Work and Leisure

  • Hayden Ramsay


In his ‘In Praise of Idleness’ Bertrand Russell lists some of the projected benefits of his plan for all of us to have more leisure: artists and scientists will be able to pursue real research without irrelevant considerations of utility; professional people will be able to develop and use their skills fully and not just so as to make money; there will be greater joy of life throughout the various parts of society; there will be more freedom from nervousness and weariness, growth in public spiritedness, more kindness, less chance of war, and so on.1 Russell suggests that the modern work/leisure balance is inappropriate. Our active energies are so taken up by work that when we do play, our leisure is generally spent passively spectating others’ skills, not enjoying our own activities.2 Our leisure now is rare and low-grade: playful at best, hardly ever thoughtful.


Common Good Human Capacity Consumerist Society Work Emotion Basic Capacity 
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  1. 3.
    Russell In Praise of Idleness, p. 18. For recent discussion see Paul Western ‘More Praise for Idleness’, Philosophy Now 29, Oct/Nov, 2000, pp. 26–8.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    I owe this point to Onora O’Neill. See for example, Onora O’Neill The Bounds of Justice (Cambridge: CUP, 2000), Faces of Hunger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), and A Question of Trust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 9.
    For example, Yves Simon Work, Society, and Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 1971) argues for the high place of manual work in upholding ideals of honesty and perfection for intellectual workers.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Sarah Marinos Qantas, the Australian Way, June 2004, pp. 65–7 discusses the research of Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University whofirst diagnosed leisure sickness after study of 1900 Dutch sufferers. Leisure sickness affects 3–4% of the Dutch population. These are people ill at the weekend or start of a holiday because they see their work as a vital part of their identity, and therefore regard leisure with guilt feelings. On this sort of view, presumably the weekend is like a cold, holidays like serious illness, and redundancy or retirement like death.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    It cannot be denied that leisure and work are unequal partners. For leisure is more ‘basic’ than work: it is the normal means to exercising a basic human capacity, while work is the normal means to the products utilised in exercise of basic human capacities. Thus, as Roger Scruton puts it in his Preface to Josef Pieper Leisure: the basis of culture (South Bend IN: St Augustine’s Press, 1998): ‘work may be creative. But only when informed by leisure’, xii. The creativity of leisure is naturally prior to that of work.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    George Eliot Adam Bede (London: Dent, 1960), p. 497.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Niall Ferguson The Weekly Telegraph No. 681, 2004, p. 24. Ferguson explores and contrasts Americans’ long working hours and high level of religious practice, with Europeans much shorter working hours and longer holidays, and their commitment to atheism.Google Scholar

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© Hayden Ramsay 2005

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  • Hayden Ramsay

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