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)

Attending: An Ethical Art

Warren Heiti, editor read

Attending – patient contemplation focused on a particular being – is a central ethical activity that has not been recognized by any of the main moral systems in the European philosophical tradition. That tradition has imagined that the moral agent is primarily a problem solver and world changer when what might be needed most is a witness.

Moral theory has been agonized by dualism – motivation is analyzed into beliefs and desires, descriptions of facts and dissatisfactions with them, while action is represented as an effort to lessen dissatisfaction by altering the empirical world. In Attending Warren Heiti traces an alternative genealogy of ethics, drawing from the Platonism recovered by Simone Weil and developed in the work of Iris Murdoch, John McDowell, and Jan Zwicky. According to Weil, virtue is knowledge, knowledge is embodied, and the knower is nested in an ecosystem of relationships. Instead of analyzing and solving theoretical problems, Heiti aims to clarify the terrain by setting up objects of attention from more than one discipline, including not only philosophy but also literature, psychology, film, and visual art.

The traditional picture captures one important type of ethical activity: faced with a moral problem, one looks to a general rule to furnish the solution. But not all problems conform to this model. Heiti offers an alternative: to see what is needed, one attends to the particular being.

Warren Heiti is a Professor of philosophy and liberal studies at Vancouver Island University.

McGill-Queen’s University Press, July 15, 2021

Mathematics and the Mystical in the Thought of Simone Weil

John Kinsey read

On Simone Weil’s “Pythagorean” view, mathematics has a mystical significance. In this paper, the nature of this significance and the coherence of Weil’s view are explored. To sharpen the discussion, consideration is given to both Rush Rhees’ criticism of Weil and Vance Morgan’s rebuttal of Rhees. It is argued here that while Morgan underestimates the force of Rhees’ criticism, Rhees’ take on Weil is, nevertheless, flawed for two reasons. First, Rhees fails to engage adequately with either the assumptions underlying Weil’s religious conception of philosophy or its dialectical method. Second, Rhees’ reading of Weil reflects an anti-Platonist conception of mathematics his justification of which is unsound and whose influence impedes recognition of the coherence of Weil’s position.

Philosophical Investigations, vol. 43, nos. 1-2 (January-April 2020), pp. 76-100.

Book Review: The Christian Platonism of Simone Weil

Christopher Hamilton read


This is a book of essays by different authors – some principally scholars of the work of Simone Weil, others philosophers of religion and theologians – whose general area is indicated by the title. It is a book to be welcomed, if only because Weil’s work is important and interesting, but, with one or two notable exceptions, is little discussed in mainstream English-speaking philosophy of religion. There are many reasons for this lack of attention to Weil: the scattered, note-book form of much of her writing; the aphoristic style she often adopts; the difficulty of properly capturing her sense of things in English; the mystical strain in her work; there are no doubt others. Indeed, one of these other reasons is pointed out by David Tracy: there is a sense in which Weil is an impossible figure because she was herself so keenly aware of the sense, or senses, in which Christianity – by which I mean, leading a life that genuinely seeks to be Christ-like (as Weil herself did), not that other thing, membership of a kind of club – is impossible. I am not, however, entirely clear what Tracy means by ‘impossible’ here: I myself, as I have intimated, would see it in the demand to love all human beings, in the requirement of infinite forgiveness, in the injunction never to judge and so on. Tracy, however, relates it to the notion of the tragic, claiming that ‘Weil. . . restored tragedy to a [his emphasis] prominent place in both the reading of Plato and the reading of Christianity’ (240). There is something in this, but it would have been good to have a more detailed discussion: Tracy, for example, sees clearly that Weil’s readings are often wilful – he is especially critical of her understanding of Judaism – and one might wonder whether she is just as wilful (as I suspect she is) in her reading of, for example, Plato, to whom a tragic vision seems in so many ways deeply alien. Or again, Tracy refers to Weil’s sense of fate and our being cursed, and I would very much have liked to see these extremely interesting notions dealt with in more detail in his otherwise very suggestive paper.

Ars Disputandi, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 80-84 (2006)