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.
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
consultant, SHM Productions
Second EditionHannah Arendt, University of Chicago Press, 14 January 1999
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