What is acting in the face of contemplation

26 Apr

It was Hanna Arendt, in her analysis of the “Human Condition” (1958) who reacted to the idea of ​​“levelling the vita activa” (HAN, 2016, p. 121), the “error in believing that the primacy of contemplation is responsible for the vita activa in work” (idem) is what destroyed and hierarchized the being according to the substance.

Arendt defines her “vita activa” in three human activities that are not equal: hard work (labor), work (work) and actioness (action) that she understands as fundamental.

The first, the one consecrated by industrial society and which made man what the author calls “homo laborans” is pure activity without reflection or meditation, it is not the same as work because it is preceded by thought, not only intellectual work in which thinking is immanent, but also daily tasks like taking care of nature or cooking, for example.

Without the determination to act, man is reduced to homo laborans and Arendt is right about this, but Byung-Chul corrects her: “but Arendt, erroneously, understands contemplation as a detention (Stillegegung) of all movements and activities, as a passive tranquility, which makes any form of vita activa appear as restlessness” (HAN, 2016, p. 122).

Byung-Chul claims that Aristotle “clearly describes the vita contemplativa (bios theoretikos) as an active life”, where thinking as Theoria is, in effect, an energy – which literally means “activity at work” or “being at work” (en egô einai)” (idem) and thus Arendt’s classification makes sense, despite the error.

Thus, we leave for the final part the important connection to action (action) as part of the vita activa, which is not opposed to, but complements, the vita contemplativa, and puts Thomas Aquinas in line with Aristotle: “the external bodily movements are opposed to the repose of contemplation, which consists of being alien to external occupations. But the movement that the operations of intelligence imply makes art out of rest itself” (T. Aquinas in Han, 2016, . 122).

Thus, says Arendt, although she realizes that modern life is moving further and further away from the contemplative vita, it is not a question of abandoning Work or Action, but of pausing time, breathing and allowing space for contemplation, the taste, aroma and taste of life.

ARENDT, Hannah (2010). A condição humana (The human condition). Translation by Roberto Raposo. 11a. ed., Brazil, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Forense.

HAN, Byung-Chul (2016). O aroma do tempo. (The scent of time). Trans. Miguel Serras Pereira. Lisbon: Relógio d´Água.


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