For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"A Natural Law of Human Labor"

by Murphy, James Bernard (1994)


A blindness to the intrinsic and irreducible good of human work pervades the Thomistic tradition. Unfortunately, this blindness is not an easily-corrected oversight; rather it is the consequence of fundamental doctrines of human activity and practical reason. The denial that work is a basic good-that is, that work is a fundamental opportunity for human flourishing -is explicit in Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Germain Grisez, and John Finnis. Although the Grisez and Finnis restatement of natural law theory is often criticized for not being authentically Thomistic, in their neglect of human labor Grisez and Finnis are, if anything, too Thomistic.

Key Passage

Since labor fills the lives of most adults (and, in many societies, most children) it would seem natural to inquire whether labor is a fundamental opportunity for human flourishing. For Aristotle and the Aristotelian tradition, there are major obstacles to any consideration of labor as a basic good. Consider Aristotle's official distinction between production (poiesis) and action (praxis): "For while making (poiesis) has an end other than itself, action (praxis) cannot; for good action is its own end." 3 Here productive labor is defined as a means to something else, either the pay or the product; it is not a basic good, not a component of eudaimonia, that is, human flourishing. (p.72)


Natural Law, Human Flourishing, Aristotle, Thomistic, Thomas Aquinas, History Of Ideas, Practical Reason


Religious Views on Work, On Aristotle

Links to Reference



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