The human condition encompasses the totality of the experience of being human and living human lives. As humans are mortal entities, there are a series of biologically determined events that are common to most human lives, and some that are inevitable for all. Going back to the Old Testament parable of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (they ate from the tree of knowledge and became ashamed of their nakedness) humans have faced a conflict between their biological existence, and the intellectual rationalizations that they are capable of. In other words, the conflict between the biological forces, such as death and mating, and the ability for humans to intellectually and emotionally come to terms with these events and the ongoing way in which humans react to or cope with them is the human condition. However, understanding the precise nature and scope of what is meant by the human condition is itself a philosophical problem.
The term is also used in a metaphysical sense, to describe the joy, terror and other feelings or emotions associated with being and existence. Humans, to an apparently superlative degree amongst all living things, are aware of the passage of time, can remember the past and imagine the future, and are intimately aware of their own mortality. Only human beings are known to ask themselves questions relating to the purpose of life beyond the base need for survival, or the nature of existence beyond that which is empirically apparent: What is the meaning of existence? Why was I born? Why am I here? Where will I go when I die? The human struggle to find answers to these questions — and the very fact that we can conceive them and ask them — is what defines the human condition in this sense of the term.
Although the term Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition ISBN 0226025985 itself may have gained popular currency with The Human Condition, a film trilogy directed by Masaki Kobayashi, which examined these and related concepts, the quest to understand the human condition dates back to the first attempts by humans to understand themselves and their place in the universe.
- 1: Mark you well my words, Nathaniel, nothing which human nature has touched can be regarded as infallible. Through the mind of man divine truth may indeed shine forth, but always of relative purity and partial divinity. The creature may crave infallibility, but only the Creators possess it. 159:4.8
- 2: Intelligence alone cannot explain the moral nature. Morality, virtue, is indigenous to human personality. Moral intuition, the realization of duty, is a component of human mind endowment and is associated with the other inalienables of human nature: scientific curiosity and spiritual insight. Man's mentality far transcends that of his animal cousins, but it is his moral and religious natures that especially distinguish him from the animal world. 16:7.1
- 3: Man is a creature of the soil, a child of nature; no matter how earnestly he may try to escape from the land, in the last reckoning he is certain to fail. "Dust you are and to dust shall you return" is literally true of all mankind. The basic struggle of man was, and is, and ever shall be, for land. The first social associations of primitive human beings were for the purpose of winning these land struggles. The land-man ratio underlies all social civilization. 68:6.1
- 4: When the land yield is reduced or the population is increased, the inevitable struggle is renewed; the very worst traits of human nature are brought to the surface. The improvement of the land yield, the extension of the mechanical arts, and the reduction of population all tend to foster the development of the better side of human nature. 68:6.4