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The Human Condition

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  5,301 ratings  ·  231 reviews
A work of striking originality bursting with unexpected insights, The Human Condition is a 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 politi ...more
Paperback, 349 pages
Published December 1st 1998 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1958)
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4.21  · 
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 ·  5,301 ratings  ·  231 reviews

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Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult read, although initially more frightening than it ends up actually being. Arendt's intellect is intimidating to say the least, and the manner in which she launches into a discussion of the human condition in the modern age is altogether unlike anything I've ever seen before -- "unique" is certainly an understatement. She completely renovates the discussion of political and social theory, but does it in a way that makes it seem logical and even natural. The scope of her knowle ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt
The Human Condition, first published in 1958, Hannah Arendt's account of how "human activities" should be and have been understood throughout Western history. Arendt is interested in the vita activa (active life) as contrasted with the vita contemplativa (contemplative life) and concerned that the debate over the relative status of the two has blinded us to important insights about the vita activa and the way in which it has changed since ancient times. She dist
David Withun
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
Arendt's book is a masterpiece of modern philosophy. Like any masterpiece, especially of philosophy, and even more especially of modern philosophy, this mistakes it very difficult to summarize. In this book, she draws on the history of Western thought from the ancient Jews, Greeks, and Romans through to Marx and Nietzsche to diagnose, as the title puts it, “the human condition.” Nearly every page is filled with insight into what it means to be human. She moves swiftly through the ages, introduci ...more
Tom Choi
Dec 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all human beings
If I could recommend one work of philosophy, I'd turn to this magnificent book. And of the many interesting and influential philosophical texts from the 20th Century, this one is the most important of them all as it critically and sympathetically addresses our age, our problems and our fears.

In short, our ideas and our leaders (governments) have failed us. But against the spirit of pessimism of her German counterparts (notably Heidegger and Adorno, each representing a distinctly opposed sense o
A very unique approach to philosophy, to put it mildly.

Divides human life into three spheres: labor, action, and work. Describes the evolution of these three concepts, using historical examples from philosophy. Not an easy book, but a very stimulating one.
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I took months reading this book, and I loved it. What I keep mostly about reading it is changes. The possibility of change. How the world has changed and what brings about those ch ch changes.

The way everything is connected, philosophy, science, spirituality, and the way one change of view brings many more as consequence. Ver stimulating read, totally worth the effort, every page leaves you with a lot to think about. It applies to every day life and what we see happening in the world.

I underli
Jul 16, 2014 rated it liked it
This is an odd work.

Arendt mischaracterizes a great many thinkers over the course of the book; her "labor," "work," "action," trichotomy seems only intermittently useful; it is unclear whether or not her vision of political action has ever, or could ever, exist. And yet.

One of my fellows in our reading group suggested a nice way to get past the egregious misreadings of various thinkers (Locke and Smith have an especially hard time). He suggested that, instead of offering actual interpretive wor
I'm afraid that I have difficulty with so much of the great intellectual powerhouses of the immediate postwar era, which is terrible, because I know they were a reasonable, humane bunch who tirelessly threw themselves towards lofty goals. But it seems to me that most of these cogitations on universal human aspiration are a bit suspect.

Hannah Arendt, you are clearly a stunningly intelligent person. Your phenomenological approach to the work-labor distinction is admirable for its rigor, and a grea
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is very deep. By this I mean not that it is a difficult read or that it is philosophical (it is both), but that it is as complicated and interesting as a deep-sea shipwreck. One can revisit this text over and over again and uncover new treasures. Agamben has called this work "practically without continuation" in any scholarly tradition. This is not because it is ignored, but because it is a very original and multi-faceted argument. Besides its main thrust of the sullying of politics th ...more
Bart Everson
I read this, or tried to, when I was 20 years old. It was completely over my head. It was assigned in a 400-level religious studies class at Indiana University which was also over my head. The class met in a pub and I was slightly intoxicated most of the time. That may not have helped my comprehension, but the prof had known Hannah Arendt personally, and he told us, "She would have approved. She preferred hard liquor and could drink more than most mortals."
Bryan Wall
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
A book that is all over the place and is not an easy read. I'm not entirely sure what she was trying to attempt.
Marco Pavan
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to read - took forever and often had to go back and re-read passages - but truly remarkable nonetheless
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is an original and insightful book of philosophy that lives up to its lofty title. What Arendt deals with here is what politics should be about -- not manufactured wedge issues but the very way we live our lives.

The real strength of The Human Condition is how Arendt manages to escape the limits of conventional ideology. She doesn't easily fit into any political classification, nor does she propose a concrete program of reform. Instead she looks at the changes in human activity and how it ha
Jun 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
In The Human Condition (1958), Hannah Arendt discusses the public/private distinction with hope toward a more active political life, what she calls viva active (7). She argues that the dividing line between private and public has become blurred because we have come to understand political realms in terms of the family (28). She sees a "gulf" between private and public in ancient thought where people had to cross, and it touch courage to cross this gulf because one left behind concerns of only hi ...more
Patricia Carlton
This reading was deeply intellectually satisfying while also challenging me to keep up. Arendt brought the ancient Greek philosophies and western tradition of philosophic thought to illuminate three areas of the modern human condition: labor; work; and action. Although we seem to be more of a society of animal laborans and jobholders,than man as toolmaker or policy maker, the advent of digital media and social networking may be building a new public space for speech and thought; (the realm of hu ...more
Oct 26, 2010 rated it liked it
still don't get how *SPOILER ALERT* thinking counts as action, ending the book with that quote from cato ("never is he more active than when he does nothing, never is he less alone than when he is by himself") seems like a weird note to end the book on. the first bit about thinking being active is understandable enough (activity =/= action for arendt), but the bit about being unalone by being by oneself isn't making sense to me in the context of arendt's philosophy
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, o, l-f-ar-af-s, fa
A fascinating critique of modernity and defense of politics. Parts of it are arguably prophetic. imho it's worth reading whether or not you agree with her, because Arendt raised important questions & her eloquent writing style makes it quite fun to read. It was written years ago but IMHO it can serve as an excellent philosophical justification of the occupy movement.
I had never heard of “The Human Condition” before one of my professors brought it up in class and said we would be reading it for the course. Seeing as how there is high praise for Arendt written on the back cover and the reviews on Goodreads are quite high, I expected to at least somewhat enjoy it. Philosophy is not within my field of reading – I get lost in the wordiness of it, and sometimes lose my patience with the arguments when they contradict themselves or have apparent loopholes if they ...more
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In this text, Arendt is critical of the institutions that have defined the democratic society, relating them to the problems, fears, and failures that we have experienced. In order to lead a more political life, or “vita active” as she called it, there must be the crossing over of the private, public, and social sectors. The constant infiltration of the private into the public has given rise to the need of the social, which is often interpreted as the political. Arendt draws on ancient Greek tho ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is a good thought exercise in thinking through the categories of human activity.

I'm not at all convinced though that her distinctions between labour, work and action, with their respective phenomenological roles, can really hold up as domains of actual empirical activity. Good as an exercise in abstract conceptual distinction, but they just melt into each other as soon as you start to apply them to the world.

Worse still is the insistence that "society" and "politics" can be conceived
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosphy
Womyn can write 2.0: Jewish Bogaloo
Now for some quotes:
"Surely Cartesian doubt has showed its efficiency nowhere more disastrously and irrevocably than in the realm of religious belief, where it was introduced by Pascal and Kierkegaard, the two greatest religious thinkers of modernity. (For what undermined the Christian faith was not the atheism of the 18th century or the materialism of the 19th, their arguments are frequently vulgar and for the most part easily refutable by traditional theology
Jun 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, that wasn't a typical read! I had to read this book for class in university and I'm kind of torn if I really like it or if it's just important to pass the class.

I guess I really liked it because I thought about it long after I had to read it. It made me think that we should keep our focus on things which effect the society and our lives and norms.

So, it's not an easy read, but it's worth it.
Sep 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I have this book to read in the event that I feel like I actually know something. I think I have spent more time on commentaries than the actual book, however I find Arendt nothing but hopeful and incredible. Whenever other philosophers and thinkers bring you down, Arendt comes along and sees 'birth' in all things. Take that Heidegger!
May 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I first gave this 4 stars but on reflection it deserves 5, despite my reservations. It is brilliant, original, and in parts almost prophetic. A book well worth having mental arguments with.
Apr 25, 2013 rated it liked it
At some point I found myself at a Lyle Lovett concert – odd enough – but it became odder when I ended up winning front-row tickets from a radio station’s swag booth that I shared with a group of people. This meant that Lyle was about fifteen feet away, watching us awkwardly tag each other in and out of the primo location and run back to our cheap seats on the lawn. At any rate, I happened to be in the special seat when he introduced a song of his, saying “This next one is a song about the human ...more
Feb 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition is unlike any book I've read before it; and any book I read after it is likely to be judged in the light it casts forward too. After all, as the title reads, there's nothing less than 'The Human Condition' at stake in this book. Of course exactly what that means is the rub, and Arendt's book is distinguished by the way it treats the question not merely in philosophical, but also in explicitly political and historical terms. Rather than being a detached investi ...more
Arendt is sometimes frustrating because she has read everything. In this incredible work, she weaves together history, politics, and philosophy from Ancient Greece to contemporary America to construct a theory, not on human nature, but rather what humans are capable of doing. The book develops five terms: labor, work, action, vita contemplativa and vita activa. Arendt then theorizes the relationship amongst all these ideas in Ancient Athens, Rome, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, the Industri ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
It is remarkable how relevant this book is some 56 years after it was written. Labour, Work, and Action and its relation to the 'public' and 'society'.

And probably one of the best critiques of Marx's 'withering away of the State' concept as being a confusion between labour (immersed in necessity and directed towards consumption) and work (creation of use-value), in which the leisure time released by technology would be used for our collective betterment.

"A hundred years after Marx we know the f
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it
biggest surprise: amount of time Arendt must have taken to read and analyze scripture

biggest disappointment: amount of untranslated quotes in the footnotes

biggest laugh: the back cover calling this book, "a work of striking originality."
Erik C
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Arendt describes 3 different modes of existence characterized by the types of work, labor or action one engages in.

That doesn't sound exciting, but this book is pretty amazing and will certainly mess you all up inside.
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Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Born into a German-Jewish family, she was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and lived in Paris for the next eight years, working for a number of Jewish refugee organisations. In 1941 she immigrated to the United States and soon became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York. She held a ...more
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