Open Journal of Philosophy, 2016, 6, 436-445
ISSN Online: 2163-9442
ISSN Print: 2163-9434
DOI: 10.4236/ojpp.2016.64041 November 17, 2016
The Philosophy of Work—Based on Four Stories
Department of Retrial, Shandong High People’s Court, Ji’nan, China
Work helps us live a good life. “
The Hungry Ocean
told us about the reason, value
and compensation of work. “
The Devil Wears Prada
taught us dramatic changes
would appear when you chose a job. “
” is a great story of fin
ing what you really want. “
The Perfect Mile
” helps us
set up a goal and be ourselves.
The four stories help us better understand the philosophy of work.
Work, Value, Compensation, Good Life
Everybody has to work to live a good life. Meanwhile, different work shapes different
characteristic by adjusting one’s framing schema and analysis of the world. This hap-
pens usually without consciousness. People use their freedom to choose a proper work,
while the work selects appropriate people. To some extent, people interact with the en-
vironment by working. Work has mutual effect on internal challenge of a person and
the external change of the world.
2. The Hungry Ocean
the passage of time is measured in distance rather than hours
being more powerful than so many sweeps of the second hand. And with the exception
of standing watches
the crew and myself are seldom aware of the time of day. An expe-
rienced crew member never asks
When will we be there
but instead might inquire
How many more miles
At sea, I am almost never cognizant of what day of the week
but am keenly aware of how many days must pass to bring the next full moon
concept of time twisting to meet what is meaningful.
—The Hungry Ocean, p.
How to cite this paper:
Zhou, R. R. (2016)
hilosophy of Work—
Based on Four
Open Journal of Philosophy, 6,
October 17, 2016
November 14, 2016
November 17, 2016
Copyright © 201
6 by author and
Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution International
License (CC BY
R. R. Zhou
In the book “The Hungry Ocean”, the author told us about her “story of a thirty-day
sword fishing voyage aboard one of the best-outfitted boats on the East Coast, complete
with danger, humor, and characters so colorful.” She was the captain and during the
trip they took the adventure at sea, prospecting the future and accomplishing difficult
missions. Her work was a trip. The purpose is to enjoy the trip.
2.1. The Reason of Work
People have to work, but there must be some reasons. Most people work to fulfill life
needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs contains 5 tiers, which are physiological, safety,
love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. In order to fulfill the physiological and
safety needs, people work to get money to feed an individual, support a family or sus-
tain a community. Volunteer work is an exception.
To satisfy love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs, people work to
achieve accomplishments for higher reputations, higher social status, or just for fun.
They work to get social recognition and earn a decent life. Different jobs have different
values, but all of them are respectable.
In this capitalized society, work, social status and money is a common label to eva-
luate a person. When a person becomes old, he/she probably regrets that his youth was
dedicated to work and lost the opportunity to enjoy the nature, change of seasons, arts
and music, which may not enrich our pockets, but will fulfill our hearts. But when one
was young, pressures comes from the society. The normal work age is after graduation
year of school until retirement. People often retire at 60, during more than thirty years
we are devoted to work.
2.2. The Value of Work
Carl worked quickly
with an economy of motion. As the circumference of the gear on
the spool neared its maximum capacity
I wondered what more I could find for Carl to
do to keep his mind on business and off harassing Peter for the next few days. Once fish
started coming aboard
the problem would take care of itself. Carl would be too busy
working even to throw Peter a dirty look
he Hungry Ocean,
Aristotle once observed: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” (Taylor,
2012). Different jobs have different social functions, but they all create valuable goods,
tangible or intangible. For example, farmers produce corns and wheat by planting in
the land; business people exchange goods and transfer wealth through diverse transac-
tions; lawyers provide legal services by applying their knowledge and wisdom in daily
life; doctors help patients recover from miserable diseases. By working, people forget
time and duration but to engage in solving problems and overcoming difficulties, like
Carl in the novel. Demonstration and dedication thrives work to a booming level, sur-
passes tedious repetition but reaches the eventual spiritual pleasure.
A person has the feeling of surpassing tedious repetition in work, because he/she has
the individual intellectual creation through working, which adds value to the product.
In addition, by collaborating with colleagues, the worker may absorb innovative ideolo-
R. R. Zhou
gies to refurbish his/her perception. A person with passion and patience will better ex-
perience the pure pleasure during daily breathtaking sunsets, rather than complaining a
2.3. The Compensation of Work
The powers that be are known by fishermen to be somewhat whimsical in their doling
out of good and bad
which accounts for our general distrust of any situation that seems
remotely copacetic. Captain and crew often tiptoe around as if walking a thin line
afraid of doing anything that might upset some precarious balance and tip the scales
from stability to doom. The majority of fishermen have learned the hard way not to
or even mention a pleasing situation for fear of jinxing themselves
moning a flood tide of misfortune
. (The Hungry Ocean, p. 195).
Once a person starts working, he/she follows a schedule or a plan to divide difficult
tasks into everyday routine and keep his/her own pace in dealing with pieces of assign-
ments. Wages, salaries or bonus is given to employees as compensation. Promotion
may also be a kind of incentive measure. Almost every employer has an evaluation and
growth system designed to encourage employees for making more profits. Compensa-
tion may also be a weighing factor when people choose their careers.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance providing wage replacement and
medical benefits to employees injured in the course of employment in exchange for
mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the
tort of negligence. The trade-off between assured, limited coverage and lack of recourse
outside the worker compensation system is known as “the compensation bargain.”
Even though wages vary between different jobs, all the employees enjoy a minimum
amount of salaries to sustain a decent life.
3. The Devil Wears Prada
Works are diverse, however for a person it maybe the whole world. What makes a good
work? What is the standard for a person to choose the right job? How do they make the
evaluation? What are the principles that are vital for healthy atmosphere at office?
When asked about the question “what jobs you choose depends on what kind of life
you want to live”, I cannot stop thinking another novel,
The Devil Wears Prada
berger, 2004). This story is about a girl called Miranda, who graduated as a journalist
major and found a job in a fashion magazine. She used to wear grandmother’s sweater,
dingy shoes, and two-penny make-ups. After she was admitted to the position as boss’s
assistant, she decided to change from a weird animal to a modern “Chanel girl”. The
boss, who is a sophisticated lady wears Prada, was the queen of this magazine, and
represents fame, priority and wealth. When choosing this position, Miranda started to
live a luxurious life. Her boyfriend who was a baker fell that she went too far way that
they had no common topics. She witnessed the fights among business people, the masks
they wore, and the lies they to; d. She fell exhausted of this kind of faking life. One day
the boss called her and she did not answer, but instead throw the gorgeous cell phone
R. R. Zhou
into the spring pool. She changed over to the normal life style, and found a measured
job in a small company.
When choosing a work, people choose a development environment. Once fixed in a
position, a person becomes a member of a community, whose social function is marked
according to the occupation. Different choices create different social labels. That is why
Miranda in the novel changed a lot. She changed according to the environment. I have
the same feeling when I was an intern in a big Chinese law firm. When I walk into the
grand hall and step into the transparent elevator, suits and dresses replaced the casual
clothes; urbane and aggressive manner replaced the mild talking style. Even people’s
voice became more confident in the formal and professional atmosphere.
Choosing a job also means choosing a group of people you work with. Politicians
choose to advocate for the public and work with a group of public figures. Sales people
work with business managers or factory producers. Faculties of universities work with
the smartest group of contemporaries and younger generations. If a person wants to be
a professional athlete, he/she has to go to professional schools and take specific training
with the same profession of people. If a person wants to be an artist, he/she has to be
exposed to the musical or visual arts and learn the skills first. The groups of people are
the basic elements of people’s social network.
3.1. The Choice of Work
People choose different works. Sales people conquer accounts to make volume increase;
lawyers assist business people to complete transactions and solve disputes by using legal
methods; scientists use experiments to testify presumptions and create new theories;
doctors master advanced technologies and use medicines to cure diseases, etc. What is
the standard for choosing an occupation? Do people focus on a specific area according
to their talents or interests, or just according to the market needs? The answers are di-
Change is difficult for a person to make. The older a person is, the harder a change is
to make. Due to this phenomenon, one had better decide his/her career path when he/
she was young. However, it is hard to make a decision without experience. A slogan in
China says, “one will not know what is good until he tastes the good one.” Imagination
is far away from practice, especially for student just graduates from school. Even
though change is hard, change is possible. Only if one is open-mined and hard-work-
ing, to look outside and fulfill the gap between the current occupation and their
dreams, change could be made.
3.2. Gap Year
In some universities, graduate students do not directly pursue a higher degree or go to
work, but choose to leave their ordinary path for a period, which is called the “gap
year”. This is more prevalent in China in recent years, which will help students to make
a wiser career development choice.
Graduate students choose to travel or apply for an internship to take a break from
R. R. Zhou
normal school life. They use this time to open themselves to the world that they usually
know but never “waste” time to conceive since they were eight years old. In this cir-
cumstance, they are free to experience a controversial or opposite part of life, to be a
person they never had opportunity to be. Sometimes during this divergent change of
the role, they will be closer to their own interests and listen to the voice of their hearts.
In Wikipedia, gap year is “an expression or phrase that is associated with taking time
out to travel in between life stages.” It is also known as sabbatical, time off and time out
that refers to a period of time (not necessarily 12 months) in which students disengage
from curricular education and undertake non curricular activities, such as travel or
work. Gap year is most popular among individuals who have finished high schools and
intend to commence tertiary education.
4. Something Borrowed
When choosing a work, people choose a life style. Professions mold people’s characters,
more or less, consciously or unconsciously. Legal professionals use analytical methods
to solve problems and live in a legal empire. However, artists and self-employers live a
less regular life, whose schedules are more flexible and living styles are more casual.
Sometimes the “should be” life may not be the one a person really “wants”.
In the novel
(Giffin, 2005), the heroine, Rachael, is a female
lawyer who graduated from NYU law school and started legal career as a lawyer in New
York. She had a feeling on her law school classmate and good friend, Dex. She never
had courage to tell him even Dex dated her several times. Dex also had a strong feeling
on Rachael, but he is so good a student who follows his parents’ will all the time of his
life. He always does things he “should” do, but not he “wants” to do. During a date, Dex
asked Rachael for a dinner but Rachael brought her close friend, Darcy, a party animal.
Dex was attracted by Darcy’s outgoing personality and relaxing style and they fell in
love fast in the red wine atmosphere. Rachael left the bar and cried alone, but when Dex
ran after her and asked what happened, Rachael smiled and pretended to be easy. Dex
thought Rachael had no feeling on him. He then dated with Darcy and they got en-
In Darcy’s 30 years old birthday party, she announced the news that she and Dex are
engaged. During that night, Rachael drank a lot and told her disguised feeling to Dex.
In an occasional second, they remind each other the spark they used to have in law
school. They betrayed Darcy. This story was dramatic after they broke the moral base-
line. They are both lawyers with ethical consideration. However, they cannot stop
thinking of each other. Dex and Rachael wandered around each other’s heart, moving
forward and backward, between friendship, love, and colleague relationship. Dex finally
destroyed his promise to Darcy, and followed his heart to marry Rachael.
The reason I discuss about this novel is because choosing a job is like a romance rela-
tionship. Some people choose to live an easy life and a slow pace. However when they
bump into an energetic, passionate working style, they cannot stop thinking about
change. Identically, those who live in a financial empire, wearing LV, Gucci or Chanel
R. R. Zhou
may be jealous of the couch potatoes. One never knows which is better for him/her
without experience. Time is limited, even people cannot experience all kinds of life;
they may select the most important one according to the real voice of one’s heart.
4.1. Gaining Happiness
Aristotle stated: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a
habit.” By working people fulfill their economic and social needs, exert their god given
potential and create values. Pursuing for survival and development may be the intrinsic
value of work, which encourages generations to strive. Delving deep into the miracle
ocean of work helps us better understand of what makes a good life.
What is your goal? You can not define what is good, but maybe you know what is
bad. For Einstein, maybe one of his goals is to know the general relativity, the other
goal is to discover the general relativity. The goal could be that someone should have
known this. But the goal also could be that he wishes to know the theory. For most
normal people, working for money to earn a decent life is more important. However,
once one gets enough money, what is the purpose for the next level of life? Desire is
Protestantism Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
(Weber, 2012), Weber stated,
“Remember that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and
goes abroad, sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but, sixpence during his
diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent,
rather thrown away, five shilling-, besides.” “Remember, that credit is money. If a man
lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he gives me interest, or so much as I can
make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerable sum where a man has good
and large credit, and makes good use of it.”
“Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget mon-
ey, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again
it is seven and three pence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more
there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and
quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth gen-
eration. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores
“Remember this saying, The good paymaster is lord of another man's purse. He that
is known to pay punctually and exactly to the time he, promises, may at any time, and
on any occasion, raise all the money his friends can spare. This is sometimes of great
use. After industry and frugality, nothing contributes more to the raising of a young
man in the world than punctuality and justice in all his dealings; therefore never keep
borrowed money an hour beyond the time you promised, lest a disappointment shut up
your friend’s purse forever.”
In fact, “a good professional must be a good human being.” The word “professional-
ism” covers the working ethics, which restricted the aggressiveness in a capitalized
world. Work ethic is how one gets along with others, the attitude, behavior, respect,
communication, and interaction. Virtues such as honesty, integrity and accountability
R. R. Zhou
are important for a worker to live a good life.
4.2. Hunting and Accumulation
In China there was a novel called
(Qian, 2004). In this book the au-
thor Qian Zhongshu draw a big picture of the traditional intellectuals. The subject is
everything we expect, is like a fortress besieged, the insiders want to get out, however
the outsiders want to get into it. Work is also like this fortress besieged. Every job has
its merits and disadvantages, a person should know what he wants when making the
choice. Ask yourself, “what is the most important thing? Then that is “good” for you. A
man’s meat is another man’s poison.
Capitalism is about accumulation, including interpersonal relationships, experiences,
social networks and reputations. If a person change his/her career path too often, the
accumulation is hard to establish.
Equity is relevant; opportunities are not fair to everybody. Not every tiny effort has
the gain, and not every insistence will be seen. Trust is hard, understanding is also dif-
ficult. But all we can do is to be patient and keep waiting. Every successful man has ex-
perienced the pale winter. Only after enduring the long and cold season, spring will
come. Frustration appears usually. Look what you have got is more important than ex-
pecting the objectives beyond. Be content will make a person grateful for the god given
potentials and seize the talented future. Normal and boring steps lead to the grand sce-
nery. Adverse circumstances select the ones with courage, endurance, passion and au-
dacity of hope.
4.3. Balancing Work and Life
Is spiritual and substantial happiness obtained simultaneously? Max Weber observed:
“One person is naturally responsible, which is a representative of the social ethics of
Capitalism society.” Do people get happiness or sadness during careful work? In Kant’s
theory (Kant, 2008), this kind of happiness is obtained beyond the body feeling, how-
ever, in Chinese Ming Dynasty, the philosopher Wang Yangming mentioned “Zhixing
Heyi” (Henke & Tufts, 2010), which means that the body is triggered by the intellectual
discovery and improvement. Practice and knowledge cannot be separated but is pro-
gressed at the same time.
We work to live, but not live to work. Work is a part of life. If the life is not harmo-
nious, work is not on the track. Training and exercising is important, family and social
communications are also significant for a good worker. The most important thing is
happiness. Psychologists conclude that the people gain happiness mostly from work.
The sense of achievement and the ability to make influence on others gives a person
countless satisfaction. The happiness of work will make one person more confident,
gentler, and more elegant.
5. The Perfect Mile
Work is like a sport, only endurance and persistence helps an athlete to meet the para-
R. R. Zhou
mount. I was immersed in the book
The Perfect Mile: Three athletes, one goal and less
than four minutes to achieve it
(Bascomb, 2005). In 1952, three world-class runners set
out individually to break the barrier and to challenge the human extreme. They are
Roger Bannister, a young English medical student; John Landy, the privileged son of a
genteel Australian family, who trained relentlessly in an almost spiritual attempt to
shape his body to the single task; Wes Santee, the swaggering American, a Kansas farm
boy who believed he was just plain better than everybody else.
The three challengers have different backgrounds and represent different kinds of
people doing track and field sport. In a broader context, they represent different groups
of people doing sport. This represents the spirit of sport—combine people from differ-
ent culture, different educational background, different life value, to the same track.
This is also the unique merit of sport—no discrimination of gender, race, and wealth.
The spirit also applies to work context. When successful workers share their expe-
rience, they share a common value—the “spirit”—to struggle for dreams and never, ev-
er give up. Demonstration and perseverance is the key point of success, which is admi-
rable. The competition is cruel but fair.
5.1. The Right Instructor
God is fair. Almost 20% people own the 80% wealth; however they do the 80% works.
Successful people are a small group, but they have common virtues. Their paths cannot
be cloned, but the merits can be learned. Even time has changed and the old people are
out of fashion, in one’s life they will meet the similar dogmas and the precedents have
plenty of experiences. Communication with the people stronger and older than you will
broaden the perspective and make one wiser. Sometimes we know the result, but we
have to repeat it again and again. Changes may occur during the repetition process.
Just like a sport coach is significant to an athlete, the most important thing of a per-
son starts working in his/her twenties is to follow a good instructor. In universities and
graduate schools the knowledge is static, while in practice one could learn the practical
experiences from instructors. For example, in the court, a judge is sophisticated and
familiar with the dynamic cases, the adversarial trial practices, and the structure of
judgments. A green hand should learn from zero. In law firms there are also senior as-
sociates who will teach and assist the junior associates with diverse issues upcoming. To
drafting a contract, to negotiate, to meet clients and to provide persuasive legal opi-
nions require not only the technique taught in law school, but the interpersonal skills
and communication arts. These intangible virtues should be taught by the instructor.
The culture of an enterprise is also influential. One will learn the basic working ethics
during the first job, in the work environment. Choosing a big platform is significant,
since in large stages the directors are more qualified, and the actors and actresses are
more well-trained. A standardized management and detail-oriented culture will help a
starter establish good working habits.
5.2. Legal Career for Myself
As for myself, I pursued a law degree and wish to work with a group of elites. In the
R. R. Zhou
University of Michigan, I immersed in the grand library of the law school to absorb the
precedent’s wisdom. I talked with professors, judges and lawyers to get to know them.
We shared the same legal “language” and wisdom.
Aristotle once observed that law is reason free from passion. However, in my under-
standing, law is passion out of reason. I made the resolution to contribute to the pre-
servation of justice in my early adolescence. Throughout the years, a strong passion has
driven me on my way to realize this dream. In law schools, I tried hard to learn more
knowledge to broaden my perspective and do projects to explore deeper questions. In
the court, I work sincerely, dealing with civil and commercial retrials and find to give
the parties justice.
In the future, I would like to succeed as a judge with a particular focus on financial
and commercial law. I have the dream that one day I will be alongside with those brave
judges who came before me and who are honored for their graceful work in practice,
flourishing independent thinking, and nourishing innovative spirit. I wish to be a
striving law practitioner whose determination surpasses legal practice, a scholarly lec-
turer whose intellectual life mixes candor and hope, an upright idealism whose justified
ideas will be recognized by conscious citizens, and an accountable realism whose ra-
tional concern that is respected through the united generation.
5.3. Be Yourself
In one of my favorite movies, “Dead Poets Society”, there is a famous poem:
I went to the woods
because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die
discover that I had not lived.
Work unfolds us a path to understand the world. By working, people communicate
with the environment and the society. They learn from each other and collaborate with
each other. They compete with each other, and respect each other. In Hugo’s novel
there was a famous statement, indicating that one is dignified because
he/she lives a happy life. Everybody is deserved a good life. The good is achievable to
everyone in the universe. There is no perfect life, but a proper and comfortable path to
People live in the world with dream, passion, pursue of knowledge and love. One
cannot decide the parents, the family and the environment of growth, but he/she can
decide what kind of person he/she wants to be. Work offers this opportunity for a per-
son to choose the life he/she wants. What is the real need for one person? What is the
music of one’s heart? Only the person him/herself knows. How to approach to the bot-
tom of one’s heart? There is an experiment. Keep silent, and forget all the knowledge
and information taught by others. Write a list of the things you want to do, keep writ-
ing, and keep thinking, until the one triggers your tears, making you cannot stop crying
R. R. Zhou
from the bottom of the heart.
Sisyphus has a boulder to roll. For rational people, this may be a punishment. But for
him, this is the process of gaining spiritual freedom. Work is like this rolling. I believe
only by practicing and experiencing will one reaches the deep feeling of good life.
Life is neither an experience machine nor a heroine experiment, but real and substan-
The Hungry Ocean
” told us about the reason, value and compensation of work.
The Devil Wears Prada
” taught us dramatic changes would appear when you chose a
job. Thus “
” is necessary for a student to have plenty of time to think about
the career path. “
” is a great story of finding what you really want.
Sometimes we gain happiness by repetition and accumulation. It is a necessary to keep
a balance between work and life. “
The Perfect Mile
” helps us set up a goal and be our-
selves. Good instructor is also important.
I would like to end this paper with the impressive remarks by Steve Jobs, “Your time
is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—
which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’
opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, please have the cou-
rage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly
want to become. Everything else is secondary.” (Steve Jobs, 2005).
Bascomb, N. (2005).
The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal and Less than Four Minutes to
Mariner Books, Reprint Edition.
Giffin, E. (2005).
. St. Martin’s Griffin.
Greenlaw, L. (2000). T
he Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey
. Hachette Books.
Henke, F. G., & Tufts, J. H. (2010).
The Philosophy of Wang Yang-Ming
Critique of Pure Reason
. Penguin Classics, Revised Edition.
Qian, Z. (2004).
Steve Jobs (2005).
You’ve Got to Find What You Love, Jobs Says.
Taylor, A. E. (2012).
. Dover Publications.
Weber, M. (2012).
Protestantism Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
Create Space Independent
Weisberger, L. (2004).
The Devil Wears Prada
. Broadway Books, Reprint Edition.
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