From work = life to working and resting: A 2nd essay

First Essay: Work = Life

In the past 6 months, I have written frequently about the work/life divide. It should be said at the outset that industrial capitalism inaugurated two startling, world-historical changes. First, it transformed labor into a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Second, it made work into the kind of activity that was to take place in its own value sphere, a sphere outside of and far from one’s dwelling. The corollary is that work has become reconceived–in many but not all quarters–as a kind of drudgery: toiling for the sake of toiling no more. That “no more” comes in the form of leisure or retirement.

This postlapserian desire to be freed from working is indeed quite striking since most of our lives is occupied with working and its offspring: thoughts of working, distractions, idling, and daydreaming during work time. Furthermore, in the past couple years the very concept of the workplace has become something of an enigma.

My first attempt to put the work/life divide to rest went in the direction of an identity thesis. On this construal, work = life and work life = life work. My reasons for doing so are legion and not so easily canvassed in the space of the blog. Suffice it to say, though, that in my philosophy practice I see many conversation partners struggling with problems stemming from our bad sociological and cultural experiments. I see the degradation of work in the eyes of pleasure seekers. I see the untethering of work from higher aims. And I see the coarsening of our mental life in the public sphere and the spilling over of our desires into the private.

For months, I’ve been mulling over my work= life solution, and I can’t seem to make it work anymore. My dissatisfaction follows from the conceptual strain necessary for believing that states of being such as sleep, idleness, and leisure are somehow kinds or types of work. This would have to be true on the literal interpretation of work = life. Yet the phenomenological experience of reverie seems no more congruous with that of working than a dog’s dreaming seems to his experience of hunting. The absurd conclusion is that reverie is a kind of work.

To avoid this conclusion, I want to strike out on a different path, this one much older than the last–strike out and see how it goes. Here is the line of thought that owes much to Spinoza: We work and we rest.

Second Essay: Working and Resting


1. We work for the sake of

i. persisting in our existence

ii. raising our potency and realizing ourselves

iii. aspiring toward higher things such as goodness and beauty (where the act of aspiring is folded into the aim of aspiring)

2. To work well is

i. to be absorbed wholeheartedly in 1.i – 1.iii

ii. to be a thinking-acting being.

3. To work poorly is

i. to diminish 1.i-iii

ii. to dirempt thinking from acting, head from hands.

4. The ‘psychological’ results of working poorly are longing for rest, the desire for diversion, the regret for a life better lived otherwise, and the overall feeling of degradation and exhaustion.


5. We rest in the sense of

i. sleeping and napping

ii. idleness

iii. reverie and daydreaming

iv. leisurely contemplation

6. To rest well is to raise our potencies.

7. To rest poorly is to be gnawed by restlessness or to be undone by lassitude.

8. The ‘psychological’ consequences of resting overly much is to become a wastrel: i.e., to waste one’s talents, to let one’s fields lie fallow, to be a freerider.

Wisdom & Folly

9. Wisdom involves distinguishing good work from bad, good rest from poor rest and learning when to work and when to rest.

10. One type of folly is restlessness. This involves wanting to work when you should be resting or wanting to rest when you should be working.