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

In his commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics (1050a30), Thomas Aquinas argues that immanent activities are a perfection of an agent, while transitive activities are a perfection of an external entity. From this metaphysical premise, Aquinas also draws the normative conclusion that productive labor, being the perfection of an external thing, is not an intrinsic good; moral action, by contrast, is an intrinsic good because it is the perfection of the agent. Whereas production perfects only the product, action perfects only the agent. Productive labor, says Aquinas, has a purely instrumental function and, therefore, is not an opportunity for human flourishing. (p.73)


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


Religious Views on Work, On Aristotle

Links to Reference



How to contribute.