably good political scientist.
I must warn you that "The human condition" isn't overly easy to read, and that you might find yourself re-reading a paragraph a few times before understanding what it means. However, at the end of the book you will realize that the effort is worthwhile, because then all you have read makes sense and leaves you with the sensation of having understood some concepts that you will find useful.
On the whole, recommended. You aren't likely to "have fun" reading this book, but it will be useful to you, and if you manage to finish it, you will realize that you benefited from it. So, PERSEVERANCE ):
Belen Alcat
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
THE GERMAN-BORN PHILOSOPHER PROPOSES THAT WE “THINK WHAT WE ARE DOING” March 25 2015
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Johanna "Hannah" Arendt (1906-1975) was a German-born political theorist, who wrote many books such as Antisemitism: Part One of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Imperialism: Part Two Of The Origins Of Totalitarianism, Totalitarianism: Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, The Life of the Mind, On Violence, etc.

She wrote in the Preface to this 1958 book, “What I propose, therefore, is very simple: it is nothing more than to think what we are doing. ‘What we are doing’ is indeed the central theme of this book. It deals only with the most elementary articulations of the human condition, with those activities that traditionally, as well as according to current opinion, are within the range of every human being. For this and other reasons, the highest and perhaps purest activity of which men are capable, the activity of thinking, is left out of these present considerations… I confine myself, on the one hand, to an analysis of those general human capacities which grow out of the human condition and are permanent… The purpose of the historical analysis…is to trace back modern world alienation…. to its origins, in order to arrive at an understanding of the nature of society… at the very moment when it was overcome by the advent of a new and yet unknown age.”

She opens the first chapter with the statement, “With the term ‘vita activa,’ I propose to designate three fundamental human activities: labor, work, and action. They are fundamental because each corresponds to one of the basic conditions under which life on earth has been given to man. Labor is the activity which corresponds to the biological process of the human body, whose spontaneous growth, metabolism, and eventual decay are bound to the vital necessities produced and fed into the life process by labor. The human condition of labor is life itself. Work is the activity which corresponds to the unnaturalness of human existence, which is not embedded in, and whose mortality is not compensated by, the species’ every-recurring life cycle…

“Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.” (Pg. 7) She adds, “Moreover, since action is the political activity par excellence, natality, and nor mortality, may be the central category of political, as distinguished from metaphysical, thought.” (Pg. 9)

She observes, “The unfortunate truth about behaviorism and the validity of its ‘laws’ is that the more people there are, the more likely they are to behave and the less likely to tolerate non-behavior. Statistically, this will be shown in the leveling out of fluctuation. In reality, deeds will have less and less chance to stem the tide of behavior, and events will more and more lose their significance, that is, their capacity to illuminate historical time. Statistical uniformity is by no means a harmless scientific ideal; it is the no longer secret political ideal of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine of everyday living, is at peace with the scientific outlook inherent in its very existence.” (Pg. 43)

She suggests, “If the sameness of the object can no longer be discerned, no common nature of men, least of all the unnatural conformism of a mass society, can prevent the destruction of the common world, which is usually preceded by the destruction of the many aspects in which it presents itself to human plurality… The end of the common world has come when it is seen only under one aspect and is permitted to present itself in only one perspective.” (Pg. 58)

She asserts, “The fact remains that in all stages of his work [Marx] defines man as an ‘animal laborans’ and then leads him into a society in which this greatest and most human power is no longer necessary. We are left with the rather distressing alternative between productive slavery and unproductive freedom.” (Pg. 105)

She points out, “No other human performance requires speech to the same extent as action. In all other performances speech plays a subordinate role, as a means of communication or a mere accompaniment to something that could also be achieved in silence… Thus, it is also true that man’s capacity to act, and especially to act in concert, is extremely useful for purposes of self-defense or of pursuit of interests; but if nothing more were at stake here than to use action as a means to an end, it is obvious that the same end could be much more easily attained in mute violence, so that action seems a not very efficient substitute for violence, just as speech, from the viewpoint of sheer utility, seems an awkward substitute for sign language.” (Pg. 179)

She states, “Under the conditions of human life, the only alternative to power is not strength---which is helpless against power---but force, which indeed one man alone can exert against his fellow men and which one or a few can possess a monopoly by acquiring the means of violence. But while violence can destroy power, it can never be a substitute for it. From this results the … political combination of force and powerlessness, an array of impotent forces that spend themselves, often spectacularly and vehemently but in utter futility, leaving behind neither monuments nor stories, hardly enough memory to enter into history at all.” (Pg. 202)

She argues, “Modern loss of faith is not religious in origin---it cannot be traced to the Reformation and Counter Reformation, the two great religious movements of the modern age---and its scope is by no means restricted to the religious sphere. Moreover, even if we admitted that the modern age be(Pg. 253-254)gan with a sudden, inexplicable eclipse of transcendence, of belief in a hereafter, it would by no means follow that this loss threw man back upon the world. The historical evidence, on the contrary, shows that modern men were not thrown back upon this world but upon themselves.” (Pg. 253-254)

She contends, “among the outstanding characteristics of the modern age from its beginning to our own time we find the typical attitudes of ‘homo faber’: his instrumentalization of the world, his confidence in tools and in the productivity of the maker of artificial objects; his trust in an all-comprehensive range of the means-end category, his conviction that every issue can be solved and every human motivation reduced to the principle of utility…” (Pg. 305)

She concludes, “The reason why life asserted itself as the ultimate point of reference in the modern age and has remained the highest good of modern society is that the modern reversal operated within the fabric of a Christian society whose fundamental belief in the sacredness of life has survived, and has even remained completely unshaken by secularization and the general decline of the Christian faith. In other words, the modern reversal followed and left unchallenged the most important reversal with which Christianity had broken into the ancient world, a reversal that was politically even more far-reaching and, historically at any rate, more enduring than any specific dogmatic content or belief. For the Christian ‘glad tidings’ of the immortality of individual human life had reversed the ancient relationship between man and world and promoted the most mortal thing, human life, to the position of immortality, which up to then the cosmos has held.” (Pg. 313-314)

This book will be of keen interest to anyone studying Arendt’s thought and its development.
Arendt Jan. 7 2014
By Anthony R. Brunello - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
THE HUMAN CONDITION is among the top 10 most important theoretical works of the 20th century, and Arendt arguably among the greatest social theorists. For me, this book qualifies Arendt as the one greatest social theorist of modern times. Hannah Arendt will cure you of making false assumptions about something we like to call "human nature." That is dangerous and always has been. Instead, she explores the "human condition" and after reading this book the first time over thirty years ago I have returned time and again when I have lost my way.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Pascal's Phrase Plumbed Oct. 6 2014
By reading man - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Isaiah Berlin famously said that he thought Hannah Arendt was an incoherent thinker. W.H. Auden claimed that THE HUMAN CONDITION was the kind of book he would have preferred to be writer for him alone.

Auden was a close friend of Arendt, so close, in fact, that he proposed to her shortly after he husband died, which is not only surprisingly like Claudius but even stranger because Auden was a homosexualist. Could his reaction to the book be a reflection of his feelings for Hannah?

If so, you wonder if Berlin and Arendt had a personal encounter that influenced his judgment.

In any case, this book is not incoherent, but neither is as revelatory as Auden claims. It's worth reading, however, as are most of Arendt's other books, in spite of the influence of the unspeakable Heidegger on her philosophical views.

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