When is Work Unjust? Confronting the Choice between “Pluralistic” and “Unifying” Approaches

Forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (Open Access at https://doi.org/10.1111/japp.12684)
Individuals have different experiences of work when they are self-employed, when they perform tasks in the gig economy, and when they follow directives from managers. But such differences are not represented in some of the most prominent non-ideal theories of work. These describe workers as a coherent group, with a position in the structure of the liberal capitalist economy. I present an alternative that does better at acknowledging difference, through a description of work and workers that has greater “pluralism” and less “unifying coherence.” Some might insist that their “unifying” description has superior empirical plausibility. But if “pluralistic” descriptions are valid rivals to provide an accurate characterization of our current condition, then we should consider whether their use in theory can serve valuable aims. I identify the distinctive and valuable non-ideal aims—epistemic, evaluative, and normative—that can be pursued with “pluralistic” descriptions of work and workers.