For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Worthy Work and Bowie's Kantian Theory of Meaningful Work"

by Ciulla, Joanne B (2012)


Over the years, Norman E. Bowie has applied Kant’s ethics to several aspects of business ethics, but the one that I find the most compelling is his Kantian theory of meaningful work. He writes about it in his book Business Ethics: A Kantian Perspective (1999) and in an article ‘A Kantian theory of meaningful work’ (1998a). Bowie’s writing in this area demonstrates how Kant, perhaps more than any other philosopher, offers the most stringent and lucid account of what a moral employer/employee relationship should look like. Kantian ethics also provide Bowie with a foundation for explaining his idea of meaningful work. Bowie is optimistic about the ability of corporations to provide meaningful work. For example, in his paper ‘Empowering people as an end for business’ (1998b), he argues that ‘the primary purpose of business is to provide meaningful work for employees and if managers focus on this goal, business will produce quality goods and services for consumers and profits as beneficial by products’ (Bowie 1998b, p.106). I think that this might be true, but achieving it requires managers and businesses to take an extraordinary leap of faith to practice and sustain this goal over time. In Bowie’s review of my book, The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work (2000), he criticizes me for not defining meaningful work and offering suggestions on what organizations can do to provide meaningful work (Bowie 2002). In this chapter, I will compare and contrast Bowie’s and my perspectives on meaningful work.


Meaningful Work, Meaning Of Work, Well-Being, Psychology, Happiness, Kant, Ethics, Business Ethics


Meaningful Work

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