Hannah Arendt develops a philosophical anthropology where humans are defined by their activities. If one could say that she proposes a distinctive ontology of the human at all, this ontology hinges on its contingency. For Arendt, what it means to be human is so profoundly influenced by one’s living conditions that human beings can lose abilities and properties which in other circumstances might be seen as the defining hallmarks of human existence. She is thus less concerned with establishing what human beings are than with the question what they could be, given the right environment. Outlining the enabling conditions for an authentic human existence, Arendt’s argumentative framework links political action to a profoundly normative claim: people are ‘truly’ human if they can take part in the political sphere, where they distinguish themselves as specific and unique individuals. Political action, which enables human beings to set something new and unexpected into motion, separates human beings from other animals. By acting in concert, they can experience a non-sovereign form of freedom, unique to the political sphere. Problematically, however, humans can also fail to actualise these possibilities.
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- Arendt on the Acting, Thinking and Moral Self
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