All Work and No Thought

All Work and No Thought
Easter 4

Most of us have heard the old adage: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The name is often changed and sometimes the gender but the basic idea remains the same – too much work without a balance of recreation or a break can lead to undesired results. Does this mean we can overthink? Many people revel in the art of learning, so much so that they remain professional students. This is not out of love for learning, often. It is more as a means of escape, a means to forestall the need to live as a functioning adult, coping with the daily challenges and struggles that everyday life throws our way. The hallowed halls of education are seen as a haven to escape such drudgeries and the scheduling seen as a way of controlling one’s environment and living. The very edifices constructed to encourage learning sometimes inhibit it.

For British writer and philosopher John Mills, growing up with a Utilitarian father proved too much. Utilitarian philosophy weighs the value of an action by its consequences. Whether or not one derives pleasure from the action is not the point in utilitarian philosophy. How that action benefits the whole of mankind is. John Mills was an avid student and dutiful son and he learned and lived the philosophical school advocated by his father James Mills until he suffered a breakdown. The leading utilitarian philosopher of the day, Jeremy Bentham, believed in reason and excluded thoughts regarding emotions. Although he had attained a high level of success as a utilitarian philosopher, John Mills’ breakdown led him down a different path. He developed a more humane approach to Bentham’s “the greatest good for the greatest number” theory and advocated “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” In the mid-nineteenth century John Mills published several works include “The System of Logic” and “The Subjection of Women”.

Thought they would probably disavow it, many militants today use the utilitarian philosopher’s argument in their justifications for their heinous acts of terrorism. We must, however, apply John Mills’ theories in adjudicating such. Will these acts of terrorism really benefit the greater good? The answer is “Of course not.” When we remain silent in the face of such acts, we become unwilling accomplices. We must think and then act or speak out. If the only voice that is heard is the wrong voice, then the wrong voice is the only one heard because the right voice is silent.

Philosophy is something we all do whether we identify it as such or not. Thinking is a part of everything we do, although not always done in a rational or logical manner. Our eyes open perhaps automatically but we make a conscious decision to put our feet on the floor or roll over and stand up. We decide we are hungry and, hopefully, have food to eat. We decide what to wear and to put on clean clothes, if possible. Even if we have no choice over our day’s schedule or what we do or how we do it, we make the decision to start doing it.

The adage or proverb quoted at the beginning of this about “All work and no play” first appeared in James Howell’s book “Proverbs in English, Italian, French, and Spanish” which was published in 1659. He also included it in his book “Paroimiographia”, also published the same year. Irish writer Maria Edgeworth added her own version of this proverb. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a mere toy.”

The problem with not respecting our thinking is that we tend to not do it very well and eventually, just become followers instead of thinkers. We don’t want to become toys, puppets of the greedy in this world. We need to apply rational thought to our actions and the actions of others. Judging another is not something I am comfortable with but there has to be a common standard to avoid assassinations of innocent victims. When the actions promote happiness, then perhaps John Mills’ philosophy of them being right should be applied. Certainly, mankind cannot continue on a path of genocide in the false representation of faith. I will close with an adage of my own: “A great deal of work balanced with faith and recreation creates a bountiful day and happy soul.”


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