Creation & Compensation

“All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind” – attributed to Aristotle (Google it)

So far as I can quickly ascertain, the quote “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind” is a paraphrase of Politics, 1328b-1329a, “But at present we are studying the best constitution, and this is the constitution under which the state would be most happy, and it has been stated before that happiness cannot be forthcoming without virtue; it is therefore clear from these considerations that in the most nobly constituted state, and the one that possesses men that are absolutely just, not merely just relatively to the principle that is the basis of the constitution, the citizens must not live a mechanic or a mercantile life (for such a life is ignoble and inimical to virtue), nor yet must those who are to be citizens in the best state be tillers of the soil.”  (tr. Rackham)

Just previously, however, Aristotle had stated, “These then are the occupations that virtually every state requires (for the state is not any chance multitude of people but one self-sufficient for the needs of life, as we say, and if any of these industries happens to be wanting, it is impossible for that association to be absolutely self-sufficient). It is necessary therefore for the state to be organized on the lines of these functions; consequently it must possess a number of farmers who will provide the food, and craftsmen, and the military class, and the wealthy, and priests and judges to decide questions of necessity and of interests.”  In this passage, Aristotle uses ‘priests’ (ἱερεῖς) as a synonym for ‘councillors’ (βουλευομένους).  So apparently, it’s not that Aristotle thinks all paid labor is ignoble, just that it’s ignoble for citizens to work and be paid full-time for anything other than military, judicial, or legislative activities in the community or “partnership” (κοινωνίαν, 1252a).  IOW, what today we’d call “the work of politics.”   Specifically, those who strive to be Aristotelian citizens shouldn’t be farmers, merchants / bankers, or “mechanics” (post Industrial Age, read “factory workers,” the great 19th and 20th C stock metaphor for all labor).  Aristotle’s pupil Alex built Empire.

Of course, in Plato’s great work on politics, he observes that “no one wishes to rule voluntarily, but they demand wages as though the benefit from ruling were not for them but for those who are ruled” (Republic, I.345e tr. Bloom).  The entire passage from which this quote is lifted in Republic I resonates with the sentiment “All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind”.  Summary:

[Socrates:] “Then this benefit, getting wages, is for each not a result of his art; but, if it must be considered precisely, the medical art produces health, and the wage-earner’s art wages; the housebuilder’s art produces a house and the wage-earner’s art, following upon it, wages; and so it is with all the others; each accomplishes its own work and benefits that which it has been set over. And if pay were not attached to it, would the craftsman derive benefit from the art?” [Thrasymachus:] “It doesn’t look like it,” he said. [Socrates:] “Does he then produce no benefit when he works for nothing?” [Thrasymachus:] “I suppose he does.” (Republic, I.346d tr. Bloom).

As I see it, Plato is saying something like this:  Artists are inherently valuable to communities. Artists create value by the active exercise of their virtue of being artists. Each artisan produces benefit apart from, before, and beyond any transactional wages that could later be attached to the benefit she creates.  Initially, the artist creates benefit for herself and whomever she, in her magnanimity, gifts with that benefit.  For example, the shoemaker would have the best shoes in abundance…but only shoes.  The doctor’s family would be healthy, but might struggle to plant crops or forge flatware.  The community recognizes the potential communal benefit of the artist by embracing her art and asking her to benefit the community rather than just herself.  In exchange, they offer her wages to benefit them rather than only herself. The community grants the artist a measure of Universal Sign (Marx, money trades for anything) in exchange for the Particular Signed (the artisan’s work).  Higher still, I’d like to think that it really can be gifting in both directions, with the notion of “exchange” abstracted as far as possible.

As far as Aristotle is concerned, the situation is even worse than slavery being his next point in the book.  Sadly, it’s quite close to being his first point in the book.  IOW, it’s foundational.  His myth is:  we’re born masters & slaves.

“In this subject as in others the best method of investigation is to study things in the process of development from the beginning. The first coupling together of persons then to which necessity gives rise is that between those who are unable to exist without one another: for instance the union of female and male for the continuance of the species (and this not of deliberate purpose, but with man as with the other animals and with plants there is a natural instinct to desire to leave behind one another being of the same sort as oneself); and the union of natural ruler and natural subject for the sake of security (for he that can foresee with his mind is naturally ruler and naturally master, and he that can do these things with his body is subject and naturally a slave; so that master and slave have the same interest).” (Aristotle, Politics I.1252a)


English-Greek for passages cited:
– Aristotle, On Work:
– Plato, On Work:
– Aristotle, On Master-Slave:

English Plato (with Stephanus numbers):
– Republic (tr. Bloom):

English Aristotle (with Bekker numbers):
– Politics (tr. Carnes Lord):  cheap on amazon, hit me with a link if you find it online free.

Secondary Refs:

– Politika:
– Politeia: (Bloom’s Preface)
– Zoon Politikon:


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