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Commentary on The Human Condition - V

The section that follows Arendt’s discussion on labour and work, is the section on action. Action is defined by Arendt as a “agent-revealing capacity” which is one of the most predominant ways in which a man reveals what he is among the web of relations among other men.1 When a person is questioned who he is, human vocabulary implies that the question concerns what he is.2 This arises from the identity of an individual being ascribed according to his relation among the actions of other men.

Arendt describes that life without speech an action is “literally dead to the world” and is no longer a life that can be lived among men.3 In this way, the web of human relations is a man’s emancipation from the deadness of nature and its own processes. Man unchained himself from the processes of nature and partitioned himself away from them, building a world that is man-made4 and where speech an action become the standard of liveliness. The word “action” itself is translated from the Latin word agere which translates into an event that agitates something and sets a process into motion.5 This process consists of the web of relations that emerged in a artificially created man-made world. Since this world was set by action to begin with, the relation within it are also dictated by action. In such a man-made world, some concepts do not exists outside of it, such as the principle of freedom which was only created when man created this world.

If viewed from a universal standpoint, the origination of life from inorganic matter is defined by Arendt as something which initiated from an almost infinite improbability.6 The fact that life performed something improbable, and that man is its origination, gives man an even grander potential to more likely create something improbable. The ability to produce the improbabilities more likely therefore allows man to create something filled with more miracle when compared to other natural processes. What maintains man to be source of miracle his ability to perform speech an action.

Arendt believes that the miracle that originates from the unpredictability of human action, can be extinguished by machines or robots. Arendt believes that action without the accompaniment of speech, would no longer remain action as such, but become something more ordinary like labour.7 Speechless action carried out by machines, would no longer be action because there would no longer be an actor, since a doer is only possible when his actions are accompanied with speech. As mentioned formerly, a life without speech an action is “literally dead to the world” and is no longer a life that can be lived among men.8 Even if machines are creations that exist among men, their proliferation would signify a proliferation of lifeless action within the world of lively human relations. The miracle the accompanies man’s existence will therefore become extinguished by monotonous machines.

  1. Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1991. Print. p.182 

  2. Arendt, p.181 

  3. Arendt, p.176 

  4. Arendt, p.149 

  5. Arendt, p.177 

  6. Arendt, p.179 

  7. Arendt, p.178 

  8. Arendt, p.176