thinking is dangerous

Arendt I

From The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt (1958)

4.20: Work: Instrumentality and Animal Laborans

From the standpoint of homo faber, who relies entirely on the primordial tools of his hands, man is, as Benjamin Franklin said, a "tool-maker". The same instruments, which only lighten the burden and mechanize the labor of the animal laborans, are designed and invented by homo faber for the erection of a world of things, and their fitness and precision are dictated by such "objective" aims as he may wish to invent rather than by subjective needs and wants. Tools and instruments are so intensely worldly objects that we can classify whole civilizations using them as criteria. Nowhere, however, is their worldly character more manifest than where they are used in labor processes, where they are indeed the only tangible things that survive both the labor and the consumption process itself. For the animal laborans, therefore, as it is subject to and constantly occupied with the devouring processes of life, the durability and stability of the world are primarily represented in the tools and instruments it uses, and in a society of laborers, tools are very likely to assume a more than mere instrumental character or function.

The frequent complaints we hear about the perversion of ends and means in modern society, about men becoming the servants of the machines they themselves invented and of being "adapted" to their requirements instead of using them as instruments for human needs and wants, have their roots in the factual situation of laboring. In this situation, where production consists primarily in preparation for consumption, the very distinction between means and ends, so highly characteristic of the activities of homo faber, simply does not make sense, and the instruments which homo faber invented and with which he came to the help of the labor of the animal laborans therefore lose their instrumental character once they are used by it. Within the life process itself, of which laboring remains an integral part and which it never transcends, it is idle to ask questions that presuppose the category of means and end, such as whether men live and consume in order to have strength to labor, or whether they labor in order to have the means of consumption.
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