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This month it is our pleasure to discuss Aristotle’s ethics with Greg Salmieri, Visiting Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at Boston University.  Click here to listen to our conversation.

Aristotle was somewhat ambivalent about the activity of craftsmanship: i.e. the activity of making things like shoes, clothes, or pottery.  On the one hand, he had great respect for it, and of course acknowledged that it was something that needed to be done.  But on the other, he thought it wasn’t the best possible way you could spend your time.  The best possible life you could live, according to Aristotle, would be one in which philosophical contemplation played a central role.  In the ancient world, looking at craftsmanship as something which had to be done, but wasn’t the best possible thing you could be doing, led to a society stratified into two classes: the slaves and the leisure class.  Effectively, the people who had the social standing to do nothing but contemplate the truths of the universe all day farmed the activity of making things off to others.

In this episode, Greg Salmieri argues that although we now view slavery as morally horrific, the attitude toward craftsmanship that led to it still persists.  As a result, we now engage in something a bit like slavery, only with a modern-day flavor, which he calls ‘living for the weekend.’  The difference is that instead of farming the activities we’d rather not be doing off to other people, we farm them off to our 9-to-5 selves, working jobs we don’t necessarily enjoy that much just to pay the bills, then decompressing on the weekend.  Salmieri thinks this practice has repercussions not just for people engaged in what are thought of as less glamorous jobs, but for professional philosophers as well.  The solution, he suggests, is to approach the craftlike activities in our lives in such a way that they contribute meaningfully to the rest, rather than as tedious grunt work.

Tune in to hear our guest’s thoughts on how contemporary philosophers can do the same!

Matt Teichman