A workshop on the philosophy of work and time-allocation
16-18 September , 2021
Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs
Department of Philosophy, University of St Andrews
“8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, 8 hours rest!” This was the slogan adopted by many labour movements in the nineteenth century, when 16-hour working days were not uncommon. Marx believed that only part of the working day was required to supply workers’ consumption needs, the rest going to support the consumption of idle capitalists. John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that a fifteen-hour working week was a close possibility, requiring only that work was spread more evenly across the population.
Although less extreme than Keynes’s vision, some activists today are campaigning for a four-day working week. The campaign has won some victories, with the Spanish government launching an experiment with mid-sized companies last year and the Scottish government promising to try something similar. Besides economic questions about labour productivity and marginal returns, there are deep philosophical questions around the allocation of time to work. We hope to address these in this workshop. Some examples are:
- How do we distinguish labour, recreation, and rest?
- Should time spend recuperating between physically exhausting tasks count as rest or part of labour?
- Should activities undertaken to ‘decompress’ after mentally or emotionally taxing work count as recreation?
- Are there important differences between relaxation activities and leisure activities?
- In his 1966 essay, “The Abolition of Work”, Bob Black distinguished work from play in terms of the latter being voluntary – but what is the relevant category of “voluntariness” here?
- What about the allocation of domestic and caring labour? How does this play into patterns of gender inequality and other forms of social imbalance?
- Is time the right measure of the balance between work, leisure, and rest? What about intensity, satisfaction, etc.?
- Is flexibility in working time always a blessing, or can it be a hidden curse?
- How should we think about the allocation of working time among the population? Can some groups “steal time” from others? What about the allocation of time across generations?
Confirmed speakers: Lisa Herzog (Groningen), Jo Wolff (Oxford), Diana Popescu (KCL), Bertrand Rossert (World Bank), Otto Lehto (KCL), Sarah Broadie (St Andrews), Joe Ryle (4 Day Week Campaign)
The workshop will most likely be at least partially online, but we might be able to run some in-person sessions and have limited travel/accommodation funding available for speakers if so.