amor mundi: Hannah Arendt on Technology and Nature

We have seen that the animal laborens could be redeemed from its predicament of imprisonment in the ever-recurring cycle of the life process, of being subject to the necessity of labor and consumption, only through the mobilization of another human capacity, the capacity for making, fabricating, and producing of homo faber, who as a toolmaker not only eases the pain and trouble of laboring but also erects a world of durability. The redemption of life, which is sustained by labor, is worldliness, which is sustained by fabrication. We saw furthermore that homo faber could be redeemed from his predicament of meaninglessness, the “devaluation of all values,” and the impossibility of finding valid standards in a world determined by the category of means and ends, only through the interrelated faculties of action and speech, which produce meaningful stories as naturally as fabrication produces use objects. If it were not outside the scope of these considerations, one could add the predicament of thought to these instances; for thought, too, is unable to “think itself” out of predicaments which the very activity of thinking engenders. What in each of these instances saves man — man qua animal laborens, qua homo faber, qua thinker — is something altogether different; it comes from the outside — not, to be sure, outside of man, but outside each of the respective activities. From the viewpoint of the animal laborens, it is like a miracle that it is also a being which knows of and inhabots a world; from the viewpoint of homo faber it is like a miracle, like the revelation of divinity, that meaning should have a place in that world.The case of action and actions predicament is altogether different. Here, the remedy against the irreversibility and unpredictability of the process started by acting does not arise out of another and possibly higher faculty, but is one of the potentialities of action itself. The possible redemption from the predicament of irreversibility — of being unable to undo what one has done though one did not, and could not, have known what he was doing — is the faculty of forgiving. The remedy for unpredictability, for the chaotic uncertainty of the future, is contained in the faculty to make and keep promises. The two faculties belong together in so far as one of them, forgiving, serves to undo the deeds of the past, whose “sins” hang like Damocles sword over every new generation; and the other, binding oneself through promises, serves to set up in the ocean of uncertainty, which the future is by definition, islands of security without which not even continuity, let alone durability of any kind, would be possible in the relationships between men.Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever, not unlike the sorcerers apprentice who lacked the magic formula to break the spell. Without being bound to the fulfillment of promises, we would never be able to keep our identities; we would be condemned to wander helplessly and without direction in the darkness of each mans lonely heart, caught in its contradictions and equivocations — a darkness which only the light shed over the public realm through the presence of others, who confirm the identity between the one who promises and the one who fulfills, can dispel. Both faculties therefore, depend on plurality, on the presence and acting of others, for no one can forgive himself and no one can feel bound to a promise made only to himself; forgiving and promising enacted in solitude or isolation remain without reality and can signify no more than a role played before ones self.

via amor mundi: Hannah Arendt on Technology and Nature.

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