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« Peter Singer on Using Animals | Main | Michael Sandel on Genetic Enhancement in Sport »

May 11, 2008



Is alienation a problem in today's Western democracies? Even with a Mac job the minimum wage is quite good and the hours not too bad. Can such a worker stand the necessary alienation and recover in his or her spare time? Or are they necessarily damaged?

Also, the Mac worker is likely to eat a burger, or the chair maker sit on a chair, so how are they alienated from these products? They use them!

The worker can strike, or vote in a nicer government, if he is feeling too exploited.

What's wrong with working in a mechanical way for part of the day? Washing dishes is quite relaxing. Today's worker has much free time to be creative, if he or she wishes.

This idea of human essence seems STRAINED. Human beings do many things other animals do -- eat, sexual activity, hunt...

I can't see that Marx's idea that we should be creative all the time is sensible, where's the empirical justification for this?

Max Sitting

I thought Wolff had some pretty interesting things to say about Marx. I have a problem with this notion of alienation though. Wolf seems to think that we feel least alienated from ourselves when we are not at work. Or maybe he means: our humanity is more evident, or fused with our person, in these non-work-related-situations.

But my identity is my job, my profession and what I do. My bond with my work is so strong that it’s part of my identity. I see others around me too as workers: as shop owners, chefs, photographers, sanitation engineers, construction workers, bus drivers, school teachers, ect.

Does Wolff really think that being a philosopher is any different from being himself? Can you really define your humanity apart from the work you do?

When I meet someone for the first time, I am very likely to ask what that person does as a worker. I immediately identify his work with him (or her). I may also ask: how’s the kids and what music do you like, but his work is the significant component of the person's identify.

My identity as a person attaches itself so strongly with my job or my work that it contradicts the idea of work as a source of alienation from myself.

A fantastic “talk show” by the way.


What if you can't get the job with which you identity? I couldn't get a job as a cosmologist/philosopher, and ended up in IT work. I didn't want to bond with my work, to make it part of my identity. If I had, I would have been adding false consciousness to alienation!

The work wasn't that hard, paid well, and involved some intellectual stimulating. So I could live with the alienation until, as of now, I'm semi-retired.(And mainly pursuing philosophy, cosmology,...)

Surely Wolff is being himself so far as he is being a philosopher and pursuing the philosophy that *really matters* to him? Though, being a professional philosopher must involve some alienation. They are pushed to do admin, teach subjects that don't really interest them, pursue 'fashionable research',etc, etc,...

Surely you *have to* define your humanity apart from the work you are forced to do?


If I were worrying that Marx had a point I would look for the rules of a free market to be broken.

Homogenous product (i.e. quality is consistent)
Many suppliers
Many consumers
Easy/Cheap to start a competing business

As these rules are broken, the worker/consumer/micro business person loses power.


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