Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 125, Issue 2, pp 235–251 | Cite as

Conceptualising Meaningful Work as a Fundamental Human Need

  • Ruth YeomanEmail author


In liberal political theory, meaningful work is conceptualised as a preference in the market. Although this strategy avoids transgressing liberal neutrality, the subsequent constraint upon state intervention aimed at promoting the social and economic conditions for widespread meaningful work is normatively unsatisfactory. Instead, meaningful work can be understood to be a fundamental human need, which all persons require in order to satisfy their inescapable interests in freedom, autonomy, and dignity. To overcome the inadequate treatment of meaningful work by liberal political theory, I situate the good of meaningful work within a liberal perfectionist framework, from which standpoint I develop a normative justification for making meaningful work the object of political action. To understand the content of meaningful work, I make use of Susan Wolf’s distinct value of meaningfulness, in which she brings together the dimensions of objectivity and subjectivity into the ‘bipartite value’ of meaningfulness (BVM) (Wolf, Meaning in life and why it matters, 2010). However, in order to be able to incorporate the BVM into our lives, we must become valuers, that is, co-creators of values and meanings. This demands that we acquire the relevant capabilities and status as co-authorities in the realm of value. I conclude that meaningful work is of first importance because it is a fundamental human need, and that society ought to be arranged to allow as many people as possible to experience their work as meaningful through the development of the relevant capabilities.


Capabilities Human need Liberal neutrality Liberal perfectionism Meaningful work Meaning in life 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oxford Centre for Mutual and Employee-Owned Business, Kellogg CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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