In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell, Philosophy Essay Sample

Published: 2022-03-14
In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell, Philosophy Essay Sample
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Philosophy Philosophers
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1151 words
10 min read

Russell's article, In Praise of Idleness, illustrates the concept of work from a different perspective. It has for long been thought that work is virtuous because it keeps idleness away. Russell, however, takes a different approach in his dissection of work to show that idleness is a key component of any society and like work, there are numerous types of idleness. Moreover, Russell is the thought that the presence of work in the world yields some problematic instances due to the belief that work is inherently virtuous. As such, Russell is from the standpoint that, modern industrial nations ought to be given a different narrative concerning the role of work in their societies (Russell). Work is perpetuated through the presence of employment, which is further made possible by people spending what they earn. In this respect, Russell argues that the manner of laziness where no one works is inappropriate since it is detrimental to the progression of society. Another type of idleness that the author warns against is the one where the privileged rich take advantage of other people who have to work for their livelihood. According to Russell, the idle rich earn from the need of others to work to thrive in contemporary society.

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Human history has been rife with the upper society taking advantage of the lower and working classes. It is from this incidence in the history of humankind that the author devices a notion that the concept of work ought to be revised. In historic times, humans were producing more than they needed; hence, there was a surplus in most homes in these times. Consequently, the surplus would be taken from them by other members of the community who did not participate in the production of, for instance, food. During these times, these groups would use force to rid peasants off the surplus or find means through which to convince them to surrender it. Workers were made to believe that it was their duty to produce within their community, an occurrence that ended up facilitating the idleness of other members of these societies. Even though this did not explicitly take the form of slavery, laborers worked for their masters who, in turn, came up with justifications that their welfare was intertwined with that of their people. Although this system was feasible under certain circumstances, it was near impossible to facilitate under a just socio-economic system. The effort of the many was key to the perpetuation of leisure, which was in turn necessary for progress.

Leisure is not always a universal source of happiness. In what the Russell calls the Slave State, leisure can yield misery due to the lack of a balance between the working and the idle. The rationale behind this argument is the presence of people who are overworked in the world, while there are yet others who are idle and not out of their own volition. There is a lack of balance in industrialized societies of modern times. Instilling balance would see to it that, no single person does an excessive amount of work while there is another person who would be willing to chip in their effort if given a chance to work. The virtuous nature of work has been perpetuated throughout history through the understanding that idleness breeds societal ills. In this way, excessive work was deemed justifiable. Nonetheless, the author understands that this was yet another means of justifying the actions of the rich. Only recently have working conditions be improved in a manner to appear just. Apparently, the idleness of the rich is given precedence, and often at the expense of the welfare of everybody else. This is a recurrent theme like contemporary society.

The existence of human beings and their societies is dependent on labor; hence, work is to some extent, a duty. It is, therefore, imperative that people do not consume more than they produce to foster sustenance. Such should be the foundation of all efforts and labor in the world, but that is not always the case. The most troubling aspect of human society is not that the idle rich reap from the efforts of the working class, but rather, that the working class does not have a choice but to either work or sink into destitution. The latter is an indication of the troubles with human society, given that people are not given much choice as such. Moreover, given that being an idle rich is a privilege that is beyond the grasp of the majority, it is clear why Russell delivers such radical views about work in modern society. This way, one can easily understand the occurrences the author is against and the motivation behind this approach. Could this be a trick by the governing class to retain hold of the society? It would appear so because there is no other apparent reason as to why the idle rich should praise the efforts of the working class.

All Russell's arguments regarding work can be summed into the conclusion that, physical labor is not the purpose of life, albeit sometimes necessary. These arguments can easily be justified following the discussion developed by the author. Essentially, a typical worker only partakes in work because it is the only means by which they can earn their livelihood. Therefore, work is not as virtuous as it was once thought, given that the majority of workers do not delight in their work. Although necessary, work devoid of leisure time is torture. It is apparent that the rich enjoy unjust advantages through oppressive labor systems that allow them to consume that which they have not produced. At the same time, Russell acknowledges that the idle rich have been instrumental in the creation of human civilization. The progress witnessed in human society would be absent had it not been for the efforts of the idle rich to invent philosophies and refine social relations (Russell). At the same time, the presence of a governing class that is exclusively idle is detrimental to the welfare of the society, given there are not special traits possessed by members of this class. The ultimate societal ill, according to Russell, is being compelled to work more.

Russell Bertrand makes credible arguments in In Praise of Idleness and supports these arguments with evidence and real-life scenarios to identify the shortcomings of work. He develops a recipe of an ideal society through his arguments a labor system that does not compel people against their will, or rid them of the leisure to partake other activities as they wish. People have an ingrained desire to signify themselves through their work and are inherently inclined towards fostering sustenance in their societies. Thus, the creation of a society characterized by good morals and nature is reliant on the perpetuation of happiness and other joys of life.


Russell, B. (1932, October). In Praise of Idleness. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from

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