Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Pieper, Josef. Leisure: the Basis of Culture. New Translation by Gerald Malsbary; introduction by Roger Scruton. South Bend, IN: ST. Augustine's Press, 1998. ISBN: 1-890318-35-3.

There are a certain group of authors that I read their work repeatedly. Some of these authors are Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, ST. Augustine, James V. Schall, C.S. Lewis, and Peter Kreeft. Another one of these authors is Josef Pieper. I never tire of reading Pieper and being benefited by reading him.

Leisure: the Basis of Culture may be Pieper's best book. This book includes two essays: Leisure: the basis of Culture and the Philosophical Act. These essays might be more relevant today than when they were first published. At the beginning of his essay on leisure, Pieper includes two quotes: one from Plato, and the other one from the Bible. The one Plato talks about the gods providing leisure to man as "a means of refreshment from their fatique." The one from the Scripture is Cease striving, or Be still, or as translated in this book, "Be at leisure--and know that I am God. Pieper in this essay explains what leisure is. It is not what many people think it is. It is not resting from work to go back to work. We must be at leisure to know all that exists. Our being calls to know all that exists.

This essay on leisure is a rebuttal of a total work society. The idea that we are only a cog in the machine. It argues for the importance of the liberal arts and the need for leisure to know the truth of things. Pieper argues that the "original meaning of the concept of leisure has practically been forgotten in today's leisure-less culture of total-work" (4). Technical education or career education, or training provides workers with the skills to perform specific functions in this work-world. They do not cultivate the abilities to be at leisure and to know all that exists.

Pieper disagrees with Kant that "the human act of knowing is exclusively 'discursive'" (10). In contrast, "the medievals distinguished between the intellect as ratio and the intellect as intellectus" (11). Ratio is the "power of discursive thought;" intellectus "refers to the ability of 'simply looking' to which the truth presents itself as a landscape presents to the eye" (11). Like Pieper I prefer this more broader view of the act of human knowing. Pieper thinks "all knowing includes both." Intellectus is not work; it is seeing what is there. It requires leisure to be able to see what is there. This is the reason Pieper disagrees with the concept of the "intellectual worker."

This then leads Pieper to compare and contrast the liberal arts with the servile arts. The liberal arts are for the free-man. Thomas Aquinas says, "Every art is called liberal which is ordered to knowing; those which are ordered to some utility to be attained through action are called servile arts" (21). In other words, a liberal art is an end in itself. There are two types of knowledge: theoretical and practical. In the last two parts Pieper argues that we must reserve a place for knowing all that exists and the cause of all things. We must be at leisure to know God and all His truth.

The second essay is on the philosophical act. It is preceded by a quote from Thomas Aquinas: "The reason why the philosopher can be compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonder..." This seems strange. Both the philosopher and the poet are identified together. This must be some mistake. However, Aristotle said that philosophy begins in wonder. Pieper argues that it not only begins in wonder; it never leaves wonder. Ancient philosophy practiced by Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle is a love of wisdom. This wisdom is open to theology and mystery. To know all that exists is to dwell in mystery. Pieper shows in this latter essay that revelation and philosophy needs each other. Together they are more fruitful, than apart. In addition, true lovers of wisdom will be open to wisdom wherever it is found. Pieper even argues that ancient philosophy was even preceded by theology as evidenced in the works of Plato.

Leisure the basis of culture requires repeated readings. Pieper has a genius for making difficult subjects plain. This edition of the book contains many of the reviews of the book when it was first published. It also includes an introduction by Roger Scruton. He says, "Pieper's book is also a feast. With astonishing brevity, he extracts from the idea of leisure not only a theory of culture and its significance, not only a natural theology for our disenchanted times, but also a philosophy of philosophy..."

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