Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Sunday 18 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Hammerson Room, Barbican Academy in One Day

Whilst Arendt is chiefly famous for her provocative study of the trial of Adolf Eichmann – from which we get the famous phrase ‘the banality of evil’ – Arendt’s important philosophical work, The Human Condition, is a profoundly original study of human life that deserves far greater attention than it receives. 

At the centre of The Human Condition is Arendt’s bold distinction between three spheres of human activity: Labour, Work, and Action. Labour, the toil that is essential for the preservation of biological life, Arendt associates with necessity, with what we must do to survive. The recurrent cycle of Labour and its characteristic lack of individuality is redeemed in part by Work – that is, the creation of and addition to the tangible human edifice, in a way that outlasts our own lives and makes possible our being remembered. For Arendt, however, it is only in Action that we experience freedom, for in Action we show ‘who’ we are (unique individuals), not merely ‘what’ we are (members of the human species). Only in Action are we motivated by concerns that go beyond the preservation of life. Rehabilitating this state of freedom, which Arendt associates with politics, is the central concern of The Human Condition. To this end, she draws on the Christian-Humanist celebration of natality, offering an impassioned defence of the ‘miracle’ that is the birth of each and every unique human being. 

The Human Condition is a challenging yet endlessly rewarding text, and the freshness and erudition of Arendt’s prose stands as a fine advert for the humanist ideals of the academy.

Listen to the debate


Jon Nixon
writer, Centre of International Education and Lifelong Learning, Hong Kong Institute of Education; author, Hannah Arendt and the politics of friendship; founding co-editor, Perspectives in Leadership in Higher Education

Jacob Reynolds
consultant, SHM Productions

Produced by
Jacob Reynolds consultant, SHM Productions
Recommended readings
The Human Condition

Second Edition

Hannah Arendt, University of Chicago Press, 14 January 1999

The Human Condition: A Summary Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

follow the Academy of Ideas


Keep up to date with Academy of Ideas news and events by joining our mailing list.

Next year's festival will be packed with more debates like this one. If you would like to come, get your ticket now via our 2016 tickets page.
Session partners