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“Work is at the root of a meaningful life, the path to individual independence, and a necessity for human survival and flourishing. It is also the distinctive means by which men concretize their identity as rational, goal-directed beings.” – Edward W. Younkins. Discuss.
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Work has a common human practice since the beginning of civilizations. It is the secret behind social progress and the defining characteristic of man. Work as we see it, is a virtue and a necessity. In times of uncertainty, interdependence and market economy, the individual has to rely on his work to ensure his own well-being. Work provides the individual with the ability to be independent, to flourish, to develop, and most importantly, to find a meaning to life.
Definition of work
This paper is centered on Edward W. Younkins’ definition of work. “An individual’s work creates private property and a person owns himself and therefore has property in the free use of his time, abilities, and efforts. Work requires the expenditure of time and energy. Man is in control of his time and energy when he voluntarily and constructively works. Control of one’s time and energy both reflects the meaning of freedom and constitutes the means by which a person exercises his freedom.”
A little girl in one of the corners of the world who goes to the kindergarten and learns how to count, draw, sing or write, is working. An adult, who goes to his/her job every day from 8 to 4 o’clock and gets remunerated for that, is working. Work has different dimensions such as work for making a living and work for developing one’s talent and potential. Thus what the little girl does is one dimension of work, because instead of staying home to only eat and sleep, she is actually doing activities which are improving her as an individual. On the other hand, the man who has a job and devotes a lot of time and energy towards is a concretization of work for pay. Through his work, he is producing wealth which he can later use to pursue his goals. Thus, based on the age, circumstances, needs and desires of individuals, work takes different shapes. It is important for the individual to see work as a mean towards achieving one’s goals. Work provides individuals with the medium to realize most of their aspirations. Therefore, it is an important tool for forming the individual and the community as a whole, since we are all interconnected with each other. We produce and benefit from our work and that of another individual whose work might have an influence upon us. For instance a farmer who works his land does so by using a tractor which was produced in a fabric thanks to the work of other people.
Work as part of a meaningful life
Work is an essential tool through which individuals can achieve their goals, flourish and have a meaningful life. It is not at the root of a meaningful life but is an inseparable part of it. According to Younkins meaningful life is interconnected with reason, productive work, goal achievement, human flourishing and happiness. Since productiveness is one of the most important elements of a meaningful life an individual should work in order to be productive. Productive work on the other hand is the “process by which we can control our existence by acquiring knowledge and translating our ideas and values into physical form”. Thus, it is through work that we can actualize our abilities and desires, and give meaning to our existence. Work is important because it helps us shape our personal identity. It is also the building brick of the community. In order to lead a meaningful life, we have to be rational human-beings who choose work as an undisputable way of flourishing our lives. For instance, if we take into consideration the labor market and the people who get paid for their work, we can say that they can sustain themselves, their families and maybe have enough wealth left to spend on entertainment. These people give meaning to their existence and shape their life based on the work they do. Work organizes your life, gives you a reason to wake up in the morning and makes you understand the importance of other things in your life. It will be mentioned later that work is a central purpose in people’s life but not the only one. You can get tired and frustrated from your work, but at the moment when you gather around the Christmas tree you will have been able to afford a present for your children and can cherish upon a glass of wine with your wife. Work gives you the freedom to chose, freedom to have the things you need and desire.
Work as a path to individual independence
Independence means to actualize your existence by your own means. Work provides individuals with the necessary means to sustain themselves both economically and socially, provides the freedom to be part of a society. It is through work that we establish ourselves as a woman or a man. If you work, you produce wealth which only you have possession of and nobody else does.
People live through their choices. Everyone by natural law has the liberty to do whatever he or she wants as long as it does not interfere with the others’ liberty. For instance, Tom might chose to spend a quiet and peaceful summer at home or go on vacation. At the same time, Anna decides to do to a work and travel program and spend the same amount of time working. In the beginning of the next academic year, Tom has to ask his family to provide the money for everything whereas Anna can do so on his own. At this point, the Anna has developed as an independent individual who can pursue her goals through her own means. She actualizes her own existence by her own work. To work is to spend time and energy in producing something, instead of lying on the beach and enjoying the sun. According to Younkins “It is in work that we can find the foundations of profit, property and corporations – all can be justified in terms of the perfection of the human being”.
Therefore, through work we produce material values which we have possession of and can use it according to our aspirations. When you are a capable grown up person and by free will you choose not to work, then somebody else will have to produce wealth for you. At this point it is not you who own the wealth but the person who gives it to you, who indirectly owns and controls your desires and needs as well. For instance, it is Anna’s choice whether she can buy an expensive concert ticket, but it depends on Tom’s parents to decide whether to give him money to do so. Eventually, work smoothes the path towards individual independency.
Work as a necessity for human survival and flourishing
Flourishing is a synthesis of personal development and change towards perfection. These two factors require effort and persistence. Therefore, work is a necessity towards human flourishing because it contributes to our self formation, development and to the creation of material values. Through work we can be productive and create material values.
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The material values you need to survive and flourish must be produced. If you are not producing these values, then you can only attempt to survive and flourish by passing this responsibility onto someone else.
When we work we produce material values which help us survive and flourish. We should be the ones working and creating the material values in order to flourish because if someone else does is not us flourishing but them.
It is true that the society we live in today has created the possibility of a division-of-labor which means that everyone is being productive in a different and specialized way. The individuals, who distort this balance of producing and enjoying the benefits, by profiting without working, do not flourish. If an individual does not contribute to the production process, he is like a parasite which just profits from others without doing anything. Moreover, what if the society does not provide us with what we need? What if we want to develop as special and unique people, should we still rely on the outside world and wait? Through different stages of the human society, human beings have discovered and developed numerous facilities which make our life easier than ever. If you need to travel somewhere far, your solution is only a click away. Buying a ticket, reserving a hotel room, setting an appointment are all easy things you can do as long as you can afford them. However, if you wish to become a pianist, there is no professor who can teach you play beautifully if you do not spend time practicing every day. They can teach you the theoretical background, but not the skills.
Work is an inseparable part of the human experience and people are what they do for a living. Your profession is part of your identity, whether you are a doctor, a journalist or a professor. All these terms are used to identify people of certain occupations, interests and lifestyle. When you are a baby, your parents are supposed to work and provide you with the necessary things. At the moment when you become capable of supporting yourself, you should do so by working.
Work as a virtue of rationality
According to Younkins, rationality is a primary virtue and it involves “full focus, commitment to reality, and the constant expansion of one’s knowledge.” Rationality is one of the most important attributes of human beings, which distinguishes us from other species. Therefore, by choosing to work as a way to pursue our goals, we are actualizing the principle of rationality. Professor White explains that rationality is a virtue based on two elements: free will and reason. While free will is the deliberate choice of the individual to persist with rationality, reason is the solution the humans have in order to overcome physical and natural limitations. Therefore, rationality is important only if it is concretized. Going back to the element of reason we should stress on the fact that most of the things we are using today are product of reason. For instance heaters, fridges, vacuum cleaners and hundreds of other examples are products of reason which improve and ease our existence. In this regard, work is the only viable tool to concretize rationality. For instance, a reasonable person would choose to work today and use the accumulated wealth to entertain oneself later. An unreasonable person might prefer to lie on the beach and enjoy the present. It sounds fun in the short-term, but it is impossible in the long one, since the resources at your disposal are limited and one day you will eventually have to work to generate some income in order to afford your expenditures. Moreover, the dynamics of the business world we live in accentuate the unquestionable need for work.
Other aspects of work
Up to now we have discussed work as a virtue and its importance. As a matter of fact, one should also take into consideration the way people approach work. Human beings differ in terms of many characteristics such as intelligence, talents, academic levels etc. Therefore, depending on human potential and the specific working environment, work can be equally beneficial to the human flourishing or demeaning. For instance, prostitution, gambling, and drug dealing constitute work as you get a kind of numeration for the service you provide and in a way you can pursue your goals. The money you get out of these kinds of work can help you afford your daily activities. Still, this money becomes useless at the moment when it neither contributes to the human flourishing, nor is the basis of a meaningful life. Work should be the key to human survival and flourishing, and not to the degradation of the individual and his moral values. If you sell your body to make money, you do not own it anymore. It becomes an asset for other people to use. Somebody who gambles plays with the risk of having nothing at the end, puts all his/her effort on luck rather than reason and work. When you base your human survival on drug dealing, you risk being caught up in a hierarchy of influences you cannot control, since the business is illegal. There is no basis for safety. Money and habits are the factors that decide on your life.
On the other hand, no matter how honest, working from dawn to sunset does not help much for your life flourishing either. Workaholics, the people whose only purpose in life is work, impinge themselves from other activities. Work should be a central purpose in your life but not the only one, because you risk missing the numerous opportunities of flourishing as a human being.
A central purpose should not be one’s only purpose in life. A central purpose brings order to one’s values, however it must be exercised in a way consistent with one’s other values. Productive work is not an end-in-itself, but a means to flourishing. If one pursues productive work to the exclusion of everything else in one’s life, so that it becomes one’s only purpose in life, this will undermine one’s flourishing.
If we further elaborate on the concept of work and all its elements we might say that even decent work, such as an accounting job in a consulting company might turn out not contributive to the human flourishing. If you happen to hate your job, don’t let it make your life miserable, but try improving your work environment or find more ways to make it more creative and interesting. The bottom line of work is to provide for the necessary means to the human flourishing and not to make it miserable. However, the fast pace business world we live in today is full of opportunities on one hand and on the other hand sometimes we don’t have much of a choice. Therefore, if you can not find another job from which you can get satisfaction you should try to give a purpose to your actual job and find satisfaction in what you are doing. At the end of the day if we don’t try to meliorate our life, no one will.
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