CS009: Computers and Human Values
Department of Computer Science, Brown University
Notes, September 30th -- Roger B. Blumberg

Labor, Work, the Social and the Political

"Paradoxically, work lets us feel our freedom; its character of burden is derived from burden as a more basic trait that has to do with human life as such, the fact that we cannot simply take life in indifference but must always 'bear' it, 'lead' it -- guarantee and stand for it." Jan Patocka, Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History (1996/1975) [15]

"Contrary to the fears of some enmeshed in civilization's work ethic, our tribal past prepared us well for lives as idle rich." Hans Moravec, ROBOT (1999) [135]


The subtitle of the first edition of Arendt's book was: "A Study of the Central Dilemma Facing Modern Man." Three reasonable questions to ask, now that we've read nearly 200 pages of the book in a course titled "Computers and Human Values," are: 1) "What is the dilemma (for Arendt in 1958)?"; 2)"What had it to do with the state of technology in 1958?"; and 3) Is there anything about the world in 2004 that offers either critique or confirmation of Arendt's concerns/views?

Thinking about these answers in light of Moravec's book, there are a number of interesting crosscurrents:

Questions Arising from (Arendt's) The Human Condition

Arendt argues for the importance of human language, human action and the human body throughout her book; yet, as Louisa noted with respect to our attitude towards labor, we seem to struggle against our dependence on all of these things in the Modern Age, and science/technology -- for the moment consider them together -- seem to offer ways for us to transcend these things. Is this struggle a generalized form of the "paradox" noted by Patocka with respect to labor (above) or something more?

Before continuing our discussion of the text with chapters 3 and 5, we'll return to Arendt's chapter 2 discussion of the private, the public and social; specifically in section 9. For starters, how if at all does the fact sheet I've distributed (from a recent CBS poll of 18-29 year-olds) illustrate ways that the public and private realms have been submerged in "the sphere of the social"?

The Human Condition: "Labor" and "Action"

We'll use Louisa's and Duffy's notes to work our way through these important chapters.and try (by the end) to address whether or not "action" (or "faith" or "hope" -- as discussed in section 34) belongs in the list of the things we paradoxically struggle with most.

For Next Time: Read chapter 6 of Arendt, and prepare a response to the question of why/how "thinking" (another contender for the list?!) becomes such an issue for Arendt by the end of the book.

Back to the Syllabus

2004 Roger B. Blumberg and Brown University