Philosophies of Work in the Platonic Tradition: A History of Labor and Human Flourishing

Jeffrey Hanson read

The Platonic tradition affords extraordinary resources for thinking about the meaning and value of work. In this historical survey of the tradition, Jeffrey Hanson draws on the work of its major thinkers to explain why our contemporary vocabulary for appraising labor and its rewards is too narrow and cramped. By tracing out the Platonic lineage of work Hanson is able to argue why we should be explaining its value for appraising it as an element of a happy and flourishing human life, quite apart from its financial rewards.

Beginning with Plato’s extensive thinking about work’s relationship to wisdom, Hanson covers the singularly powerful arguments of Augustine, who wrote the ancient world’s only treatise dedicated to the topic of manual labor. He discusses Bernard of Clairvaux, introduces the priest-craftsman Theophilus Presbyter, and provides a study of work and leisure in the writings of Petrarch. Alongside Martin Luther, Hanson discusses John Ruskin and Simone Weil: two thinkers profoundly disturbed by the conditions of the working class in the rapidly industrializing economies of Europe.

This original study of Plato and his inheritors’ ideas provides practical suggestions for how to approach work in a socially responsible manner in the 21st century and reveals the benefits of linking work and morality. — Jeffrey Hanson is  a Senior Philosopher in The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

Bloomsbury Academic (April 21, 2022)

Labor, Collectivity, and the Nurturance of Attentive Belonging

Suzanne McCullagh

in Sophie Bourgault & Julie Daigle, eds., Simone Weil, Beyond Ideology?, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 207-226

Theory and Praxis: Simone Weil and Marx on the Dignity of Labor

Robert Sparling read

Simone Weil had an ambivalent attitude toward Marx. While she thought that the young Marx’s celebration of labor had “lyrical accents,” she ultimately believed that Marx had neglected his own insights, embracing a blind worship of mechanization and a theory of history and revolution that was insufficiently attentive to the material conditions of workers. Marx, in her view, was insufficiently materialist and excessively wedded to a hierarchical model of science that maintained the domination of management. Weil and Marx’s attitudes toward the dignity of labor and the necessary conditions for socialism are analyzed. The most significant cleavage between them is ultimately due to the differing manner in which they conceive of the relationship between thought and action. Through this comparison, the philosophical underpinnings of the two radically different conceptions of labor and its dignity as a human activity are explained.

The Review of Politics, vol. 74, no. 1, pp. 87-107

A Truer Liberty: Simone Weil and Marxism

Lawrence A. Blum & Victor J. Seidler read

Simone Weil ― philosopher, trade union militant, factory worker ― developed a penetrating critique of Marxism and a powerful political philosophy which serves an alternative both to liberalism and to Marxism. In A Truer Liberty, originally published in 1989, Blum and Seidler show how Simone Weil’s philosophy sought to place political action on a firmly moral basis. The dignity of the manual worker became the standard for political institutions and movements. Weil criticized Marxism for its confidence in progress and revolution and its attendant illusory belief that history is on the side of the proletariat.

Blum and Seidler relate Weil’s work to influential trends in political philosophy today, from analytic Marxism to central traditions within liberal thought. The authors stress the importance of Weil’s work for understanding liberation theology, Catholic radicalism, and, more generally, social movements against oppression which are closely tied to religion and spirituality.

New York: Routledge Revivals, 2010