For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Self-Realization in Work and Politics: The Marxist Conception of the Good Life"

by Elster, Jon (1986)


In arguments in support of capitalism, the following propositions are sometimes advanced or presupposed: (i) the best life for the individual is one of consumption, understood in a broad sense that includes aesthetic pleasures and entertainment as well as consumption of goods in the ordinary sense; (ii) consumption is to be valued because it promotes happiness or welfare, which is the ultimate good; (iii) since there are not enough opportunities for consumption to provide satiation for everybody, some principles of distributive justice must be chosen to decide who gets what; (iv) the total to be distributed has first to be produced. What is produced depends, among other things, on the motivation and information of the producers. The theory of justice must take account of the fact that different principles of distribution have different effects on motivation and information; (v) economic theory tells us that the motivational and informational consequences of private ownership of the means of production are superior to those of the various forms of collective ownerships. In the traditional controversy over the relative merits of capitalism and economic systems, the focus has been on proposition (v). In this paper, I consider instead propositions (i) and (ii). Before one can even begin to discuss how values are to be allocated, one must consider what they are – what it is that ought to be valued. I shall argue that at the center of Marxism is a specific conception of the good life as one of active self-realization, rather than passive consumption.


No Keywords


Elster, Meaningful Work, Marx, Self-Realisation, Goods of Work

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