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Yeoman, Ruth. Conceptualising Meaningful Work as a Fundamental Human Need
2014, Journal of Business Ethics 125 (2):1-17.
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas

In liberal political theory, meaningful work is conceptualised as a preference in the market. Although this strategy avoids transgressing liberal neutrality, the subsequent constraint upon state intervention aimed at promoting the social and economic conditions for widespread meaningful work is normatively unsatisfactory. Instead, meaningful work can be understood to be a fundamental human need, which all persons require in order to satisfy their inescapable interests in freedom, autonomy, and dignity. To overcome the inadequate treatment of meaningful work by liberal political theory, I situate the good of meaningful work within a liberal perfectionist framework, from which standpoint I develop a normative justification for making meaningful work the object of political action. To understand the content of meaningful work, I make use of Susan Wolf’s distinct value of meaningfulness, in which she brings together the dimensions of objectivity and subjectivity into the ‘bipartite value’ of meaningfulness (BVM) (Wolf, Meaning in life and why it matters, 2010). However, in order to be able to incorporate the BVM into our lives, we must become valuers, that is, co-creators of values and meanings. This demands that we acquire the relevant capabilities and status as co-authorities in the realm of value. I conclude that meaningful work is of first importance because it is a fundamental human need, and that society ought to be arranged to allow as many people as possible to experience their work as meaningful through the development of the relevant capabilities.

Comment: This paper presents a novel argument for meaningful work as a fundamental human need. Although the argument is complex and multi-layered, it is clearly written and well-structured, and therefore may be accessible for a range of difficulty levels. Overall, the paper would be useful in any course or syllabus interested in the future of work, basic human needs, or meaningfulness in life. Sections of the argument, such as Yeoman's application of Wolf's analysis of 'meaningfulness' to the activity of work, could be used for more entry-level social and political philosophy, especially in general courses examining philosophical conceptions of the good life and what makes life worth living.

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