Why work? What does philosophy (not) tell us about worker motivation?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores what philosophy tells us about why we work. Of course, most people need the goods or income work provides. However, philosophy raises broader normative questions about how work affects the “well-lived” human life. The chapter covers three main philosophical perspectives, drawn from Aristotle, Hannah Arendt, and Axel Honneth. Contemporary (re)interpretations of Aristotle offer insight into work’s potential role in eudaimonia or “human flourishing.” Arendt analyses how the objects we produce – and more precisely, their durability – affects the meaning and value of our tasks. Honneth elucidates work’s social dimension, namely, how others’ (mis)recognition of our work shapes both the experience of work and our self-relations. Prior management theory, especially in critical traditions, has touched on similar themes. However, one contribution of philosophy is paradoxically its ambivalence towards work, which can help bring what seems ambiguous or contradictory about work, and therefore about our motives to work, more fully into view.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of philosophy of management
EditorsChristina Neesham, Steven Segal
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783319483528
Publication statusPublished - 29 Feb 2020

Publication series

NameHandbooks in philosophy
ISSN (Print)2524-4361
ISSN (Electronic)2524-437X


  • Arendt
  • Aristotle
  • critical management studies
  • Honneth
  • HRM
  • labour
  • management
  • motivation
  • work


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