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Noble Leisure and Good Work

In both his Politics and his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle presents the idea of “noble leisure” (scholazein kalôs). Just as the end of war is peace, so the end of work is leisure. But it is not enough, on Aristotle’s account, to be merely at leisure; one must be at leisure in a noble fashion. In particular, Book VIII of the Politics deals with education, which aims at the knowledge requirements for being occupied in the correct manner and for being at leisure in a noble way, the latter being for the good of the individual, for the good of the community and good for its own sake.


The relationship between Good Work and Noble Leisure suggests itself in this formulation. To say there is a correct and an incorrect manner in which to be occupied anticipates the ideas of good work and compromised work. To say there is a noble and a less than noble fashion in which to be at leisure asks us to consider the distinction between the good and the noble and between occupation and leisure. More so, to the extent that these ideas share something in common, the requirements and attributes of good work may inform the requirements and attributes of noble leisure in important and useful ways.


The topic appears to have contemporary relevance insofar as the largest segment of American population today, viz., baby boomers, now in their sixties, are likely to live thirty-five years longer than their great-grandparents. Put another way, these individuals have the potential either to work or to be at leisure for the equivalent of an additional adult lifetime. How that time is best spent; how these individuals may pass their time or flourish; how they may leverage personal experience and material resources for the greater good, are important questions to raise and to answer.


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