- 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: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Arendt helps students prepare for more texts in 20th Century philosophy, especially those by Edith Stein (On the Problem of Empathy), Simone de Beauvoir (Ethics of Ambiguity), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Phenomenology of Perception). Her discussion of action and intersubjectivity is essentially a dialogue with Husserl and Heidgger, and to me this should show her as not only discussing but also enacting respect and forgiveness (respectively).
In this sprawling work (it's only a little more than 300 pages, but it feels longer) Hannah Arendt dissects the three conditions of man: labor, work, and action. Labor is what a slave or a man in the state of nature must do: toil with his body in order to obtain the nutrients and subsistence necessary to live one more day. Work is what a craftsman does, an expression of his individual identity through physical exertion and toil. Action is what humans in a pluralistic action do -- think and speak, invent and imagine in order to win the respect of their equals and to elevate themselves in their eyes.
We have seen this sort of formulation before -- most notably in Plato's writings, and indeed Plato and the Greeks (especially Thucycides) are alluded to frequently here. It seems that for Arendt Greece was a pinnacle of human action in which humans thought and battled over ideas in their debates. It is a world of thought and action that Arendt writing as early as 1958 could see being withered and decayed by the growing onslaught of technology -- how technology has made our lives infinitely more convenient, but at the same time alienated us from our hands, and forced us into a cocoon of our lonely private lives. Arendt's call for action -- to restore the thinking and active life -- is noble and earnest, but reading it in a modern context -- with the dominance of Facebook, Apple, and Google -- it also seems quaint and silly.
This book is one of Arendt's more abstract works, and it's a very difficult text to read, something that the introducer (who wrote a fabulous introduction) mentioned repeatedly. Earnest Arendt fans must read this title, of course -- but for those who are looking to get started on Arendt, then "Eichmann in Jerusalem" is a much more accessible and relevant work.
Coming from a highschool senior, if you have a choice, don't pick this book as your nonfiction reading unless you're very comfortable with philosophy for your age.