Nammour Philosophy Symposium


April 15 & 16, 2014

The Place of Work

“We labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”

~ Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

10:00am - 12:00 pm          Why We Work

video icon Click to view. 1 hour 42 min (mp4)

What work means to us (and what we mean to it)
Garret Merriam, University of Southern Indiana
Most of our waking hours are spent working. We work not only in our jobs but on our relationships, through our creative endeavors and for our self-improvement. We even work when we play ('I've got to work on my golf swing.') Work, quite frankly, is what we do with ourselves. Work is inescapably entwined with meaning in our lives. But what exactly is the relationship between work and meaning in our lives? Are some kinds of work simply inherently fulfilling to human beings, while others are just meaningless toil? Or can we make any sort of labor meaningful if we invest our creativity and imagination into it? Does work give our lives meaning, or do our lives make working meaningful? In this talk I will consider these conflicting perspectives and try to shed light on the meaning of work from both philosophical and scientific perspectives.

Work, play, and the good life: a Daoist interpretation
Richard Schubert, Cosumnes River College
Many accounts of the difference between work and play focus on the relationship between activities and the external goods to which they give rise. Thus, for example, according to some accounts, work gives rise to money, play gives rise to pleasure. Daoism suggests that it’s not the products of an activity that determine whether it’s work or play, but rather, the relationship between the activity and the “inner nature” of the individual engaged in it. Play is activity in accordance with our inner nature, work is activity contrary to it. Understood in this way, the more we play and the less we work, the happier, the healthier, and the more productive we’ll be.

The conflict between competition and leisure
Emrys Westacott, Alfred University
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain, “they hung the jerk that invented work.” They did this because work, defined as labor that one is forced to undertake as a means to an end, has generally been viewed as undesirable. There is a rich philosophical literature disparaging work and celebrating leisure, yet it seems to have had little impact. Economists like Marx and Keynes predicted that the productive power of modern industry would lead to greatly reduced working hours for everyone, but this has not happened. Why not? One major reason is the spread and the intensification of competition as the primary mechanism for determining outcomes in business, in the workplace, in the classroom, and in many other arenas. The competitive character of our culture is highly productive in various ways; but it is also preventing us from achieving a more sensible and rewarding balance between work and leisure.

Discussion Moderator: G. Randolph Mayes, Sacramento State


1:00-3:00 pm                     Reflections on Bertrand Russell's "In Praise of Idleness" - Student Panel

video icon Click to view. 1 hour 58 min (mp4)

Winners of the Nammour student essay competition

The four hour utopia of a mother
Veronica Peterson, Sacramento State

The industrial devolution
Troy Jurach, Sacramento State

Replacing workers with robots: taking Russell’s argument for leisure even further
Kia Seehafer, Sacramento State

Prizes for winning essays this year are generously provided by the CSUS Retirees Association.

Discussion Moderator: Christina Bellon, Sacramento State


3:00-5:00pm Just Plain Fun: The Philosophy Club's 3rd Annual Limeric Slam
Orchard Suite, University Union


Wednesday April 16th

10:00 am-12:00 pm            Work, Status, and Meaning

video icon Click to view. 1 hour 46 min (mp4)

Work in a world where lineage matters
Gregory Clark, Department of Economics, University of California Davis
In this talk I show that to a surprising extent overall social status is highly predictable from someone’s extended lineage. The question arises how this affects the meaning of our lives. Many people interpret any such finding as profoundly pessimistic. They feel that our concepts of human agency and personal responsibility are diminished by any such finding. They also feel that the good society is one where any outcome is possible for all citizens at the time of their birth, so the less this is true the further we are from such a society. Another interpretation, however, is that the predictability of outcomes does not impinge at all on human agency. People still achieve their social outcomes through effort, resilience, and imagination. The predictability of who will have those qualities is irrelevant to the perceived character of peoples’ lives.

Commentator: Kyle Swan, Department of Philosophy, Sacramento State
Commentator: Thomas Pyne, Department of Philosophy, Sacramento State

Discussion Moderator: G. Randolph Mayes, Sacramento State


1:00-3:00 pm                        The Cultural Significance of Work

video icon Click to view. 1 hour 43 min (mp4)

On the supposed compatibility of work and life: Schopenhauerian thoughts on the culture of work
Mark Alfino, Gonzaga University
Most people in contemporary wealthy liberal cultures expect work to be meaningful and rewarding. Making work safe and meaningful is a remarkable and recent achievement of these societies. To the extent that this effort has succeeded, it may also give rise to a dangerous illusion about work. This talk undertakes a brief philosophical ethnography of work in which we discover not only the recentness and constructed character of many of our natural-sounding beliefs about work, but we also compare a range of cultural understandings of work to a physicalist description of work-life in order to generate insights about the way culture shapes our understanding of work and the choices we may have about that.

Work, production, and reproduction
Russell DiSilvestro, Sacramento State

Discussions of parenthood can touch us at various personal and political levels. For example, a person deliberating whether to become a parent (again) may wonder about what good things a new child might bring into the world but also about what good things might be given up to accommodate the new child. And a "stay-at-home" dad or mom can sometimes feel a small bit of pressure when asked friendly questions like "what do you do?" or "where do you work?" This talk explores how we might best think about the apparent similarities, differences, and trade-offs between productive and reproductive work.

(Re)socializing the (Japanese) sarariiman: countering the effects of the workplace language socialization is an ongoing process.
Cindi Sturtz Sreetharan, Sacramento State
Developing and refining communicative competence is always an issue regardless of age or position (or, especially because of age and position). Chronological age is one way to think about language socialization, but in the case of Japan, life stage (rather than age) is a more productive frame through which to examine socialization. In this talk, the aim is to investigate two competing socializing pressures: work mates and media. The linguistic behavior of a group of Japanese freshman salarymen is examined along with the linguistic behavior of an all-male (Japanese) Reality TV show, Junjoo Gakuen Otokogumi (The Naïve Boys Academy). Specific attention will be given to terms of address and reference, sentence final particles, and the frequency of distal forms (polite verb forms). While the workplace is a space which encourages the men to become good salarymen, the TV reality show provides counter-examples of this behavior in a setting which is simultaneously comedic and nostalgic.

Discussion Moderator: Richard Schubert, Cosumnes River College