The subjective view of work



To work is to express one’s humanity and to achieve one’s fulfillment as a human being!

Work, according to Catholic Social Teaching, is a fundamental right­—a useful good for mankind, because it is an appropriate way for man to give expression to and enhance his dignity. Pope John Paul II, in his first social encyclical Laborem Exercens, reflected on the meaning of human work. Here he voiced his position on, among others, the primacy of man over work and over capital. Central to his argument was the distinction he made between what he calls objective and subjective work.

Work, in the objective sense, refers to the external aspects of work, the actual job one does, with its necessary tools or machines. However, to view work in the subjective sense is to perceive man himself both as a worker and the subject of work. Hence, if we are to value human work, should it not be based on the fact that the one who performs the work is a person? Should we not give more importance on the person’s humanity rather than on the kind of work being done?

Hence, when a person works, must it not follow that work should also benefit him? In this sense, work acquires increased importance as it allows a person to apply skills necessary for the attainment of his own fulfillment; to provide the means to start a family; to raise and educate children; and to contribute to the common good.

Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by the Pontiff, citing certain 19th century theories, work is still understood and treated as a sort of merchandise that the worker sells to the employer, the possessor of the capital, or all the working tools and means that make production possible. In this sense, and as what our basic economics subjects tell us, labor is considered as one of the factors of production. Doing so, according to John Paul, is rooted in materialism and is what he calls economism, or the error of considering human labor solely according to its economic purpose. It is this objective view of work that often leads to the exploitation of the worker in terms of wages, working conditions and social security.

However, if we believe in the Church doctrine of “primacy of labor over capital,” guided further by the subjective view of work, we would treat the workers with dignity. After all, isn’t man the efficient cause in the process of production and capital a mere instrument or instrumental cause in the entire production process? Isn’t labor, the subject of work, more important to the materials and processes of production as these are merely the objects of work?

When the Catholic Social Teaching tells us that work is a good thing for man because it is through work that we transform nature, that we meet our needs and that we experience fulfillment as human beings, shouldn’t business owners and managers similarly temper their objective perception of work and balance it with a more subjective view of work?

Ms. Caning is a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) student at the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. She welcomes comments at The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

Comments are closed.