Philosophical Topics: work, labor, action
Instructor: Dr. Arindam Chakrabarti
Times TR, 1:30- 2:45,
Place: SAKAM A109,
Office Hours: Wed 9-30---11-30 (and by appointment)
Office: Sakamaki Hall C305
Humans have to work, if they have to live. If life is desirable, so must be working. Yet work seems to be the opposite of fun, hence undesirable. We work hard so that we can enjoy leisure, non-work. In the West, perhaps because of the Judeo-Christian association of work (“travail” in French) with Man’s original banishment from Paradise, only activities that are resented are called work. Thus “work” means trouble, toil, torture, and labor. People claim “compensation” for work. Thinking becomes philosophical when one thinks about thinking itself. Such looping back on itself is called “reflexivity”. In this class we shall do philosophical research work on work.
We shall try to get to the philosophical underpinnings of the concepts of work, labor and action, of doing, making, and creating, looking at the opposites of work such as leisure, idleness, inertia, fun, unproductive play, and mere contemplative tranquility or stillness.
Do all our doings count as work? If, doings such as breathing or sneezing do not count, but only voluntary actions constitute working, do all work consist of voluntary action? Can we act involuntarily? Would it be my doing, if I am forced to do it? If I cannot enjoy or consume freely what I myself produce by my labor, is my work mine? Just as, in a civilized society we claim the right to work, should we also claim the right to be lazy? Is writing, talking or thinking about work, work? Is cleaning one’s own room or body or taking a shower or eating work? Meditating? Sleeping (in class)?
Since this is a “capstone” class, meant to be the culminating experience of philosophy majors, besides the required and assigned readings, the students are encouraged to bring their wider exposure to philosophy, literature, economics, political theory, sociology, gender–studies, psychology, cultural studies, films, art, and their skills in people-watching and self-scrutiny to bear on the “job” of self-critical reflexive thinking about what we do when we work.
Since you have all taken quite a few philosophy courses, apply all the epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy and philosophical psychology that you might have learned, to these issues, and come up with your own clear and articulated arguments for or against the contentions that emerge from the class-readings. Workers and idlers of the class unite! Together, we shall go through this fun-filled “class”-struggle!
*Inculcate the habit of close critical reading of classic and contemporary, analytic and continental, philosophical writing.
*Train the students in bringing philosophy closer to actual life and social reality.
*Teach them how to extract and construct logically structured arguments (not just
opinions) from the prose that they read, as well as from their own thinking and
*Get them into the habit of regular and rigorous writing as a means of self-expression as
well as clarification of other’s thoughts.
On the basis of:
Five 2-page journals due at different points of the semester, to be announced one week ahead of due date ( 5 points each= 25 points)
One mid-term 5 typed pages answering one question from a set of questions (25 points)
One final project-paper, first presented orally in the 12th to 15th week of the semester, and then drafted, revised and submitted in a 12--15 page form (50 points)
Regular attendance is not demanded but highly recommended. Regular accomplishment of assigned reading-tasks is required. Intelligent participation in class discussion will work towards higher grades. No delays in submission of written work will go unpenalized.
Week by Week:
Week One: “Vita Activa”: Some distinctions and a puzzle: The same social morality
seems to tell us both: “Work is good, idleness is bad” as well as “Labor is
lowly and dehumanizing, leisure and contemplative life is noble and
human”. How is that consistent? (Read: Introduction and chapters 1 and 2
Week Two: A brief history of work and leisure (chapter 1 of WL)
The work of being good? (chapter 10 of HC)
Week Three: Labor of Body and Work of Hand? Action of Mind?
Chapters 11 through 16 of HC (additional photocopied essay by Arendt)
Week Four: Marx on Alienation of Labor under Capitalism (EPM)
Week Five: How work remakes the world, homo faber, the making, selling, and
Consuming ( chapters 17—22 of HC)
Week Six, Seven, Eight: Analytic Philosophy of Action. Intending, Trying, Doing, and
claiming Reponsibility and Agency for action. (Chapters1, 2, 3 ,6 of PA)
Week-by-week schedule after Midterm TBA.
The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt (HC)
The Philosophy of Action edited by Alfred Mele (PA)
Economic Philosophic Manuscripts (extracts)—Karl Marx (available on line) (EPM)
The Right to be Lazy—by Paul Lafargue (1883)—(available on line) (RL)
Work and Leisure edited by John T. Haworth and A.J. Veal (WL)
It is a writing intensive class. So, apart from the assigned and required graded writing, I shall be happy, especially in the first half of the semester, to read and comment on any additional drafts or practice writings that you may do, as you are following the class discussions and the readings.
If anyone feels the needs reasonable accommodations on the basis of disability, please contact Kokua program or contact me privately at my office.