Saturday, February 24, 2007

The protestant work ethic fallacy

There are a couple of interesting posts here and here by Nigel Warburton. In discussing whether blogs are conducive to doing philosophy (my short answer is yes!) he talks about what he calls the protestant work ethic fallacy. This fallacy is that the more time you put into something the better it will get. The fallacy, Warburton claims, is to think that this is always the case. This seems right to me. Generally things do get better with more work and time put into them, but this isn't always the case. Things can be polished and improved, but revision doesn't entail improvement.

In calling this a fallacy, one shouldn't swing too far the other direction and jump to the conclusion that more time and work doesn't improve things and it is better to do things quickly. This would be the slacker fallacy. One should avoid this one too. The pair of these indicates, I think, the need to carefully weigh the costs and benefits of one's work. It also points to the need of recognizing when one is improving one's work and when one is (merely) changing it. This seems particularly difficult as it is hard to get an honest perspective on one's work. The way around this then is to work with other people and try to get feedback as much as possible.

1 comment:

Galaxy_Horse said...

Another dimension to this idea of a Protestant work ethic 'fallacy' is a more political concept. Back in the times of the Industrial Revolution, the merit and virtue of hard work was issued from the pulpit, in association with the factory bosses. Ordinary folk, lacking political consciousness, and the absence of awareness they were being Bled dry, readily succumbed to the idea they were good folk, if they worked 80 hours a week for two pence halfpenny. The idea of a 'work ethic' is a mechanism of social hegemony-we all go along with this today.