For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The right to eat and the duty to work"

by Govier, Trudy (1975)


Although the topic of welfare is not one with which philosophers have often concerned themselves, it is a topic which gives rise to many complex and fascinating questions-some in the area of political philosophy, some in the area of ethics, and some of a more practical kind. The variety of issues related to the subject of welfare makes it particularly necessary to be clear just which issue one is examining in a discussion of welfare.

Key Passage

It is surprisingly difficult to give an adequate definition of the term ’work’ . In the context of discussions of welfare, work seems to’be anything you do which results in your being paid so that the government does not have to support you. But as any housewife will testify not all work is paid work. One Oxford dictionary definition goes as follows: To work is to do something involving effort of body or mind/to exert oneself for a definite purpose, especially in order to produce something or to effect a useful result, or to gain one’s livelihood. This definition is so general that it is hard to see how anyone could fail to work, in this sense of ’work’.It is true that most of those on welfare do not work, if by ’work’ we mean ’putting forth efforts for pay, in order to gain one’s livelihood’. This definition is adequate for the present discussion, but it is important to note thatit does not permit the Puritan’s conflation of working and contributing to society. A person who cares for children, who does volunteer work, or who is politically active may contribute to society without earning any money. In a society were there is not full employment, someone who chooses not to work might even be said to make a contribution by doing this. He is content to be without a job and not all can work : the job he does not take is open to someone who wants it. (p.135)


Unemployment, Welfare, Political Philosophy, Liberalism, Nozick


Duty to Work, Concepts of Work

Links to Reference



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