Work as a Calling, by Garrett Potts

My review of Garrett Potts’ Work as a Calling: from Meaningful Work to Good Work is now available at Business Ethics Quarterly (BEQ). It’s a fabulous read for anyone interested in finding meaning at work … and beyond. Congratulations, Garrett!

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”

(Wittgenstein 2021 [1922], 5.6, italics in original).

‘In Work as a Calling, Garrett W. Potts suggests that our language about work—specifically our academic discourse around workplace callings—is problematically individualistic. It prioritizes personal fulfilment over the common good. It stresses subjective meaning-making at the expense of moral traditions. Such language, Potts argues, has unwelcome consequences, including anxiety in constructing one’s meaning, depression from not experiencing fulfilment in it, and burnout from the related and never-ending pursuit of measurable gains. Obsessed with self-actualization, today’s language of calling limits and even harms our moral world.

‘Potts’ diagnosis draws not from Wittgenstein (though a gesture toward language games would not hurt), but rather from Robert Bellah’s Habits of the Heart (1985), a seminal text in the sociology of American life. Potts’ antidote builds upon Bellah’s constructive response—i.e., Bellah’s non-individualist notion of calling—by adding philosophical heft from Alasdair MacIntyre, one of Bellah’s more notable interlocutors. Given this genealogy, Potts describes callings in a community-focused manner: they are not individualistically construed. Instead, they draw upon “civic” and “biblical tradition[s]” (49) to advance “good work,” “the good of individual lives,” and “the common good of communities” (147). To understand callings in this way, Potts suggests, is to embrace the tradition- and community-based languages of American life. This helps people transform into morally exemplary practitioners and enables them to flourish “in their quest for the good life more broadly” (68, internal quotations removed).’

Published by Edward A. David

Responsible business. Law and religion. Ethics in public life.

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