The Helmsman

Weil’s philosophy of work is Stoic in the sense that the revolt against necessity is made to appear foolish rather than heroic. Work is not a mode of Promethean rebellion. The free man determines his own fate, not unlike the helmsman of a small boat who keeps to his course through clever and discerning movements of the rudder and the sail, precisely by taking the waves and winds into consideration, and not because he subdues them. The metaphor of the little boat combines in one graphic image the formalizing use of juxtaposition, a use that involves the art applied by directive reason, by man’s gouverne, here represented by a rudder, a gouvernail. This art is both physical and mental work — or, put differently, the model of work that does not alienate. The fisherman’s simple way of life and his love of the sea as the emblem of amor fati are further evocative associations. The work of the boatman is very much like that of a free man. The similarity ends at the fact that for any boatman routine and improvisation play an essential part. “[T]he only mode of production absolutely free would be that in which methodical thought was in operation throughout the course of the work.”

This unattainable extreme of human liberty requires that the work itself be methodical — that is, that the method exist in the worker’s mind and is not brought in from outside. In the scientifically managed factory, the work is organized along lines determined by a method, but it is not methodical work. Man’s highest intellectual virtue, attentiveness, is not stimulated; on the contrary, it withers. (96-97)

Athanasios Moulakis | Simone Weil and the Politics of Self-Denial

[The problem is that if “clear-sighted work…allows no routine, no habituation, nor any authority or compulsion,” the result is that learning itself becomes impossible.]