Creativity in different Human Activities –
To realize “creativity in the world”, we need to understand where to find the creativity in each of the three human activities characterized by Hannah Arendt in her work “The Human Condition” as labor, work and action1. Arendt made this essential distinction of our activities so that we can put things in their places and try to understand the state of humanity in the contemporary modern world in which we live. Arendt wants us to think about what we are doing here and contemplates the human condition from the point of view of the activities that the human being is capable, which have nothing to do with human nature.
Labor, the animal laborans as Arendt recalls, is the activity corresponding to the biological process of the human body, which ensures not only the survival of the individual but the life of the species. Labor is the sphere of immediate or basic needs, such as eating or warming, and how we can survive and reproduce. Here we are in the private sphere and we still do not find creativity.
Work, the “homo faber” as noted by Arendt, is the activity corresponding to the artificialism of human existence, being produced in it an “artificial” world of things, distinctly different from all natural environment. The work and its products, the human artefact, give a certain permanence and durability to the futility of mortal life and the ephemeral nature of human time2. For Arendt, in this fabrication of the world there begins to be some creativity, there is a certain quality of freedom, but it is still characterized by instrumentality, since work is always a means to an end, something we do to achieve an objective.
Action is the only activity that goes on between men without the mediation of things or matter, and corresponds to the human condition of plurality, “to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world. While all aspects of the human condition are somehow related to politics, this plurality is specifically the condition of all political life.” For Arendt, “action would be an unnecessary luxury, a capricious interference with general laws of behaviour, if men were endlessly reproducible repetitions of the same model, whose nature or essence was the same for all and as predictable as the nature or essence of any other thing. Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives or will live.” 2
According to Arendt, the important thing was to think about the experience of doing politics, and this experience is the action that happens in freedom and plurality, its two central elements. Therefore, to understand what she meant by action we have to understand what she meant by freedom. By freedom, Arendt did not mean the ability to choose between a set of possible alternatives (the freedom of choice of the liberal tradition) or the power of free will of the Christian tradition.3 Instead, freedom means the capacity to begin something original, to do the unexpected, the capacity that all humans are endowed by virtue of their birth. Action as the realization of freedom is rooted in natality, in the fact that each birth represents a new beginning and the introduction of the original into the world. So freedom is the possibility to think and meet other people in the realm of human affairs and thereby create something original and unexpected. To act means to think and take the initiative to introduce the original and unexpected in the world. This is how we create the world. This is the “creativity in the world”, the thought and action that take place in freedom and plurality.
The essence of democracy is, according to Arendt, the idea that people can meet, and when they debate, negotiate, disagree or deliberate, something will happen that was not known before. This is not instrumental in the sense of means to ends, we do this because that is how we create the world; that is how things really happen. The only end of action is participation in plurality through appearance in the realm of human affairs. Action is impossible in isolation. And in that way, when something original and unexpected happens, there is always an element of unpredictability and irreversibility of this action in the world. The only purpose of “creativity in the world” is to create new and unexpected situations in the realm of human affairs, it is to create this world.
Filipe Novais, Porto, Europe.
Note: This is part of a Text I wrote and presented at a management and arts conference in 2018, titled “Creativity in the World and Leadership in Organizations” (22 pp). If you want to read the Text, I can email it if you contact me to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image: Wassily Kandinsky, 1910, Cossacks; Tate, London.
1. Arendt, Hannah, “The Human Condition”, Ed.1998 (1st ed.1958). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
2. Based on Arendt, 1998, op.cit.; pp.7-8.
3. A good introduction to this is “Hannah Arendt, The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy”, 2018 Ed.; Entreves, Maurizio Passerin, Edward N. Zalta (ed.). pp.6, URL= https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/arendt/
Image: Lucky Luke, the cowboy who shoots faster than his own shadow (from Morris e Goscinny). An excellent metaphor to remind us that attempts to look for general laws of human behaviour in the world are unsuccessful and also that the problem of knowing ourselves is unsolvable. According to Hannah Arendt, “this would be like jumping over our own shadows.”
In Arendt’s words in the text above, “action would be an unnecessary luxury, a capricious interference with general laws of behaviour, if men were endlessly reproducible repetitions of the same model, whose nature or essence was the same for all and as predictable as the nature or essence of any other thing. Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives or will live.” (Arendt, 1998, op.cit.; pp.7-8.)
And still with Arendt, “To avoid misunderstandings: the human condition is not the same as human nature, and the sum total of human activities and capabilities which correspond to the human condition does not constitute anything like human nature. (…) The problem of human nature seems unanswerable in both its individual psychological sense and its general philosophical sense. It is highly unlikely that we, who can know, determine, and define the natural essences of all things surrounding us, which we are not, should ever be able to do the same for ourselves – this would be like jumping over our own shadows. Moreover, nothing entitles us to assume that man has a nature or essence in the same sense as other things. (Arendt, 1998, op.cit.; pp.10)