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Chapter 30 ~ “The ‘Vita Activa’ and the Modern Age” by Hannah Arendt September 17, 2009

Posted by Shon in 5369, Carter, Philosophy of Technology, TCR.
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In her essay, Arendt argues for a three-part division of human activities: labor, work, and action, in which (at least it seems this way from my reading) that action is the most important because it is “the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world” (352). Arendt examines these parts within four realms: social, political, private, and public, and asserts that for the most part, action dwells within the public realm. Despite the hierarchical structure of these three parts (where action seems to be most important and work is the least important, Arendt does state that all three parts are intrinsically connected to birth and death.

As Arendt seems to move through her essay and discuss labor, work, and action, I couldn’t help but wonder how close Arendt’s thoughts are with other writers we’ve read thus far. On the one hand, humans seemed to once be full of contemplation, but over the years has moved more toward work and labor, their need to know more, to do more, which makes me wonder if humans are – once again – dependent on technology, especially the creation of it and in particular, the “art” of creating it. And just as I begin to believe this is the point, I get to page 357 and read the following: “It is a matter of historical record that modern technology has its origins not in the evolution of those tools man had always devised for the twofold purpose of easing his labors and erecting the human artifice, but exclusively in an altogether non-practical search for useless knowledge” (357).

So, is technology or the man’s creation of it for non-practical gains? What is considered “useless knowledge”? Can useless knowledge bring about practical gains?

First question ~ not sure. However, I know (though I can’t list) there has to be forms of technologies that were created through trial and error, through mistakes, through a “stumble into.” If that’s the case, perhaps those technologies had “no gains” in the beginning and became practical after their creation.

Second question ~ again, not sure. There is knowledge that isn’t applicable to certain situations; there is knowledge that doesn’t instantly become practical, but I don’t believe that knowledge to be useless.

Third question ~ definitely. I think asking, “What can we do with this information” can always aid us in finding practical uses for knowledge.