From Meaningful Work to Good Work: Reexamining the Moral Foundation of the Calling Orientation

Dissertation, University of South Florida (2019)


The calling orientation to work represents the seed that has germinated into the exponentially growing ‘work as a calling’ literature. It was first articulated by Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven Tipton within Habits of the Heart in the 1980s. The following critical analysis of the ‘work as a calling’ literature, and of the moral foundation of the calling orientation more specifically, is intended for two particular audiences. The first audience broadly includes an interdisciplinary group of scholars working within business ethics, management, organizational psychology, and vocational psychology, among other fields of study. Amidst these scholars’ exponentially increasing interest in the idea of ‘work as a calling,’ the anatomical structure of their research remains remarkably similar. Their notions of ‘work as a calling’ stress that work should provide individuals with a deep sense of personal fulfillment. In particular, they suggest that work should be a therapeutic source of individual meaning. To secure this meaning, they exhibit an apparent centeredness on the self and an emphasis on the unconstrained pursuit of personal preferences. In most cases, scholars within the ‘work as a calling’ literature tend to proffer notions of ‘meaningful work’ that are divorced from moral considerations about ‘good work.’ While this broad group of scholars copiously references the calling orientation within their research on ‘work as a calling,’ a deep-seated misunderstanding pervades the literature to the extent that notions of ‘meaningful work’ have been divorced from notions of ‘good work.’ To this broader audience, I demonstrate herein that they do not realize how antithetical their scholarly literature on ‘work as a calling’ is to the moral foundation of Bellah et al.’s calling orientation. Namely, I argue that the construal of calling as an orientation to work would not exist within the literature if Bellah et al. had not first articulated the calling orientation as a buffer against the unregulated pursuit of personal preferences. Therefore, I claim that this broader group of scholars either needs to abandon the notion of ‘work as a calling’ or engage with the appropriate virtue framework that undergirds the calling orientation. I suspect, however, that several of these scholars will be hesitant to take up the virtue framework that is inextricably linked to the calling orientation. For this reason, much of the work following chapter 2 is devoted to a narrower audience of MacIntyrean business ethicists. It is also dedicated to a few scholars from the broader ‘work as a calling’ group whom I trust will not wish to remain accidental contributors to the language of individualism that pervades the literature once I have unmasked it. Perhaps, in time, they will even become MacIntyrean business ethicists. Indeed, the appropriate moral framework that undergirds the ‘work as a calling’ literature is actively being worked out by a narrower group of MacIntyrean business ethicists, all of whom represent my primary audience for the research herein. To the MacIntyrean community, I hope not only to provide a complete list of tendencies within the ‘work as a calling’ literature that must be resisted, but also a picture of all of the ways that Bellah et al.’s calling orientation is wholly bound up with MacIntyre’s moral philosophy – particularly his theory of the virtues and the common goods that the virtues sustain. Bellah et al.’s calling orientation rests upon a vision of ‘good work,’ and this vision of ‘good work’ hinges on a MacIntyrean account of the virtues that is directed toward the achievement of three distinct types of common goods: the good and worthy ends of workplace practices, the goods of an individual life, and the goods of communities – or, more broadly, the interests of a good society. Furthermore, it will be shown to the MacIntyrean community that visions of ‘good work,’ which are sustained by the calling orientation, are accompanied by a nuanced vision of pluralistic collaboration that MacIntyre and Bellah et al. share.. Bellah et al. as well as MacIntyre’s vision of pluralism matters for research on the calling orientation because these figures demonstrate that individuals within the late modern workplace are informed by a plurality of religious and humanistic traditions, all of which account for ultimate meaning and goodness in different ways that ought to be recognized. Distinctive religious and humanistic visions of ultimate meaning indeed impact the perceived goodness of one’s calling. Hence, we must attend to the polysemic and multivocal nature of accounting for the goodness of any one particular calling. Still, however, Bellah et al. and MacIntyre’s account entails a hopefulness in the possibility of pluralistic, striving for the achievement of common goods that are practical enough to agree upon.

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References found in this work

On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford University Press.
Modern Moral Philosophy.G. E. M. Anscombe - 1958 - Philosophy 33 (124):1 - 19.
Whose Justice? Which Rationality?Alasdair C. MacIntyre - 1988 - University of Notre Dame Press.
A Secular Age.Charles Taylor - 2007 - Harvard University Press.

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