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HOMO FABER RECONSIDERED: TWO THOMISTIC REFLECTIONS ON WORK KEITH A. BRECLAw Georgetown University Washington, D.C. ATHOUGH WE APPEAR to be poised at the beginning of yet another chapter in the accelerating drama of the industrial revolution-or as some would have it, a postindustrial climax to that revolution-it is far from evident that homo faber and his distinctive activity have found for themselves either a philosophy or a philosopher. The work activity may have become respectable as a philosophical subject only in the nineteenth century, but it has hardly been the object of extended or systematic inquiry, then or now. That is well illustrated by Marx and the Marxian legacy. Marx is arguably to be considered· the preeminent philosopher of work, having elevated work and the worker to the center of his activist program. Yet that same orientation to instigating action leads Marx intentionally to neglect elaborating the philosophical foundations of his thought. To be counted among the consequences of that neglect is a treatment of the work activity which appears to be inconsistent, or at best, incomplete.1 One measure of the inadequacy of Marx's treatment of the subject is to be found in a significant tendency among some twentieth-century Marxists or Marxist-inspired thinkers to abandon the centrality 1 On the unresolved tensions in Marx's concept of work, see, for example: G. A. Cohen, "Marx's Dialectic of Labor," Philosophy and Public Affairs 3 (Spring 1974): 260-261; Peter Fuss, "Theory and Practice in Hegel and Marx: An Unfinished Dialogue," in Terence Ball, ed., Political Theory and Praxis: New Perspectives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), pp. 113-114; and R. N. Berki, "On the Nature and Origins of Marx's Concept of Labor," Political Theory 7 (February 1979) : 35-37. 579 580 KEITH A. BRECLAW of work and the worker altogether. Andre Gorz bids a dramatic and final " farewell to the working class." Work has become so de-skilled and fragmented that the Marxian working class has been decisively replaced by a " non-class of non-workers." Work, now thoroughly absorbed and shaped by technocratic industry, is beyond hope of humanization. The radical program he recommends for the " non-class" is to maximize leisure which is already a realizable possibility within the technocratic economy. With that pronouncement, whatever dignity homo faber may have possessed is lost as he vanishes into the depths of a selfreproducing technocratic order.2 In this paper I wish to examine an alternative to Marxism for approaching work as a subject worthy of philosophical attention. \Vhile classical and scholastic thought may not appear at first to be promising grounds on which to consider the topic, the work of two contemporary Thomists-Jacques Maritain and Joseph Pieper-offers a significant and unique contribution in this area. However, I hesitate to say that either of these thinkers has accomplished the construction of a full-scale philosophy of work.3 In all fairness, that is not the intent of either one of them. At the same time, what they have accomplished in their reflections on work in some respects is more extensive and systematic than the results of speculation by Marxist thinkers.4 2 Andre Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class (Boston: South End Press, 1982) . Gorz's program for labor is built largely on conclusions about the evolution of capitalism since Marx associated with the thinkers of the Frankfurt School and their contemporary disciples. The notable claim is that the contribution of technology has come to dwarf labor as a factor of production to such an extent that Marx's labor theory of value is no longer operative. This dominant role for technology is also at the root of the deradicalization of the workers' movement. See Jurgen Habermas, "Technology and Science as 'Ideology'," in his Toward a Rational Society, trans. Jeremy Shapiro (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970). 3 M. D. Chenu, in his Theology of W orlo (Chicago: Regenery, 1963), judges that presently we lack not only a theology, but a philosophy, psychology or sociology of work as well (p. 5). There is little reason to conclude that the situation has been altered since Chem1 rendered that judgment. 4 Having said...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 579-607
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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