Spaces of Thought – A human being is never more active than when does nothing!

Thinking in the world is to be active in the realm of human affairs, as Hannah Arendt argued1. Or, according with the designation given by Joseph Beuys, thinking in the world is doing “social sculpture”. And this attitude holds that if we accept that “everyone is an artist”, creativity will transform the societies in which we live. Creativity must begin in every human being, in his thought, in the expression of his freedom, and in this way everyone can incorporate and carry forward the impetus to change the world. It is to this expression of individual freedom that we call the spaces of thought of human beings in the realm of human affairs.

In order to erect a world, we must consider creativity as the action of initiating something original and unexpected in the realm of human affairs, which is born in the individual thought process. This ability to think is known to and possible for all human beings. But if this thought process is part of the so-called Vita Contemplativa, as opposed to Vita Activa, of which the action is part; is it that when we are thinking we are not active? To answer this question we turn to Arendt in the final words of “The Human Condition”, later taken up in the book “The Life of the Mind”, where she reminds us of a curious phrase from Roman times, which Cicero attributed to Cato:

   “Never is a man more active than when he does nothing, never he is less alone than when he is by himself.” 1

And still with Arendt: “Assuming Cato was right, the questions are obvious: What are we “doing” when we do nothing but think? Where are we when we, normally always surrounded by our fellow-men, are together with no one but ourselves?”1. Will we be with ourselves creating the world? And again Arendt, “For if no other test but the experience of being active, no other measure but the extent of sheer activity were to be applied to the various activities within the Vita Activa, it might well be that thinking as such would surpass them all2. Or, according with the designation given by Joseph Beuys, thinking in the world is doing “social sculpture”.

The spaces of thought of each human being in the realm of human affairs are essential for us to incorporate and carry forward the drive for change in the world.

I agree with these ideas of Hannah Arendt. And this is how we can understand the spaces of thought. What is your perspective on this thinking in the world and a man being active when he does nothing?

To see more about thinking, creativity and Joseph Beuys please see our posts, among other you can find in this website about this: “Creativity in the World”, “Joseph Beuys and “Creativity in the World””, etc.

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

Image: Anish Kapoor; Installation, Lisson Gallery; London; 2017. (Photo: Rita Novais).

1. Arendt, Hannah, “The Life of the Mind”, Ed.1978 (1st ed.1971), pp.7-8. A Harvest Book Harcourt, Inc.; New York.

2. In Arendt, “The Human Condition”, Ed.1998 (1st ed.1958). The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. pp.325.

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