The Normative and Cultural Dimension of Work: Technological Unemployment as a Cultural Threat to a Meaningful Life

Journal of Business Ethics 185 (4):847-864 (2023)
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The scholarship on meaningful work has approached the topic mostly from the perspective of the subjective experience of the individual worker. This has led the literature to under-theorize, if not outright ignore, the cultural and normative dimension of meaningful work. In particular, it has obscured that a person’s ability to find meaning in her life in general, and her work in particular, is typically anchored and dependent on shared institutions and cultural aspirations. Reflecting on the future of work, particularly on the dangers posed by the threat of technological unemployment, helps us recognize this cultural and normative dimension of meaningful work. I argue that a world with few work opportunities is a world devoid of a core structuring ideal around which our society has organized itself and, as such, will strain our ability to make sense of what it means to find life meaningful. To make this case I show that work operates as a central organizing _telos_ around which our contemporary lives gravitate. Work touches everyone and everything, defining the rhythms of our days and weeks and providing a center of gravity around which our lives are structured. Work constitutes a central dimension of human flourishing. Through work we provide for our material needs, develop our skills and virtues, build community, and contribute to the common good. As such, work constitutes a central organizing ideal in contemporary Western societies, a fact has significant normative force and plays an important role in our finding work meaningful.



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Santiago Mejia
Fordham University

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Radical hope: ethics in the face of cultural devastation.Jonathan Lear - 2006 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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