The Liberation and Alienation of Work: Exploring the Relationship Between Work and Human Freedom

Lucas Charbonnier

Hatched by Lucas Charbonnier

Nov 06, 2023

4 min read


The Liberation and Alienation of Work: Exploring the Relationship Between Work and Human Freedom


Throughout history, the concept of work has been a subject of deep contemplation and analysis. It has been viewed both as a means of liberation and as a form of alienation. The question of whether work truly liberates individuals or restricts their freedom has been a topic of philosophical and religious discourse. In this article, we will delve into the contrasting perspectives on work, examining its potential to emancipate individuals while also acknowledging the conditions that can lead to its alienation.

I. Work as Alienation:

For the ancient Greeks, work was seen as a form of enslavement, an antithesis to freedom. It reduced individuals to mere cogs in a production-consumption cycle, devoid of autonomy and trapped in repetitive tasks. This notion of work as an external force, detached from the worker and devoid of personal fulfillment, leads to the concept of alienation. When individuals are fragmented into multiple small tasks, they fail to perceive the fruits of their labor, becoming mere components of a larger machinery. The only reward they receive is their wage, further alienating them from their work.

Moreover, the manner in which work is carried out plays a crucial role in its potential for alienation. The way in which a society produces goods and services, rather than the nature of the products themselves, differentiates one economic era from another. The more an individual is stripped of their control over the process of their work, the more alienating it becomes.

II. The Liberation through Work:

1. Mastery over Nature:

Work, in conjunction with technology, has empowered individuals to become masters and owners of nature, enabling them to achieve happiness. By utilizing the laws of nature to enhance production efficiency, work becomes a means through which humans can assert their dominion over the natural world. This mastery allows for the fulfillment of desired ends, thereby providing a sense of liberation.

2. Work as a Process of Humanization:

According to Hegel, work acts as a transformative agent through which individuals not only change the world around them but also themselves. By engaging in productive activities, individuals gain a deeper understanding of their own identity and differentiate themselves from the natural realm. The dialectic of the master and the slave exemplifies this transformative power of work. The master, who makes the slave work, eventually becomes dependent on them, while the slave, through their labor, develops consciousness and rises above their master. This reversal of roles signifies the liberation that work can bring.

III. The Narrow Path to Salvation:

The parable of "The Rich, the Camel, and the Needle's Eye" sheds light on the challenges individuals face in attaining spiritual liberation. The journey towards salvation is depicted as a progression through various stages. The first stage involves acquiring knowledge and understanding the divine message. The second stage calls for active participation in religious communities and worship. However, it is at the third stage, symbolized by the small hole of a needle, that true transformation occurs. This narrow passage represents the need for individuals to humble themselves, open up to others, and cultivate empathy. It is through this minuscule opening that individuals can be saved and experience divine grace.


In conclusion, the relationship between work and human liberation is complex and multifaceted. While work can be alienating when it distances individuals from the fruits of their labor and restricts their autonomy, it also holds the potential for liberation. Through work, individuals can assert their mastery over nature and undergo a process of self-transformation. Additionally, the parable of the needle's eye reminds us of the importance of humility and openness in attaining spiritual liberation. To find a balance between work as liberation and work as alienation, here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Foster a sense of ownership and control over your work by seeking opportunities that allow you to have a meaningful impact and perceive the results of your efforts.
  • 2. Embrace continuous learning and self-improvement to ensure that work becomes a transformative process that enables personal growth.
  • 3. Cultivate empathy and humility in both personal and professional interactions, recognizing the importance of collaboration and the potential for salvation through connection with others.

By understanding and addressing the potential for both liberation and alienation in work, individuals can strive towards a more fulfilling and purposeful existence.

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