Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs

James V. Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. ISI Books, 2001. 189 pp.

James V. Schall is an excellent writer of essays. He knows how to use his essays to point to the highest things, like truth, goodness, and beauty. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs tells us what we think as serious is not really serious and what we think is not serious is really serious. Schall asserts that if man was the highest thing than human affairs would be what is most important, but humans are not the highest beings in the universe, God is. Schall seeks to answer how we should live our lives if God and transcendental truths exist. He says we should live our lives singing, dancing, and sacrificing.

The good thing about reading Schall is that he leads you to the important authors and their works. This book is no different. The reader will be entering a feast on what Aquinas, Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Josef Pieper and others say about the highest things. One of Schall's favorite authors is Charlie Brown, however. He finds many theological and philosophical truths in the comic strip. This probably says something about Schall.

Many of these essays cover education. How does one go about getting an education in the highest things, the things that matter most. Schall notes multiple times that it can be acquired through the reading of books. He also notes that we must have the desire to know. Schall draws richly from Aristotle's Ethics in this book. For example, Aristotle says "The life of someone whose activity expresses virtue will be happy" (156). Aristotle also said there is a "proper pleasure attached to knowledge, a pleasure that makes the activity even more delightful, even more absorbing"(159). Aristotle taught that happiness is an end. He also insisted leading a good life required virtue. In addition, there is an important connection between the moral and intellectual virtues. Schall emphasizes the importance of disciplining or ordering our life if we will see truth.

In some sense, these essays are an attack on utilitarianism. For example, one of Schall's essays is titled, "Philosophy: Why what is useless is the best thing about us." Schall shows in this essay how knowing the highest things is an end in itself. I thought many times about Josef Pieper's book on leisure while reading these essays.

Schall notes two important homophomic words  is "to wonder" and "to wander. " Aristotle said to wonder is the beginning of philosophy. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs is written for all potential philosophers, lovers of wisdom.

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