The Human Condition

There are three major similarities between The Human Condition, by Hannah Arendt, and Existentialism and Human Emotions, by Jean-Paul Sartre.  First, Arendt’s belief in the human condition of natality has a strong connection to Sartre’s idea of throwness.  Second, Sartre’s belief that all humans possess the freedom of choice ties in with Arendt’s thoughts on the subject of action.  Finally, Sartre believes that we are fully responsible for our actions.  This relates to Arendt’s belief that our responsibility causes distress, which we attempt to diminish through the acts of forgiving and promising.

Arendt once said that action is “the actualization of the human condition of natality” (The Human Condition 178).  Basically, natality is being born as a distinct individual with a certain set of characteristics that is shared with many other people.  Arendt considers this to be a problem because we are not unique in any way.  She believes that action is the key to unleashing the uniqueness of each individual, and the way in which each individual can free himself from the human condition of natality.

Sartre’s idea of throwness, originally proposed by Martin Heidegger, suggests that people are “thrown” into the world among a plethora of things and other people (Existentialism and Human Emotions 23).  This means that people do not have a choice as to whether they are born, or as to what characteristics or traits they possess. Throwness relates to the idea of natality because of this lack of a choice.  Arendt and Sartre would both agree that an individual has no control over his birth; he only has control of his actions, which determine how he lives his life after that.

A second clear relation between the thoughts of Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre is the concept of freedom.  Arendt and Sartre both believe that man is born with an inherent freedom.  Arendt believes that this freedom is both good and bad.  The freedom of man is good because is allows humans to distinguish themselves from one another through the uniqueness of their actions, but it is also bad because complete freedom means that people can act however they may choose at any given time (The Human Condition 176).  Arendt refers to freedom as causing stress, while Sartre states that it causes anguish.  However one may look at it, both philosophers have the same idea; the absolute freedom of man is both an antidote and a poison for the human race.

On page 191 of The Human Condition, Arendt explains that there are two ways to remedy the unpredictability that freedom causes: forgiveness and promising.  The idea that most closely relates to the beliefs of Sartre is that of forgiveness.  Our actions are frail, meaning that we never know what outcome our actions will have, who the actions will affect, or what the future will be like because of those actions (The Human Condition 190-191).  The ability to forgive exists for the time when our actions have an unintended and unwanted effect.  Maybe one of my actions, which I had previously thought to be harmless, has hurt someone.  Arendt believes that forgiveness exists for this purpose (The Human Condition 236).  Forgiveness is a very powerful action because it can release both me and the person that I have hurt from the consequences of my actions.  This is not to say that the person that I have hurt will forget about my actions.  I am still responsible for them, but in being forgiven, we can both move on with our lives.

Sartre agrees with the idea that we are totally responsible for all of our actions.  On page twenty-three of Existentialism and Human Emotions, Sartre states, “… in the bright realm of values, we have no excuse behind us, nor justification before us…”  This statement means that because man is absolutely free, he is completely responsible for everything that he does and does not do.  Sartre believes that at every moment, man must establish his own values by which to live his life.  Arendt and Sartre both believe that the values that humans create to live their lives by, and the actions that they do or do not take, form their unique identities.

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