Philosophy of Work in the Age of AI WEA Sydney

Thanks for adding:

Proceed to Checkout

Continue browsing


Print this page Philosophy of Work in the Age of AI

Available Classes

Work is a subject with a long philosophical history. Some of the most influential philosophical systems devote considerable attention to questions concerning who should work, how they should work, and why. The course will also approach the issue of work from a philosophical perspective bringing in cultural differences particularly in the 21st C and responding to the challengers presented by Artificial Intelligence.


  • Face-to-Face / Online


  • Conceptual Distinctions - Work, Labor, Employment, Leisure: We begin with a discussion of the concept ‘Work’ drawing on philosophers ancient and modern. Aristotle’s “axiology of work” has been enormously influential historically and continues to resonate today. Aristotle is firmly committed to a hierarchical view of the worth of occupations, which means that, on this view, some types of activity are simply more worthy of choice, or more desirable to do, than others. Leisure for Aristotle, though personally important for the individuals wellbeing, lacks the objective value of work for and with others in the collective polis.
  • Work and the Social Self: For many communitarian philosophers work is a primary means by which individuals can achieve a sense of community. In working with others, we can establish bonds that contribute to our sense of belonging and that enable us to contribute to a distinctive workplace culture. In a similar vein, communitarian theorists often argue that work, by embedding us in shared practices or traditions, is essential to social life. However after Marx’s devastating critique of the inhumanity of Industrialized labour, many theorists divide ‘alienated labor’ from ‘meaningful work’. John Rawls, for example, proposed that a lack of opportunity for meaningful work undermines self-respect, where self-respect is the belief that our plan for our lives is both worth pursuing and attainable through our intentional efforts. Meaningful work, as Rawls understood it, involves enjoying the exercise of our capacities, particularly our more complex capacities.
  • Work as Suffering: The anarchist Bob Black follows Marx down the opposite track. Give that Capitalism is still the predominant organizational principle for most modern economies, we can expect that the human worker is still valued only on their ability to produce wealth for those who own the means of production. The number of people who have the privilege of freely choosing meaningful work is very small in comparison to most of the worlds population for who work is forced labor. In his essay “The Abolition of Work” he states:
    Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.
  • Work and Technology: A number of social commentators have predicted that economic and technological trends will soon culminate in societies become increasingly ‘post-work,’ that is, far fewer individuals will engage in paid work, work hours will dramatically decrease, and work will have a far smaller role among individuals’ values or concerns. Whether this prospect should be welcomed or avoided depends on how central work is to being human, an issue which is central to this course.
    Some welcome a post-work future as liberating (Livingston 2016, Chamberlain 2018, James 2018, Danaher 2019), arguing that diminutions in the centrality of work will afford us greater leisure, freedom, or community, especially if activities such as play or the appreciation of the natural world supplant work. Others worry that the decline of work will deprive us of a central arena in which to realize values central to our natures. The other pressing issue for a post-work world is the economic structure which would make such a world possible.
  • Creative Work and AI: Most recently, the issue of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has sparked new debates about the future of many forms of intellectual work, including human creative work in music, literature and the visual arts. For some commentators this will eventually render humans as passive consumers of “The Creative Machines”. We will look at various perspectives from this contemporary debate.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have gained an overall understanding of the key concepts in the philosophy of work, and their relation to other concepts such as labor and leisure.
  2. Have gained insight into the history and anthropology of work as different types of work emerged.
  3. Have read extracts from the key theorists both ancient and modern.
  4. Relate their ideas to our contemporary world and current issues.
  5. Have discussed many of the ideas on work as they apply to the students personal lives and work choices.

Kerry Sanders

BA (Hons), PhD
Dr Kerry Sanders gained her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. Her specialist areas are: Aesthetics, Phenomenology, Postmodernism and Political Philosophy. She has formerly taught at...