The Relationship Between Happiness and WorkJune 26, 2021
British philosopher Bertrand Russell is no stranger to hard work.
His collected writings consist of innumerable volumes; He undersigned the most important developments in 20th century philosophy, especially the founding of analytical philosophy, and was a tireless activist all his life—he died at the age of 97.
So why did one of the most active thinkers suggest that we should work less? Russell’s essay In Praise of Laziness was first published in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, during the global economic crisis that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Promoting the virtues of laziness may not seem pretty at a time like this, where unemployment affects a third of the working population in some parts of the world. However, according to Russell, this economic crisis itself is the result of deep-rooted and wrong approaches about the world of work. In fact, he is of the opinion that much of our thinking about work should be ruthlessly swept away.
Russell begins by describing work and splits the issue into two. The first type of work is “changing the position of an object standing on or near the earth’s surface with respect to another object”. This is the most basic meaning of work – heavy labor. The second type of work is “to tell other people to change the position of the object relative to another object”. According to Russell, this second type of work is infinite—not only will you employ people to supervise people to move the object, but you can also employ people to supervise supervisors or manage someone who will advise them to employ other people or advise them when employing people, and so on. expense – expandable.
Russell says that the first type of work is rough and low-paying, while the second type is more enjoyable and well-paid. These two types of work also mean two types of workers – the worker and the manager – and they form the two social classes – the working class and the middle class. To these Russell adds a third class, which he claims has a lot to account for, which are idle landowners who are independent of all forms of work and rely on the labor of others to perpetuate their idleness. According to Russell, history is replete with examples of working classes who have worked hard all their lives and can only sustain themselves and their families, and the warriors, clergy, and idle ruling classes to whom their surpluses are allocated in return. And those who fail to praise the virtues of “honest work” by attributing moral interpretations to the obviously unfair system are those who benefit the most from this system.
According to Russell, this fact alone is enough to re-evaluate the work ethic to which we have yielded and even subjugated ourselves by embracing the concept of “honest work.” This description of society, in which Russell emphasizes the struggle between classes, owes a great deal to the 19th century philosopher Karl Marx, although Russell always had a troubled relationship with Marxism and criticized Marxist as well as capitalist states in his essay. His view was also inspired by Max Weber’s book The Protestant Moral and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1905, especially Weber’s statement of moral values that determine our approach to work, which Russell insists must be challenged. For example, we do not only see work as a duty and necessity, but we also think that various forms of work are included in a hierarchy of virtues. Manual labor is often viewed as less virtuous than skilled work or intellectual work, and we value people by what level of the hierarchy they are in rather than what they produce.
Since we see work itself as a hereditary virtue, we regard the unemployed as virtuous. Going one step further, we find that our approaches to work are complex and inconsistent. So what should be done then? According to Russell, we should approach work not in outlandish moral values, but in terms that make human life full and fulfilling. Russell believes that when we do, we will all conclude that we should all work less, and he asks: “What if a workday were four hours?” In the current system, part of the population is overworked and living in pitiful conditions; on the other hand, the other part is unemployed and they too are in a pitiful condition. So this is not in anyone’s interest.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook