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Work, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S068-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Unlike play, work is activity that has to involve significant expenditure of effort and be directed toward some goal beyond enjoyment. The term ‘work’ is also used to signify an individual’s occupation, the means whereby they gain their livelihood. In modern market economies individuals contract to work for other individuals on specified terms. Beyond noting this formal freedom to choose how one shall work, critics of market economies have maintained that one’s occupation should be a realm of substantive freedom, in which work is freely chosen self-expression. Against this unalienated labour norm, others have held that the freedom of self-expression is one good among others that work can provide, such as lucrative pay, friendly social contact and the satisfaction of the self-support norm, and that none of these various work-related goods necessarily should have priority over others. Some philosophers place responsibility on society for providing opportunities for good work for all members of society; others hold that the responsibility for the quality of one’s occupational life appropriately falls on each individual alone. Finally, some theorists of work emphasize that performance of hard work renders one deserving of property ownership (John Locke) or enhances one’s spiritual development (Mahatma Gandhi).

Citing this article:
Arneson, Richard. Work, philosophy of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S068-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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