About the Talk

The work ethic was invented by Puritan ministers in the 17th century.  At the turn of the 20th century, sociologist Max Weber argued that it trapped workers in an “iron cage” of meaningless drudgery for the sake of interminable wealth accumulation.  In the 21st century, anarchist anthropologist David Graeber has condemned it for consigning workers to “bullshit jobs.”  They are only half right.  At its origins, the work ethic contained principles that could be, and were, developed in both pro-worker and reactionary directions.  This talk highlights the forgotten pro-worker history of the work ethic and considers its promise for today.  Puritan principles offer a surprisingly astute critique of contemporary neoliberal capitalism.

About the Speaker

Elizabeth Anderson is the John Dewey Distinguished University Professor; John Rawls Collegiate Professor; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Department Chair in Philosophy at the University of Michigan.

Professor Elizabeth Anderson specializes in ethics, social and political philosophy, feminist theory, social epistemology, and the philosophy of economics and the social sciences. She is particularly interested in exploring the interactions of social science with moral and political theory, how we learn to improve our value judgments, the epistemic functions of emotions and democratic deliberation, and issues of race, gender, and equality. She is the author of Value in Ethics and EconomicsThe Imperative of Integration, and, most recently, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It), as well as articles on value theory, the ethical limitations of markets, facts and values in social scientific research, feminist and social epistemology, racial integration and affirmative action, rational choice and social norms, democratic theory, egalitarianism, and the history of ethics (focusing on Kant, Mill, and Dewey). Professor Anderson is currently working on a history of egalitarianism from the Levellers to the present.Professor Anderson is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and designed and was the first Director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at UM.

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