About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, August 05, 2005

In Praise of Idleness-I

I'm reading Bertrand Russell's collection of essays, "In Praise of Idleness," an intriguing idea (the praise, not the collection of essays) for modern Western society, especially the American one, where idleness -- as Russell remarks -- is frowned upon as a waste of "productive" time.

Among the radical ideas Russell puts forth is that we have the technology that would enable us to work about four hour a day, and employ the rest in relaxation and cultural activities, or in volunteer work. But, he quickly points out, we are raised in a society for which something like that would be unthinkable, because the people at the top of the economic ladder have never liked those below to have leisure time, and even less to improve their lot. You never know, educated people might start thinking critically, which may lead to dire consequences for the establishment.

Some of my favorite quotes from the British philosopher, from the first essay of the book (the one that gives it its title):

"I think that there is far too much work done in the world."

"The road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work."

"[Work] is emphatically not one of the ends of human life."

"The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake."

"The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy."

Pretti revolutionary stuff, for being written in 1932, eh?


  1. "...employ the rest in relaxation and cultural activities, or in volunteer work."

    Russell was thinking in idealistic terms. if people had more free time, most of them would spend it the way they spend what free time they have now: watching TV. But, more TV watching isn't going to make them "start thinking critically".

  2. aorstan, Russell does address your point in his essay. He realizes the possibility you raise, which is why he calls for education. Only an educated public can take advantage of more leisure time. But the point is that it would be nice if people had the option, just like the upper classes have always had. More important still is the call for a change in attitude: profit, production, and the bottom line are not supreme values, and most certainly not ends -- just means to make our lives better.


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