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)

Simone Weil’s Method: Essaying Reality through Inquiry and Action

Benjamin P. Davis read


I read a selection of Simone Weil’s political philosophy in the way that she reads Marx – as forming “not a doctrine but a method of understanding and action.” My claim is that Weil’s method is likewise twofold: she attempts to understand the world through inquiry, then she tests her understanding through action. First, I read “Reflections Concerning the Causes of Liberty and Social Oppression” (1934). In that essay, inquiry, exemplified by Weil’s calling into question the term “revolution,” is her way of understanding reality around her, including forces of oppression and possibilities for liberation. Second, I read her “Factory Journal” (1934–1935), which records how she tested her theories from “Reflections” by placing herself in French factories. My conclusion states the fruits of Weil’s method for philosophy today: an interrogation of present political keywords (resistance, resilience) and a practice of philosophy as a way of life.

Comparative and Continental Philosophy, vol. 13 (Nov. 23, 2021)

A Degrading Division: Hands & Minds in Simone Weil

Edward J. Hughes read

— essay in Edward J., Hughes, Egalitarian Strangeness: On Class Disturbance and Levelling in Modern and Contemporary French Narrative (Liverpool University Press, 2021), pp. 131-156

Book Abstract: The formulation ‘egalitarian strangeness’ is a direct borrowing from Courts voyages au pays du peuple [Short Voyages to the Land of the People] (1990), a collection of essays by the contemporary French thinker Jacques Rancière. Perhaps best known for his theory of radical equality as set out in Le Maître ignorant [The Ignorant Schoolmaster] (1987), Rancière reflects on ways in which a hierarchical social order based on inequality can come to be unsettled. In the democracy of literature, for example, he argues that words and sentences serve to capture any life and to make it available to any reader. The present book explores embedded forms of social and cultural ‘apportionment’ in a range of modern and contemporary French texts (including prose fiction, socially engaged commentary, and autobiography), while also identifying scenes of class disturbance and egalitarian encounter. Part One considers the ‘refrain of class’ audible in works by Claude Simon, Charles Péguy, Marie Ndiaye, Thierry Beinstingel, and Gabriel Gauny and examines how these authors’ practices of language connect with that refrain. In Part Two, Hughes analyses forms of domination and dressage with reference to Simone Weil’s mid-1930s factory journal, Paul Nizan’s novel of class alienation Antoine Bloyé from the same decade, and Pierre Michon’s Vies minuscules [Small Lives] (1984) with its focus on obscure rural lives. The reflection on how these narratives draw into contiguity antagonistic identities is extended in Part Three, where individual chapters on Proust and the contemporary authors François Bon and Didier Eribon demonstrate ways in which enduring forms of cultural distribution are both consolidated and contested.”

Simone Weil: Marxism Outside Itself

Thomas Dommange read

S. Weil’s relationship to Marxism is paradoxical because it unveils a loyalty to Marx in spite of ruptures and renunciations of the Marxist theory. S. Weil’s ties to Marxism seem discontinuous because after having adopted certain revolutionary ideas during her first years of political activism she criticizes Marx in the 30’s and ends up seemingly abandoning him in the last part of her life. This path, however, far from revealing the slow and inexorable disappearance of Marx’s concepts, rather, demonstrates the persistence and metamorphoses in S. Weil’s philosophy. We suggest then, that a criticism of the revolution followed by a kind of Christianity developed in the wake of a year spent in the factory, constitute S. Weil’s own special manner of being Marxist, even though Marxism seems to have become useless to her.

Les Etudes Philosophiques, vol. 82, no. 3, pp. 207-222

Elastic Worker: Time‐Sense, Energy and the Paradox of Resilience

A. Rebecca Rozelle-Stone read

This essay considers Simone Weil’s experiences in factories and her social–political reflections on work, time and energy, in conjunction with arguments from theorists Melissa Gregg, Theodor Adorno and Sara Ahmed, to raise questions about supposedly humane interventions, including the cultivation of resilience, in the contemporary workplace. The transition from time-sense in factory work at the turn of the century is examined, along with the growth of corporate time management ideologies and practices in the mid–late 20th century, and finally, the associated forms of disciplining resilience/elasticity in the worker that bring together certain notions of time, space and psychological investments.

Philosophical Investigations, vol. 43, nos. 1-2, pp. 177-196.

“Pleasure and Joy in the Work”: Using Simone Weil in the Classroom

Vance Morgan read

Richard Rorty once wrote that inspired teaching “is the result of an encounter with an author, character, plot, stanza, line or archaic torso which has made a difference to the [teacher’s] conception of who she is, what she is good for, what she wants to do with herself: an encounter which has rearranged her priorities and purposes.” In a teaching career more than three decades long, no author has influenced me more profoundly as a teacher and as a human being than Simone Weil. She has changed how I think about myself, my relationships, the world around me and ultimately about what transcends me. And this could not help but change how I am in the classroom. This essay is a reflection on how Simone Weil has changed my life, both in and out of the classroom.

Philosophical Investigations, vol. 43, nos. 1-2, pp. 8-18.

The Perspective of the Drowning: Alain Supiot on Simone Weil

Alain Supiot read

A conversation with Alain Supiot, Verso, (August 19, 2017), from the print edition of l’Obs, David Broder, trans., (July 27 2017).

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