The Moral Conditions of Work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In 2000, I wrote The Working Life: ThePromisePromiseand Betrayal of Modern Work. The book explored the historyHistory of workWork and how people find meaning in it. Whether meaningful workMeaningful work has objective qualities and conditions that are always present when people experience it, or whether it is purely subjective, is an open question. I settled on the idea that meaningful workMeaningful work was in the eye of the beholder. We know it when we have it, because it has a way of lighting up our lives or making the time that we spend working good in a certain way. If this sounds fuzzy, it’s because it is. Given the variety of people and what they find meaningful, I was not ready to proclaim what meaningful workMeaningful work is for everyone. There are, however, certain aspects of work that tend to make it meaningful, such jobs that help others or creative work. Around 17 years after I wrote this book, I was invited to write a chapter for the OxfordOxfordHandbook on Meaningful Work. It was nice to revisit the topic, especially since there was more literature on work by philosophersPhilosophers than there was before 2000. The first thing I noticed about some of the philosophical discussions, was that the conditions for meaningful workMeaningful work were often the moral conditions of work, such as beingBeing treated with respect, having discretion over one’s work, and beingBeing treated fairly. In this chapter, I separate the moral conditions of work, from the qualities and conditions of meaningful workMeaningful work. BeingBeing treated ethically at work is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for people to find meaning in their work, however, the moral conditions of work apply to everyone. I show how the moral conditions of work are the objective qualities that people use to evaluate meaningful workMeaningful work. They should not be confused with the subjective qualities and conditions of meaningful workMeaningful work that depend on individual talents, dispositions, and preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIssues in Business Ethics
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages13
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameIssues in Business Ethics
ISSN (Print)0925-6733
ISSN (Electronic)2215-1680

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Philosophy


  • Ethics and work
  • Freedom
  • Intrinsic and instrumental value
  • Leisure
  • Meaningful life
  • Meaningful work
  • Wages
  • Worthy work


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