How can work become meaningful under the liberal model of work?

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Work can become meaningful under the liberal model of work if it can be conceived as a synthesis of the conventional model, which is subjective, and the human fulfillment model, which is objective.

That is to say, the liberal model of work takes the freedom to choose that is an essential component of the conventional model as well the belief of the fulfillment model that work can be assessed in moral terms, and creates a new way of looking at work that combines and transcends both.

One of the foremost advocates of the liberal model of work, the philosopher Norman Bowie argues that the firm has a moral obligation to provide meaningful work for its employees. Although he recognizes that defining what constitutes meaningful work is difficult, he nonetheless holds that providing meaningful work, however one defines it, ultimately derives from primary goods prized by liberals, such as autonomy, rationality, and mental and physical health.

What we have here, then, is a derivation of the particular from the general, of specific arrangements in the workplace as being firmly anchored in a liberal conception of the rights-bearing individual.

This means that, although it is difficult, as Bowie readily acknowledges, to provide an objective definition of meaningful work, it is still nonetheless possible to recognize certain practices as either conducive to the attainment of primary goods or detrimental to them.

Other advocates of the liberal work model go further than Bowie. Adina Schwartz, for instance, argued that concerted government action is necessary in order to provide an alternative arrangement of industrial employment, one that respects workers as autonomous agents.

Precisely what this would mean in practice is far from certain, but at the very least it would embody an entirely new conception of how firms operate, one that moves away from repetitive, routinized work processes which hamper the free development of all members of society.

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