Instytut Filozofii i Socjologii
Wersja polska

L A B O R   O P U S   A R S 
                                                                    Late Medieval Notions and Ideas of Work

Late Medieval Notions and Ideas of Work
(acronym: Labor Opus Ars) was the individual project of dr. Marcin Bukała financed by ‘Marie Curie’ European Reintegration Grant (ERG). The project examined historical ideas and concepts of work in the late medieval period and origins of work ethics. The research concerned the 13th-15th century sources, and it made part of social history and history of philosophy. Labor Opus Ars was a continuation of the previous project of the Researcher concerning origins of management and enterprise ethics in the framework of the ‘Marie Curie’ Fellowship in Bologna University (project Ethica Negotium, under scientific supervision of prof. Ovidio Capitani).

: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology (IFiS) of ‘Polska Akademia Nauk’ (PAN – The Polish Academy of Sciences)

: dr. Marcin Bukała (e-mail:

: prof. Mikołaj Oszewski (The Head of the Department of History of the Mediaeval Philosophy in IFiS PAN, e-mail:

Period of the realization
: March 2008 – February 2011

Institution’s address
: IFiS PAN, Nowy Świat 72, 00-330 Warszawa (Poland)

Research Performed in Framework of the Project

(Summary from the Final Report)

The issue of historic roots of work ethics cannot be contained within the perspective of  modern individualistic and utilitarian ethics. The research conducted within the framework of LABOR OPUS ARS project has proved the significance of the medieval notions of work, linked to monastic rules based on non-economic categories of vocation and duty. It was analysed in the texts by Alexander of Hales, Chiaro of Florence, Matthew of Cracow, Henry Bitterfeld of Brzeg, and Jacob of Pradies.

Medieval definitions and typologies of work encompassing manual, organizational, and creative work have been collated within the framework of the project. Working was perceived as the state natural for a man, independent of the flaws of human nature caused by the original sin (contrary to the rule of private ownership). However, in practical recommendations, work arduousness ('In sudore vultus tui vesceris pane tuo' - Gen. 3,19), was seen as a measure in the process of remedial of the flawed human nature. Essential meaning have also the notions 'Otium' (freedom from money earning) and 'Negotium' (professional activities).

The results of the project can be summarised as follows:

1. Medieval basis of the work ethics was strongly linked to the notion of the obligation to work in monastic culture. Of crucial significance were references to Saint Paul's statement "whoever does not work, should not eat" (2 Thess. 3, 10) and the text by Augustine of Hippo De opere monachorum.

2. To define work ethics, of vital importance was overcoming the Greek juxtaposition of otium/negotium in the formula ora et labora.

3. In medieval culture, the general notions of work (Labor) were defined, which encompassed diverse categories: manual work, passing down knowledge, creative and conceptual work as well as organizational work. With the notion of manual work the notion of craft/art (Ars) was connected, which included the above mentioned categories of passing down knowledge and creative and conceptual work.

4. Although interesting, the analytical aspect was less essential. The job of a merchant/entrepreneur constituted one of fundamental ethical justifications of gain, however, in the Middle Ages this analysis did not lead to connecting work with wealth on the scale of the state. The analytical aspect was also explored in commentaries to Aristotle's exchange model from Book V of Nicomachean Ethics.

5. The medieval work ethics did not bear individualistic features and was not based on the relationship of 'work - economic success'; it was thus fundamentally different from 'Protestant work ethics' defined in Weber's model.

6. In the framework of the project, the analyses of texts related to work were made; the currently printed monograph is going to contain the partial edition of so far available in manuscript only text Casus conscientiae by Chiaro of Florence.

7. Some interesting conclusions concerning particular ethics result from the research on the late-medieval Central-European texts. Matthew of Cracow proposes the notion of work as one of the underlying elements of the model of commercial ethics. In Henry Bitterfeld, an interesting contribution to the medieval typology of work can be found whereas Jacobus of Pardies raises the problem of Sunday rest.

8. The social impact of the project is related to the contemporary meaning of historical notion 'bonum commune' and to the overcoming 'otium/negotium' juxtaposition.


(in chronological order):

M. Bukała, Entreprise Ethics, "Management" Ethics, and Work Ethics– Less Examined Aspects of ‘oeconomica mediaevalia’ - Previous Research and new Questions, “Studia Antyczne i Mediewistyczne", vol. 5 [40]: 2007, pp. 141-150.

M. Bukała, Etyka przedsiębiorczości w średniowiecznej scholastyce - wprowadzenie do problematyki (Entrepreneurial Ethics in the Late Medieval Scholastics – Introduction to the Research Topic), "Prakseologia, vol. 149: 2009, pp. 107-142.

M. Bukała, “'Periculum' and Business Responsibility: on The Scholastic Attitude toward Entrepreneurship”, [in:] Entrepreneurship: Values and Responsibility, ed. by W. Gasparski, L.V. Ryan, S. Kwiatkowski, New Brunswick (USA): Transaction Publishers, 2009 ("Praxiology”: the International Annual of Practical Philosophy and Methodology", 17: 2010), pp. 139-49. Book preview

M. Bukała, 'Oeconomica Mediaevalia' of Wrocław Dominicans. Library and Studies of Friars, and Ethical-Economic Ideas: The Example from Silesia, Spoleto: Fondazione CISAM, 2010 (Studi, 16). Summary
and Introduction

M. Bukała, Sprzeczne z etyką użycie rzeczy a odpowiedzialność jej wytwórcy i sprzedawcy według Rajmunda z Penyafort (Unethical 'usus rerum' and the Responsibility of Their Producer or Seller According to Raymond of Penyaforf),  Antyczne i Mediewistyczne", vol. 8 [43]: 2010, pp. 141-150.

M. Bukała, The notion of work in texts of Saint Augustine, "Archiwum Historii Filozofii i Myśli Społecznej", vol. 56: 2011, in press.

M. Bukała, Pojęcia i idee pracy w średniowieczu [Mediaeval Ideas and Notions of Work], Warszawa: Wydawnictwo IFiS PAN, 2011, in press.