Reading the Human Condition with Prof. Roger Berkowitz

Hannah Arendt Center Virtual Reading Group on
 “The Human Condition”

Prof. Roger Berkowitz

Roger Berkowitz is Academic Director and Associate Professor of Politics, Philosophy, and Human rights at Bard College

Hannah Arendt Center Members, at all levels, are eligible to participate in the monthly reading group led online via a telecommunication website (BlueJeans) by Roger Berkowitz, Director of the Hannah Arendt Center.

The following is a transcript of my class notes in draft of the Virtual Reading Group on "The Human Condition" by Hannah Arendt (*). Each lesson is recorded and archived on Vimeo, with access allowed to members. I have been following the live lessons since session 10 and viewed the previous ones from the video recordings. 

Each lesson is about 60 minutes duration, it consists of the lecture of Prof. Roger Berkowitz on "The Human Condition" chapters, mixed with questions & answers.

Many thanks to Prof. Berkowitz for letting me publish these personal notes. All omissions, mistakes or interpretations of his thought are under my sole responsibility.

Being myself committed on a research dedicated to Arendt's philosophy, this document of the first twelve reading lessons about this very specific and important book, is a testimony of a work in progress, nothing less, nothing more.

(*) The University of Chicago Press, 2nd Edition, 1998, with an introduction by Margaret Canovan

Christo Datso
Brussels, Sept. 21st, 2015

Session 1, 7th Nov. 2014. Prologue......................................................................
Session 2, 5th Dec. 2014. Chapters 1-3................................................................
Session 3, 9th Jan. 2015. Chapters 4-6.................................................................
Session 4, 6th Feb. 2015. Chapters 7-9................................................................
Session 5, 6th Mar. 2015. Chapters 10-13............................................................
Session 6, 3rd Apr. 2015. Chapters 14-17.............................................................
Session 7, 25th Apr. 2015. Chapters 18-20..........................................................
Session 8, 15th May 2015. Chapters 21-23..........................................................
Session 9, 5th June 2015. Chapters 24-26............................................................
Session 10, 10th July 2015. Chapters 27-30.........................................................
Session 11, 31st July 2015. Chapters 31-34......................................................... 
Session 12, 11th Sept. 2015. Chapters 35-37.......................................................

Session 1, 7th Nov. 2014. Prologue

Two themes: earthliness and earth alienation.

Questions: science alienating the human condition; the automation of work; the elevation of labor and life above action and thinking.

“Thinking” becomes Arendt’s answer to the changes in human condition over 25 centuries.

The launch of the Sputnik versus the split of the atom is a controversial comparison.

Earth is the quintessence of what means to be human. This is not about “human nature”.

Human condition is about humans who live in a world of artifices. It is conditioned by that world. Humans make the world through their work: they create buildings, languages, stories, and polities. Animals live in the world.

Humans are artificial and connected to the world through life, which is given to us through birth. This is the “nature” both animal and human of the human condition. It goes back to Greece.

The earthliness is this life element. But there are dreams of genetic engineering.

Ray Kurzweil Trans-humanism. It’s the same desire that sends Sputnik into space, to fly away from earthliness, and changes life. “The Singularity is Near” projects it into 2050-2060, one century after “The Human Condition”.

But there are limits: life, earthliness. Suddenly we rebel against nature, against the earthliness of human existence. Why? Because we think all of this, is not good enough. This desire is the most important drive of the 20th century.

Remaking the human condition is not a scientific but a political question. If we don’t ask it, it will be answered for us. Quoting Kurzweil: “those who don’t want to follow the trend will be left down the road like pieces of museum”. We’ll become slaves to our machines. This language of technology is beyond understanding.

On automation

The vast majority of people will become economically superfluous. Will we keep them alive?

Rebellion against labor is old. What we do, our labor, defines ourselves in the public space.

The loss of earthliness and the rise of automation define the Modern Age.

Politics is about persuasion and agreement. We repeat truths, (clichés), and don’t think about it.

Arendt’s book is an attempt to think about what we are doing.


On social technologies and bureaucracies

Statistics is dangerous. The idea of statistics is a way to govern society for 80-90% of people, and the others are outliers. People outside the norm are ignored. It makes also impossible to create great actions, which people will notice. Bureaucracy is the rule of nobody. Arendt thinks about social sciences from the perspective of science, opposed to action.

Data driven system, common core of knowledge

Overcoming our limitations, it’s perfectly compatible with what is means to be human.

Homo ludens. We don’t believe anymore on meaningful things. Art has lost the ability to move the majority of people.

Session 2, 5th Dec. 2014. Chapters 1-3

The three fundamental human activities, labor, work, action, became central in being human. Compare to another “triad”: nativity, thinking, and mortality.

Human condition (HC) is not same things as human nature.

We can indeed live without working. We should still be humans according to Nature. The activities emerged from the last 25 centuries of history.

Labor is associated with biology and life, things that don’t last, consumer goods, it’s a cyclical phenomena. It is part of our species; labor does not create a world.

Work creates objects that we share, which connect us; it creates an artificial world that lasts. The highest work objects are Art.

Action is the dignity of being human, it is about speaking and doing things in public, where your acts become noticed. They create meaning and history. Action relates to the differences between us, that we recognize and begin to talk, that we group ourselves into a common polity, a city; action is politics.

Q: what about feelings in labor and work?
Need and happiness relate to labor through consumption of goods.

The joy of doing something new in a way that is surprising relates to action, the freedom of acting.

Being at home in a common world, could relate to work.

Q: does it relate to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
For Arendt, there is no hierarchy between the activities of labor, work and action. They are all part of the human condition. The actor needs the homo faber in order to act. Action is in a way an elevation over work. Those distinctions relate intrinsically one with another; they are more philosophical than practical concepts. Arendt’s specialists have long argued about them.

Q: is the work of Art the highest form of work?
Yes, because these works of art are beautiful and meaningful. The “Human Condition” is such an example, which connects people who read it and discuss about Arendt.

Performing arts and theatre.
Poetry has the ability to last for infinite duration.

Aristotle’s bios politikos relates to Augustine’s Vita activa. But Augustine opposes it to the Vita contemplativa; he gives the Vita activa a negative sense. Arendt uses the concept in a different way; she gives some explanation from history.
After Socrates, philosophy and politics start to separate. The question “What is Man?” can only be answered by God (or the Creator). The question “Who are Men?” is something we can address. It is not about Nature (the “what”). The fear driving Arendt is the loss of actions and work, and the human condition being reduced to labor (and consumption), through science and automation.

Eternity versus Immortality
Vita Contemplativa is fundamentally different from Immortality. Gods are immortal, humans are mortal, but can build a world which is eternal through Arts or Politics, and remember people’s names which last forever.

Page 19: it is a very strong sentence.
From Socrates, the aim of philosophy is switching from immortality to eternity; this way it re-enters the world, philosophy is part of the worldliness of the world. Action is also shocking and dangerous. The highest political virtue is courage. Philosophers engage in Truth and not actions, and lack of courage. Philosophy moves from immortality to eternity. Arendt’s fear is the retreat of action, which leads to loss of immortality in profit of necessity, consumption, and happiness and to thinking or greatness.

Q: what does she mean with the ‘best’ (the aristoi)?
To act in a public world, in a way which matters to other people.

Q: why should we assume people should do great things?
What does that mean if we lose this ability?

Session 3, 9th Jan. 2015. Chapters 4-6

The public and the private
The social and the political

Definition of the social: group of people who are together at home, as one.

The public realm is where we engage with others through action and speech. The rise of the social in the 19th century comes with the diminishing role, the loss, of the public and the private.

The household and privacy
By nature we are un-equal. The great achievement of politics is to make us equal. Equality, is to be freed from tyranny, it is freedom. Going from private and households to the public and the sacred, requires courage.

Political economy (oxymoron) is a big problem because it opposes the One (home, oikos), and the plurality. In German, it is ‘social economy’.

What are the political questions to Arendt? What do we believe in: Freedom, equality, privacy? What do we share? Political economy brings the confusion between the Polis and the household.

The rise of the social
In Antiquity, private is privative, being a slave, in need, in privation of freedom. In modern times, privacy becomes opposed to social and to conformism. Privacy emerges as a shelter, it corresponds to the decline of the family, it puts the individual against the social, and it carries the destruction of individual families and the emergence of ONE family. This is no-man’s rule; it is the rule of the Mass bureaucracy and technocrats, the most social form of government. To be a good citizen (or a good mother, good father…), becomes a rational way to act, being in the norm.

Politics is more meaningful, it concerns discussing our differences; but political economy is prescriptive: what we should want, what we should do, what is rational, how we, as individuals, should behave.

Adam Smith, the Physiocrats
What is economics? It is about rationality. It is linked to the rise of statistics (pages 42-43), uniformity.

“Tea Party”, “Occupy Wall Street”, become irregularities that do not matter.

Session 4, 6th Feb. 2015. Chapters 7-9

Earth is the quintessence of the human condition, earthliness being the state of human life; which is not controlled (birth, death…)

Public / private realms are absolutely essentials to being human and are threatened by the rise of the social.

Public realm is the Common
Page 50: Appearance gives reality, is the cornerstone of Arendt’s philosophy (not Truth or Being). The way we appear to ourselves and to the others is the reality. She opposes Plato, Descartes, and Kant, science where truth is not what is seeing. This is an essential disagreement with the history of philosophy and the rise of science. What appears can be artificial but what appears is what is real (art, stories).

Private is a place we need to hide from the public, such as love, wisdom, goodness, which are not to be made to the public.

Page 52: world is different from Nature
Public is what appears as what humans make, it’s the political world, the art

Page 53: metaphor of the table
The common things of the world gather us. One of the dangers of the common world is mass society (everybody has his “own table”, everyone being equal, thus excluding the others from his table, thus not being related to the others). “Who are you to judge my work of art, my subjectivity?”
We lose sight of truth and beautiful being subject to (???)
We replace the world of lasting things with our own things. Greatness has given way to the charm, the pleasure of little things.

Page 54: wordlessness
Christian abstention from the world; consumerism is another response to the loss of the public world, without the idea of impermanence, or immortality, without transcendence.
Page 58: tyranny, by isolating individuals, and the radical subjectivism of mass society and mass hysteria, when everybody pursues his own dreams, ambitions etc, is the two ways to destroy the common world.

Q: intersubjectivity
Plurality is the pre-supposition of political action, with sameness (equality) as citizens; the world is built by uniqueness and interactions.

Habermas / Arendt: all claims are opinions and are “pushed” to the others through persuasion

Group interests rule the “social”, which is being part of one family. Arendt likes “disagreement”.

The private realm, property
Four ideas of the private

Privative idea

The non-privative, wealth and property are not the same. Property is the proper, own, it gives a kind of place in the world, it gives location to the world, it has a kind of sacredness, and it passes generations.
Problems of modern age of wealth has taken the place of property, transformed it even into intangibles (money).

Property is a boundary line separating us from others, separate each houses from one another, separate private and public worlds.

Wealth destroy both property and privacy (page 64)

Privacy is important to individuals and to freedom.

Q: is social (and conformism) opposed to the intimate?
The intimate rises with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it relates to developing our inner life, it is important but not the same as privacy (as the private realm, where were hiding, where we are secured with our property).
The intimate is a reaction against social conformism. Private is the place where you can develop your own.
Modern times start with the expropriation of peasants by capitalism.

Q: elimination of the private realm
Common wealth versus Welfare State
Loss of a hiding place
The Internet and connectivity all around is a kind of “arendtien” creation of a public world, but it is in fact a discriminatory public world (which is ok); the problem is, the Internet replaces a true public world. It’s part of the rise of the social.

Session 5, 6th Mar. 2015. Chapters 10-13

On goodness
Labor was once the lowest value of the Vita Activa. Now it is the highest because of life’s goal being happiness through consumption, acquiring things, and wealth.

Adam Smith invisible hand promotes growth. Marx moves from individuals to class and Society’s interest seen as growth, dominance over Nature. Arendt reads Marx in the same way that Adam Smith read the Physiocrats, which is in the perspective of the social. Labor is out of necessity to do things. Marx introduces the process into the social. Arendt reads him as a scientist who sees the world as a series of processes that can ever be automated. Human volition and action are put out of the system. Growth equals happiness because we accumulate more things.

Understand the focus between labor and life, which are cyclical processes, growth and survival of the species; i.e. for Eternity of the species, not for individuals.

Chapter 11 is about Marx
Chapters 13-14 are the central sections on Labor with chapter 17

Labor’s life: it’s production and consumption (Marx)
In the modern world of processes, the only way to act is to introduce, insert, a new process into the world, a new theory, a new idea. Scientists are the only people who can act today (like Marx, or Einstein).
Individual actions become more like exceptions and they are irrelevant (statistics and the law of large numbers).
Labor became, as production of life, has the highest value in the modern age because of the rise of the processes. “It is better to be kept alive than it is to live meaningful” (refugee camps). We see a transformation of humans being not meaningful anymore, but simply as humans, kept alive for the sake of its own end.

Comment: labor, work, action, are constantly mixed.

Session 6, 3rd Apr. 2015. Chapters 14-17

Life: activity of the body
Work: activities of the brain and the hands
Labor: same as consumption, same as life
Labor is the production of things responding to necessities, not specifically human way of life; it’s a zoological process.
Labor and fertility
Contradiction in Marx between labor as an external necessity and communist revolution, which will free up man from labor
To Arendt, Marx raises labor to the highest activity, leading to happiness. “Good” life is not the same as “great” or “moral” life.
Idea of natural processes (page 105)
Human life is not cyclical, it is linear, and it has a beginning and an end. Processes are cyclical: money, power, they demand always more. By rising above labor we turn the highest activities of human life into animal fertility.

Chapter 15. Privacy of ‘dead’ property and ‘living’ wealth
Property is to own something in the world, people are related to it; it becomes associated with who we are. It makes us separating and connecting to the world.

Moving from a property owning regime to a wealth owning regime has consequences, it creates a process of accumulation.

Property is inconsistent with un-ending labor, and is replaced by wealth, as social men replace humans. Marx follows Darwin’s idea of natural evolution. Processes follow the same idea of a socialized emergence that is neither private nor public or political.

The animal laborans (page 117)
What do you do with your free time?
Hobbies, all activities help ‘passing the time’ by providing fun.

The common world is increasingly lost; we live in worldliness.
Everyone becomes a laborer: presidents, academics, we all keep the economy growing.

Chapter 16. The instruments of work, we create tools, labor provides vitality and liveliness. We now have robots, tools, and machines.

Page 121, men cannot be free if they do not know that they are subject to necessity. There is a reduction in freedom where machines provide everything we need. Freedom is meaningful as we get the impulse to get out of necessity, otherwise is becomes meaningless.

Does the division of labor lead to loss of freedom?
Rise of the service economy is one illustration of the limits of tools to ease labor.
We actually need live assistance, people who do certain tasks and not others. A world of such abundance is created where we must discard some of it in order to keep pushing the economy. Endless production, endless consumption. Objects must be designed now NOT to last (page 125).
Humans become tools to be used and consumed, used objects, i.e. “human resources”.

Page 131. Marx’s utopia
Leisure as the shadow of antiquity

Page 133. Spare time of the animal laborans is spent on consumption, on superfluities. Culture itself becomes a sophisticated consumption elevating our status. Pursuing higher goals, such as culture, religion, politics, is not another form of consumption activities.

Page 126. Playfulness becomes the source of freedom.
Do we read Arendt as leisure or a serious work?
A laboring society does not recognize it.

Session 7, 25th Apr. 2015. Chapters 18-20

Durability and lastingness characterizes work, which populates the world.
Stories are the highest and most worldly and durable forms of work. Poets and historians are the highest form of these manifestations.
There are three conditions of being human, being part of the Vita Activa (inversion of the metaphysical view of the Vita Contemplativa).
A second inversion has been the primacy of labor over work and action. Animal laborans takes preeminence with the modern age.

Chapter 18. Durability of the world
Objects (ob-jectum) are things we create which stand against us (gegen-stand). Example of the table: a family object which that passes to the next generation; “something” about the table writes upon us, its durability, its lastingness is part of us. Art works are those objects we look at; we tell stories upon them, which have no usage. The world is made of artificial objects; it makes us political by uniting us.

Labor, work, action, are flexible categories. The end product of laboring is not important. The end product of work is durable, it is created, it has a begin and an end, it is not a cyclical process. It creates linearity.

Q: work and violence
You have to stabilize something. It comes with a violation of a natural process: cut a tree, chop the wood, and make a table.
Same reasoning on the motion of history by violating its flows to isolate an event, a story (Paul Revere, Socrates)…
Human violence (violation) on the process of nature is absolutely essential. Violence is a necessary corollary of work.
The victory of labor over work and action destroys the humanly built common world.

Chapter 19. Reification
Res (thing) “to thingify”

The essence of the world is that is creates things. There is a difference between the medieval way of creating things, versus the modern practice where we create things according to our own laws, and not in relation to God’s purpose.

Plato’s idea: we make things according to schemes outside of our brain, called models, plans. More durable than the table is the idea of the table, which creates a common background.

Chapter 20. Instrumentality and Animal laborans
Page 144: in labor there is a loss of distinction between means and ends.
Rhythmicity of labor
Labor is a reduction of human work to the body.

Page 157: tools of workmanship; the tool remains the servant of my brain and of my hands, but machines reverse this relationship. Adjustment to “not-machine like” tools and machine tools are not the same.

1. The steam engine imitates a natural process increasing the power of our hands (turn of a wheel).
2. Electricity is not ‘natural’; it is created. Things will emerge that would have not emerged otherwise. Manufacturing has become a continuous process.
3. Automation (p. 149) eliminates the whole history of machines. Today we’re in the process to add Artificial Intelligence.

Q: on the automation of the death machine (Eichmann), de-humanization of the world. We keep the processes running, without thinking on what we are doing.
p. 151: machines rule and destroy world and things.
Machine standards versus human standards

Q: superfluity of human beings (in Origins of Totalitarianism)
Human labor becomes superfluous.
“Most of the world will become superfluous because of automation and computer. People will be economically superfluous. Altruism will become the key question of our time” (Larry Ellisson, CEO Oracle Corp.)
In bureaucratic societies, responsibility increases as you are further from doing the act (of killing for instance) – Eichmann in Jerusalem

Session 8, 15th May 2015. Chapters 21-23

One of the most important chapters
Page 173. Work becomes important as a transition to politics. “Acting and speaking men need the help of homo faber”.

Chapter 21. Instrumentality and homo faber
Work is made for some end, and the end guides the process. The danger is that all ends become means to something else, work loses its meaning and becomes part of a chain of utilities.

Distinction between meaning and utility
We lose the idea of “for the sake of”. Meaning is reduced to utility. Kant and Plato’s efforts to discover some Ends for themselves not reduced to a function. The means-end category’s aim is to build a world. It is to provide meaning, not means.
The ultimate danger is that all things, including humans, become means, resources.

Chapter 22. The exchange market
Instead of forums, we’ve markets to trade

Chapter 23. The source of artwork is in thought not in feelings, because it is connected to man’ social existence, it’s a matter of emanation rather than of creation. We need to transform feelings and wants into thoughts.

Session 9, 5th June 2015. Chapters 24-26

Without speech and action, men are dead to the world.
I become a man in this world insofar as stories are told about me; and for this, I need to act and take the risk of action.

Human plurality, the condition of politics, and the action of action and speech
Plurality, not diversity
It has equality and distinction
Otherness (alteritas)
Uniqueness: what makes us unique which comes from the private
Action and speech reveal this uniqueness to the world. To act is to start something new. Miraculous is part of the modern world (cfr. Essay on Freedom)
Something new will also emerge as long as there are humans.
You have to act in a way that will create attention that people will notice. Invisibility of the poor is the greatest danger to politics.
Slavery is the ultimate human death (OT). The only truly human right is the right to act and speak in public.

“The holes of oblivion do not exist”

Slavery was the great crime of America (On Revolution, Little Rock)
We don’t control our actions
Wanting to be seen
Dram and theater are the political acts
Unpredictability of action
The frailty of human affairs
It’s so rational not to get involved.

Session 10, 10th July 2015. Chapters 27-30

Action is one of the three faculties of the Vita Activa.
Action means to take initiative, to be free, starting something new, about appearance, all things that live want to appear to the world.

Two problems with action: boundless and unpredictable (evil vs good)

The Greeks had a solution to the frailties of action
Epic solution: Achilles dies early, whose story is controlled by Homer
Philosophical solution: subordinate those frailties to legislation (the philosopher-king: “here is the Truth, here’s how to act”)
The development of the polis, the city state (plainen: movement of circular rings, politics is gathering a group of people around a center)
The Polis brings a solution because it allows to make you immortal (memory) and to get fame (not to be forgotten).

Chapter 28. Power and the space of appearance
Power is a potential, it cannot be preserved, it appears; then disappears.
Political power is gathering people around a circle, without that the politic is illegitimate and leads to revolution and tyranny.

We need to create a political system that creates power and keeps it alive. Today we distrust power (it corrupts). The US innovation was the federalist and decentralized system of government, with multiple power sources allowed to coexist under its Constitution.

The space of appearance is the Polis where mean can act and be remembered, and their actions seen.

Page 205. On Pericles oration
Tyranny is not action because it erases the public sphere
Tocqueville: in a tyranny, people’s minds are free but their bodies are enslaved; while in a democracy, it is the opposite through conformity.
Tyranny, by destroying power destroys itself. The space of appearances lasts as longs as people gather on it.

Page 203. The rule of the mob
Nietzsche’s Will to Power (power wants more power)

Chapter 29. Homo Faber and the space of appearance
Two disagreements over the view of actions to be remembered
1. Homo Faber needs a public space, a space of appearance. In work, only the work appears on the public space, not the actor who retreats. It leads to the commercial society according to Marx, to self-alienation, the same alienation, which occurs with the idolization of the genius.
2. Labor, Factory, consumer society is the reign of the Masses, the opposite of public space where men appear individual, unique, free. Men as men (men qua men), not men as objects, neither as work of art.

Q: Kafka, classic work of Art, doesn’t do justice to the artist
Was Arendt an actor?
She is an artist, and homo faber; she is also a thinker.
Thinking is not part of the Vita Activa. A thinker can become an actor only in time of catastrophe.

Chapter 30. The labor movement
Trade-unionist movement
Political labor movement (Workers councils, anarchist movement, radical education movement)

Page 219. Injustices made to the labor movement.

Session 11, 31st July 2015. Chapters 31-34

Action is at the very center of what HA means by being free.
Freedom as free will, sovereignty, is not the same concept as used by Arendt: she means freedom to act, and actions are unpredictable, and because of that freedom means giving up sovereignty; there is danger in action.

The calamities of action, the irreversibility of action; it’s about the strong sense of democracy, trying to convince people. Plato and Aristotle say action is dangerous, it leads to political chaos/

Plato: “We must limit action”: limit the rule of the many who don’t know, by the few of those who know. Ruling is dominated by knowledge, cognition.

Jürgen Habermas sits in this tradition; same rise of technology, bureaucracy, and experts. We observe the substitution of action by politics in making, electing a ruler who tells us what to do. Politics is reduced as a means to some ends: safety, security, welfare etc… It degrades into means for ends, and who is to decide about the means? All means are possible.

Page 229, substitution of means to ends.

Q. The American Idea
Local government, town meetings, mobilizing citizens into the public space
Multiplication of powers makes you more protected from tyranny. This is not the same as in Montesquieu’s checks and balances. We turn now to the federal government to tell us the truth or the single definition of civil rights.

Should local governments have the rights to govern, as they like?

Q. The role of utopia in the arendtien sense of politics
Example: the Hungarian councils during the revolution of 1956

Q. Jim Crowe laws and the federal government
Arendt disagreed with the forced desegregation of schools (Little Rock case). She agreed to remove a political injustice, but in order to let the society choose itself the way to implement, taking certainly more time to adjust; otherwise, good intentions become similar to tyranny.

Q. Calculus?
There are advantages to live under the rule of a benevolent tyrant; but it’s a dangerous road.

We must resist the drive to making, to craftsmanship, and fabricating, instead of acting in the name of Justice or other good ends.

Ch. 32, it’s a difficult chapter

Moving from politics to natural science
Act into nature by engineering it

Ch. 33, the power the forgive and to make promises
Vengeance is one response to violence, when harm is made upon us, but it keeps running into a cycle of violence.

Page 239, Luke gospel: we don’t know the consequences of our acts, good or bad. H.A. does not say to forgive to criminals; she speaks about reconciliation and forgiveness, by releasing something.

Q. Natural versus Political world
Metaphor of the sea and forgetfulness

Session 12, 11th September 2015. Chapters 35-37

Is there a danger to the human condition? As something which is given that could be lost in our time?

Arendt is convinced we are subject to a transformation of the human condition. How do we understand it?

The relationship between Vita Activa and Vita Contemplativa has changed over the centuries. Now there is an inversion in the Vita Activa between the bios politikos, the homo faber, and the animal laborans. The modern world is more about labor and life than work or action.

We live in the “modern world”, not the same thing as the “modern age” (p.6, in the Prologue).

Ch. 35 is about World Alienation, how does it lead to it from the modern age, while ch. 36-40 can be regrouped under “Earth Alienation”.

Three great events changed the world.
Space is conquered and the world becomes smaller. There is a paradox with exploration, discovery and mapping of the world, which enlarges it and makes it smaller at the same time (p. 251). We live in a kind of abstract, alienating world.
Reformation, the expropriation of peasants from their land and the rise of capitalism is the second of these events.
The age of world exploration on the one hand, and the Reformation/rise of capitalism on the other hand, drive the same end result: the flight from world into the Self. This is what Arendt calls “world alienation”.

Question (Christo): HA seems to be inspired by Hegel and an interpretation of the philosophy of history in this chapter, can you comment?

(Additional question sent with the messaging tool: Roger, about the orientation of Arendt's thought in relation to Heidegger's “Frage nach dem Technik“. Would you say that Arendt elaborates the question of Action being subsumed by Labor (the victory of the animal laborans) is reminiscent of Heidegger's framework, where history of the metaphysics is interpreted as a retreat or fall from Being? Christo)

Roger: Hegel’s purpose is understanding and reconciliation with the world as it is, while for Arendt it is merely understanding and resistance to the world, which comes as the main reading of history. She uses Heidegger’s deconstruction of the Being (Sein) in the philosophical tradition, to give rise to her concept of freedom as nativity.

Q2 (Maurizio): decline of the European nation-state system; p. 254 citing Marx thought.

Politics for Arendt is about setting limits, boundaries, which comes as a contrast to boundless, limitless expansions of imperialism, giving rise to OT

In short, world alienation is the flight to the Self, and the creation of “refugees” as a new kind of a-political men (without rights).

Ch. 36 – this is the most important chapter of the whole book. The second flight: from Earth to the Universe, starting with Galileo and the invention of the telescope (p. 265); the scientific revolution against which both the discovery of the globe and the expropriation of wealth are of minor significance.

The way we see the world with our eyes and through scientific instruments, becomes doubtful – c/o Descartes, who comes after Galileo.

The move from a geometric to an algebraic view of mathematics (Leibniz, nothing is without reason; reality depends upon rationality. Reality exists as long as it can be proven (cfr Roger Berkowitz’ own book “The Gift of Science”, on rational ideas of justice). Natural science transforms into Universal science.

Q3 (John): Popper’s falsifiability principle

Science is driven by a desire of certainty in knowledge, to reduce terrestrial data to hypothesis that can be refutable; computer models using data replace scientific understanding to the point from which we can lever the Earth.

Earth alienation, is looking at it as an object, the idea that people can eventually create a new world (cfr, the epigraph of Kafka).

Ch 37 Universal vs nature science
We devalue ourselves, and by analogy we devalue the Earth (p. 268: destroying Nature, not only by dropping an A-Bomb, but also by creating a purely artificial environment -- cfr., “Conquest of Space” essay). “Natural” is what is outside of humanly designed processes.

All sciences, physical and social, pursue the same objective of fabricating a purely man-made world, by imitation of “God’s processes”.

Q4 (Harold) it is the same thing as per Mars exploration movement (Elon Musk) or the Singularity (Ray Kurzweil), ideas of terraforming.
Universal science is about transcending the limits of natural science.

 (to be continued....)

Next meeting: 2nd October, Chapters 38-40

Then, 15th-16th October at the Annual Conference, Bard College

Bard College, Annnandale-on-Hudson NY


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