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The Human Condition, 2nd Edition 2nd Edition

4 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226025988
ISBN-10: 0226025985
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Editorial Reviews


"It is hard to name another thinker of the twentieth century more sought after as a guide to the dilemmas of the twenty-first."
(Adam Kirsch New Yorker) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) was an influential German political theorist and philosopher whose works include The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem.

Margaret Canovan is Emeritus Professor of Political Thought at the University of Keele.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: The University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition (December 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226025985
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226025988
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #23,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By P. Costello VINE VOICE on February 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is extraordinarily accessible and thought-provoking for undergraduate students. I have used it in my course on twentieth-century women philosophers. Arendt, without citing Husserl or Heidegger, enacts what I would call a phenomenology of action. That is, she examines the experience of the vita activa (or life of action) by describing it on its own terms. For Arendt, Marx and Smith were wrong to say that human life is fundamentally about labor or about skilled work. Human life is not mostly for or about the consumption of commodities and entrenching one's family ties. Rather, human life is about establishing a public, political realm that emulates (but does not simply attempt to reproduce) the Greek polis. Humanity is about opening up a space for meaning and for evanescent but important co-creation of what counts as a good life.

For Arendt, action is fragile, frail, unpredictable, and irreversible. Action appreciates the differences between humans within the outlines of a nation, for example, and action does not simply attempt to compel others to yield to a single, sovereign will. Action calls those who participate in true politics to realize the sense of 'e pluribus unum' and to make sure that the plurality or 'pluribus' is not simply a fading memory in the face of the One.

To make her point, Arendt delves into Judeo-Christian scriptures, as well as the history of philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Marx, and Nietzsche), attempting to reconcile a desire for shared power with a need for mutual forgiveness. Students respond well to the nexus of issues that Arendt raises, especially to the idea that 'radical evil' cannot be (but that most ordinary transgressions must be) forgiven.
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Format: Paperback
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, introducing us to the ideas that have shaped our modern way of life and our way of viewing ourselves. And she finally ends with where we are at and why a reevaluation of our own humanity is now more pressing than ever (and now even more pressing than when Arendt wrote the book): our worst fears have been realized. Man has been simultaneously reduced to the state of an animal - a biological machine of no lasting worth - and elevated to the position of a god - capable of destroying worlds. What are we to do now? I recommend that everyone read this book - and ponder ever word deeply.
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Format: Paperback
It's hard to give a summary of this book, which touches on so many issues. In her introduction, Margaret Canovan notes that many academic critics, at the time of the book's first publication in 1958, found Arendt's argument "beneath refutation." The book is indeed something of a long essay in form and is not immediately "falsifiable" or arguable in the sense that most narrow academic texts are. Canovan also notes that many readers were thrown by Arendt's ongoing gesture (my words) of explaining contemporary social life in the vocubulary of Ancient Greek thought. In intellectual-history terms, this move of Arendt's is no surprise. She was a student of Heidegger's; many Continental thinkers fell under his spell. (Potential readers of "The Human Condition" might want to contrast it with "The Embers and the Stars" by Erazim Kohak, who also constructs a philosophy out of the etymologies of Greek words, but not of social life, but of the environment and nature.)
In short, Arendt's book is interesting reading for anyone involved in the world of work. Her categories of "labor," "work," and "action" provide an interesting way of thinking about society. A back-cover blurb from poet W. H. Auden talks about "The Human Condition" as "one of those books that seem to have been written especially for me." I would go further and recommend Arendt to any artist or budding artist or anyone who has ever seen themselves as being of an artistic temperament. Arendt provides a philosophical view of the artist in society, as opposed to a lyrical view, which is what one might find in, say, Joyce's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Arendt's vision is more realistic. A wonderful book!
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Format: Paperback
Arendt begins her opus magnum with a proposal: she states that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 (similar to Vaclav Havel's proposal of the moon landing) has hearkened in a new age of humanity. Following this proposal is one of the most mysterious but rewarding books of the 20th century, in my humble opinion.
I first encountered "The Human Condition" in an undergraduate class regarding the post-modern community. To this day, I still have not completely digested this work. Her objective, in her own words, is to determine "... what it is that we are doing", and her choice of a goal is challenging considering what is to follow. Situating herself between a Greek model of society and a Marxist interpretation of labor, Arendt calls into question our ideas of progress, technology, and even forgiveness, and aims a withering critique at the subjective personality of the post-modern world.
I won't go into a broad summary of her points to convince you to read it, but instead implore the reader of this review to see for themselves what Arendt is doing. Some will give up on this book after a few pages, calling it semantical nonsense. Yet for those who forge a path through Arendt's intelligent interpretation of history will come out on the other side with a new appreciation for the way in which they live their lives, participate in this thing we call "work", and interact with the human community. I can't stress enough how much this book means to me.
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