On Thursday 3:30 p.m, November 7, 2019, Professor Hyunseop Kim, from Department of Philosophy of Seoul National University, gave a lecture at B214 of the School of Philosophy. The theme of the lecture was “Meaningful Work and Limits on the Social Division of Labor”.
Professor Kim conducted his lecture in four steps. Firstly, he put forward some inquiries about the relationship between the meaning of work and social specialization of labor: should we make or let occupational specialization in our society deeper and more fine-grained, only if the further specialization promotes productive efficiency? Is the social division of labor not problematic at all, insofar as labor is properly organized within each occupation and there is no undesirable hierarchy among occupations? Kim argued that that occupational specialization is not as innocuous as it may seem, because social division of labor, especially when works in different occupations are coordinated by prices, tends to make our work less meaningful.
In the second step, he examined the nature of meaningful work and argue for four principles about it. Principles 1 to 4 are ideal conditions about meaningful work. However, when taking back to the reality of modern society, the problem is that the deep social division of labor makes it hard to meet these conditions. That is to say, the social division of labor makes it hard to find one’s work meaningful.
Thirdly, he analyzed how this problem generated. This due to three “Ignorance Problems”. By “Ignorance Problems” Kim referring to problems that generated by our lack of understanding about what prices do not properly reflect and capture. One of the ignorance problems is that we fail to appreciate the nature and value of the works of many other people whom we actually cooperate with. Another ignorance problem is that customers fail to give proper recognition or esteem to the work of others and thereby make their work less meaningful. The last one Kim called “recognitional deficit”, which means customers, fail to give proper recognition or esteem to the work of others and thereby make their work less meaningful.
Finally, he concluded that the social division of labor, especially when works in different occupations are coordinated by prices, disincentivizes individuals from understanding the nature, intrinsic value, and social contribution of other occupations. The lack of understanding between different occupations makes it hard to understand the meaning of one’s own work and find it meaningful. It also makes it hard to appreciate other people’s works and provide proper recognition for them. Indeed, as fewer of us understand the interdependence among workers and have cooperative, collegial attitudes, it becomes harder for all of us to maintain cooperative, collegial attitudes and find our work meaningful. These negative socio-psychological dynamics may be part of the reason why many of us are unaware of and unconcerned with the complex web of cooperation in market economies that contributes much to the material prosperity we enjoy. The sense of meaninglessness at work may be part of the reason why, despite the improvement in objective quality of life, we feel lonely and unhappy in a capitalist society.
After finishing his lecture, Professor Hyunseop Kim interacted with the attending faculty members and students. And the discussion lasted for more than an hour.
（Photo&Written by Wang Jianqian）