Book Notes: Leisure-The Basis of Culture, II

This section was long and what I am going to write here will definitely not be a summary, but rather some thoughts on a few points.

“Intellectual activity used always to be considered a privileged sphere, and from the standpoint of the manual worker especially, appeared to be a sphere in which one did not need to work.”

(Pieper, 25)

I have this attitude now. It’s why, when I am trying to avoid unnecessary work on Sundays, I save intellectual activity for then. I don’t consider it work. It’s fun. It’s relaxing and it does feel like a privilege. Sometimes, I try to squeeze a little of it in during the week too.

“Only those arts are called liberal or free which are concerned with knowledge; those which are concerned with utilitarian ends that are attained through activity, however, are called servile.”

(Aquinas, 37)

I went to a liberal arts college. I changed my major a number of times. I was a foreign languages major, an English major, a math major… I was indecisive. I remember talking with my parents when I was considering majoring in art history, and it was not encouraged. What was I going to do with that? They suggested accounting. I could get a job right away. The world always needed accountants. True, but I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day.

I think I was majoring in philosophy when I dropped out of college and became a factory worker. I worked nights. The good thing about it was that there were not a lot of people around, so it was quiet. I fondly remember the hum of the injection mold machines. It was a good atmosphere for thinking, and I could read books one sentence at a time in between doing my work. Or I could read on my breaks. So, for me, there has always been a distinction between work and intellectual activity. I wonder if that would have been different if I had been paid to read, think, or study.

“We are not simply to devote ourselves to politics and economics or to making a living, however valid these are in their own spheres. Pieper is quite aware of these things as elements in human life. But he recognizes that when everything human is defined in terms of utility or pleasure, the enterprise of knowing what we are loses its centrality in our lives.”

(James V. Schall, S.J., 11)

I included this quote from the foreword because I think it summarizes for me what Pieper is aiming at in this section. He seems very concerned with our world of “total work” and especially that the once privileged “liberal arts” are being called “intellectual work.” He goes into detail about how we acquire knowledge. He says that Kant claimed it’s from our effort alone. My own experience leads me to agree with Pieper and the ancients, that sometimes knowledge can be received without effort. He goes further to say that without this belief, we’d be ruling out things inspired and given to us. Knowledge would be the fruit of our own unaided activity. AS IF!!!

“… can a full human existence be contained within an exclusively workaday existence?”

(Pieper, 39)

Or can a man be a worker and nothing else? To be continued…

Book Notes: Leisure-The Basis of Culture, I

I’ll admit I chose this book because I thought it would give arguments for ideas with which I already agree. I thought it would convince me of how important it is that I make time for leisure. I’m talking about leisure in the Greek sense. Making it a priority to appreciate things of beauty, to contemplate… Not being a busy little bee all the time – full of ceaseless activity. My motivation in reading this book was to increase my knowledge, awareness, and conviction… and to hopefully act in accordance with these beliefs. After reading section I, my new hope is that it will not be too difficult to understand.

This book contains two parts: “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” and “The Philosophical Act.” According to the writer of the foreword, these were essays given by Josef Pieper in 1947.

This is my super-simplified synopsis of section I of the first essay:

People nowadays have very different values from people in the past. Also, the meanings of words have changed. On the surface it looks like today’s concepts of work and leisure are very different from the Greeks, the Romans, the people in the Middle Ages, and even the people living in 1947; but there is a deeper (not so obvious) change that I’m sure will be discussed in later sections. It is a changing view of our nature and the meaning of human existence.

Whoa! Hang on… I wasn’t expecting all of THAT! I guess I was kind of distracted when I started reading this in the summer.

So rather than getting “Ten Tips of How to Make Sunday a Day of Rest,” (Yes, I am too hooked on YouTube.) I may be diving into the deep end. (Picture me tapping my temple with my index finger à la Pooh Bear, saying… Think, Think, Think…)

“We are unleisurely in order to have leisure.” (20)

This is what Aristotle said. And to the Greeks, leisure was something much more than it means today. It wasn’t simply a little free time from the work that takes up most of your life. The author states that it is closely linked to the Christian and Western conception of the contemplative life. And he points out that the distinction between the “liberal arts” and “servile work” came from this notion of leisure. I found it interesting that he was certain that everyone was familiar with “servile work” at least, because they speak of it as unsuitable on Sundays and holidays. Not in 2023!

One last point: if we are to uncover what brought about this big change, looking at it only historically isn’t gonna cut it. We’re gonna get to the root of the problem. I’ll be interested to see where and how this goes.