Vita Activa: Philosophy and the Life of Practice

Vita Activa: Philosophy and the Life of Practice

Spring Semester
Alma Itzhaky
Office Hours:


Short description:

The tradition of Western philosophy places the life of contemplation in opposition to the life of practice. Contemplation was considered to be the highest human faculty and the source of all true knowledge, whereas engagement in worldly affairs was regarded as the domain of illusion and confused opinions. This hierarchy, however, has largely changed with the advent of the modern age: for philosophers such as Karl Marx, Friedreich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt and Franz Rosenzweig, human life is defined primarily by the capacity to actively engage with and transform the world around us. The understanding of work and action thus becomes the key for understanding the human subject and the world. This transformation has also led to a radical reevaluation of the nature of philosophy itself: what is philosophy, if it is devoted only to contemplation? Is it the role of philosophy to understand the world or to change it? Can philosophy guide the life of practice?

The course will be dedicated to reading and discussing central texts devoted to the question of practice, everyday life and philosophy, including: excerpts from Arendt’s The Human Condition, Heidegger’s analysis of being-in-the-world in Being and Time, Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach, and Franz Rosenzweig’s Understanding the Sick and the Healthy.  


Minor assignments: 3 short response papers, comprising 10% of the final grade

Mid Term: A short, 600 words essay, comprising 15% of the final grade

Final requirement: A take-home exam, comprising 65% of the final grade

Participation: 10% of the final grade



Attendance is mandatory. Students are permitted a maximum of three unexcused absences without penalty. Any additional absences will affect the final grade and may result in failure of the course.


Academic conduct:

Plagiarism is taken extremely seriously. Any instance of academic misconduct which includes: submitting someone else’s work as your own; failure to accurately cite sources; taking words from another source without using quotation marks; submission of work for which you have previously received credit; working in a group for individual assignments; using unauthorized materials in an exam and sharing your work with other students, will result in failure of the assignment and will likely lead to further disciplinary measures.


Additional requirements:

You may include a request to keep phones turned-off while in class, or to turn off all electronic apparatuses.

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