In Praise of Idleness | Study Guide

Bertrand Russell

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In Praise of Idleness | Quotes


But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution.

Bertrand Russell

Russell describes the transitional moment when he experienced a profound change in his beliefs about the morality of work. This change is the foundation upon which "In Praise of Idleness" is based.


I hope that ... the Y.M.C.A will start a campaign to induce good men to do nothing.

Bertrand Russell

Russell states his aim in writing "In Praise of Idleness" and reveals his sense of humor. Russell often employs rhetorical devices like hyperbole, which is exaggeration, and humor to engage the audience and increase their interest in considering the ideas presented.


... the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

Bertrand Russell

Russell states his reason for arguing in favor of the reduction of hours in the workday. He presents evidence to demonstrate the discontent that overwork produces. A coordinated effort to reduce the number of hours that laborers work will help societies successfully transition into a modern technological economy.


... to induce others to live for the interests of their masters ...

Bertrand Russell

Russell borrows the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's (1844–1900) concept of the "slave morality" to explain the origins of the belief that overwork is good for the poor. He notes that the proliferation of this type of thinking benefited those who capitalized on the work of laborers to produce profits for themselves.


Modern technic has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor necessary ...

Bertrand Russell

Russell's use of the term "technic" throughout his essay is better expressed in the present time by the use of the term "technology." His central contention is that the invention of machines has changed the landscape of labor. The result is a reduced demand for workers and an increased supply of people without work.


This is the morality of the Slave State ...

Bertrand Russell

Russell describes his view of the poor as enslaved to a system of moral beliefs that benefits only the elite classes. The use of the sweeping generalization "Slave State" is a rhetorical technique that Russell employs to cause the reader to reconsider the popular idea that hard work makes a person morally superior.


... it is unjust that a man should consume more than he produces.

Bertrand Russell

Russell explains that it is necessary for people to continue to work. He does not wish to suggest that work is futile. It isn't yet possible for machines alone to produce everything that people need. His argument is based on the assumption that each person will use only what they need. The just and even distribution of labor requires only four hours of work from each person each day.


The wise use of leisure ... is a product of civilization and education.

Bertrand Russell

Russell distinguishes between the "wise" use of leisure and the passive use of leisure. He suggests that the uneducated masses may prefer using leisure time to simply watch sporting events or listen to the radio. This is not the best way to utilize leisure time. For leisure time to produce advances in the arts and sciences, it is necessary to teach people how to actively engage their time. Russell provides examples of activities that constitute "wise" use of leisure time. He mentions painting, reading, and dancing.


... present leisure is to be sacrificed to future productivity.

Bertrand Russell

Russell describes the problem that the culture of productivity has produced. People are required to work for more hours each day and to give up leisure time. In exchange there is a promise that there will be an increase of goods available for future consumption. Unfortunately, this results in a situation where working people have no time to enjoy their lives.


They consider work ... as a necessary means to a livelihood.

Bertrand Russell

Russell presents evidence to support his claim that people will be happier when only four hours of work per day are required. He says that working people think of work only as necessary for the sake of survival. The joy in their lives comes during the times when they are not at work. This is proof that an overall reduction of hours in the workday will benefit everyone.


The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else ...

Bertrand Russell

Russell proposes that people fail to understand the idea that some things are intrinsically good, such as "light-heartedness and play." The modern person is too "serious-minded" and mistakenly believes that leisure time is not valuable because it is not profitable. Russell attempts to persuade the reader to consider the possibility that leisure has inherent value because it produces joy. It ought to be considered an end in itself and not a mere means to an end.


... it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad.

Bertrand Russell

Russell wonders why everyone prefers getting money to spending money. He points to the fact that buying and spending are two sides of one coin. Both are necessary for a successful economy. There is no reason to believe that everyone should spend every day working to get money. This is illogical. Money is valuable only because it can be used to purchase necessary goods and services.


Without the leisure class mankind would never have emerged from barbarism.

Bertrand Russell

Russell points out that there has always been a small elite class of landowners who had ample leisure time. This class utilized leisure time to pursue its interests in the arts and sciences. They produced the great books, philosophies, and works of art that constitute the bulk of the knowledge that people cherish. Russell claims that the arts and sciences would flourish if everyone had the leisure time to cultivate their talents.


Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves ...

Bertrand Russell

Russell lists the benefits of the reduced work day. No longer will everyone be under pressure to work all of the time, and that means that everyone will have more time to enjoy life. He makes it clear that he believes overwork produces only dissatisfaction.


... we have chosen instead to have overwork for some and starvation for others.

Bertrand Russell

Technology has reduced the demand for human labor. Nevertheless, Russell observes that everyone continues to want to work eight or more hours per day. The result is that people are either overworked or out of work because the supply of human labor outweighs the demand for it. A reduction in the number of hours of work in a day will solve the problems associated with both overwork and unemployment.

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