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Business and Professional Ethics Journal

Volume 28, Issue 1/4, 2009

Christopher Michaelson
Pages 27-48

Meaningful Work and Moral Worth

In general, meaningful work has been conceived to be a matter of institutional obligation and individual choice. In other words, so long as the institution has fulfilled its objective moral obligation to make meaningful work possible, it is up to the subjective volition of the individual to choose or not to choose work that is perceived to be meaningful. However, this conception is incomplete in at least two ways. First, it neglects the role of institutional volition; that is, it does not emphasize enough that the institution’s purpose itself can be meaningful (or meaningless). Second, the standard conception of meaningful work says surprisingly little about the moral obligation of the individual—to anyone but the individual herself—to pursue meaningful work. The immediate and sustained responses to the September 11, 2001, attacks suggest that there is an important relationship between meaningful work and the moral worth of institutions and individuals. To explore that relationship, this paper examines stories of three jobs that tragically coincided on September 11, 2001: broker, firefighter, and terrorist.

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