Josef Pieper: Leisure, the Basis of Culture

Readers of my previous writing project may recognize this essay- it is about one of my favorite philosophical books. As I have recently shut down my old site I am in the process of migrating a few essays that seem to fit A Certain Quality of Life. If you have read this before, I apologize, if you have not, I hope you find it useful.

Josef Pieper (1904-1997) was a German Catholic philosopher, who helped popularize Neo-Thomistic philosophy in the twentieth century. His writings are rooted in the works of Thomas Aquinas as well as Aristotle and Plato. Pieper sought to explain and defend the wisdom tradition of the West and his short and powerful Leisure, the Basis of Culture was one of his most notable works.

Pieper’s Definition of Leisure
Pieper attempts to reintroduce the modern reader to the still important Platonic understanding of the value of philosophical work, and the sagacity of the Thomistic understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology. He does this through two complimentary essays, Leisure and The Philosophical Work. Read together, these works explain that in order for man to reach his full potential, he needs to look beyond the world of servile, or useful, work and include philosophical work, or liberal arts, into his everyday life.

In 1952, when this book was first published the idea that one either lives to work, or works to live was teetering close to “work” being the point of existence. Nearly 60 years later, if we haven’t fallen off that precipice entirely, we are surely hanging on by our fingernails. What Pieper posits is that mankind is becoming a slave to the idea that only work that is hard, or servile in the social sense, is to be valued.

Leisure’s Importance in the 21st Century
We, in the early twenty first century, are losing our ability to do true philosophical work that is more contemplative, or receptive, in nature. The worship of progress for progress’ sake, the praise of mindless know-how, and education as training, not knowledge-seeking, all point to our drift toward the slave society where we are all defined as our function towards the common society as a whole.

Western culture has an outlook of the world as total work; of work-for-work’s sake. We seem to have internalized the protestant work ethic to such an extent that we threaten to lose our souls, in both a cultural and personal sense. Pieper claims that while we all must live in the work-a-day world we also need space in our lives to contemplate the infinite.

The idea of leisure is the antidote to our work-for-work’s-sake lives. Since man is made for union with God, human work is not separate from this end. Today, the work of man is an end in itself. Pieper shows how this is a reorientation from the classical world view which viewed both useful work and philosophical work as vitally important to the full development of man.

According to Pieper the one way for man to regain the original western tradition begun by Plato and continued by the Medieval masters is to re-marry philosophy to theology. He believes that it is through religious sacrifice in its truest sense that we can realize the kind of philosophical work that is not readily useful in the work-a-day world, but that is eminently useful for our cultural and spiritual survival.

 “Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with divine worship.”

Doing Virtuous Business by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch

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Capital. It is a loaded word. It most commonly refers to monetary resources, but more and more we hear about the term social capital in regards to business. How much clout does a given professional or organization have in terms of its connections within and between social networks. Malloch brings in a third dimension to the concept of capital: Spiritual Capital.

Doing Virtuous Business explains how the most successful businesses tend to have a grounding in spiritual principles. This leads to both financial reward as well as societal betterment.  Malloch is a devout Christian, and his ideas around spiritual capital are strongly influence by Christian principles. The four cardinal virtues play an important role in his analysis. However, his points are valid beyond any religious dimension.

The book is written in a fairly scholarly fashion and as such is not one that can be easily skimmed. His many references to such esteemed thinkers as Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas require a fair degree of thought and “unpacking.” However, the reward is well worth the effort, as Malloch shows how strongly held principles can lead to even stronger organizations.

While this book is quite spiritual in nature it is also a strong apologetic for capitalism in an age where the very foundations of capitalism seem to be shaking. He shows how it is not “big business” that is the enemy of social justice. We simply need business to be better informed by virtuous principles.

Doing Virtuous Business uses real world examples from such well known institutions as Wal-Mart, IBM, Chicken-Fill-A  and Habitat for Humanity, to show how companies that operate according to the virtues of Justice, Fortitude, Prudence (what Malloch terms “Practical Wisdom”) and Moderation have outperformed their competitors. Overall, the book is an excellent read for those in leadership roles within any size organization. The foundational value of creating spiritual capital is beneficial to all.

Check out this interesting book at Thomas Nelson Publishing. Disclosure of Material Connection: I  received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Supposedly, we learn more from our failures than from our successes. 
I certainly hope so.
One step forward…
The purpose of this writing project is to chart my own personal journey in trying to live a life according to the classical virtues of Justice, Fortitude, Prudence and Moderation. My ultimate hope is that others will be motivated to do the same. Since beginning this project I have come to appreciate how paying attention to these virtues can be a real source of strength in my daily life. But the road is not an easy one. If I am going to do this properly I am going to need to be brutally honest in chronicling not just my successes, but also my failures. 
Two steps back…
Today I willingly kicked Fortitude & Justice to the curb. I knew there was something I should do today, but I just didn’t want to. It was something I was uncomfortable with, even though it was clearly “the right thing to do.” I am not the most outgoing guy and today’s opportunity would have required me to go out of my comfort zone. I let my discomfort rule over my sense of both Justice and Fortitude. And now I feel lousy. I think in retrospect my guilt feels worse than the discomfort would have had I gone through with today’s chore. I suppose that is something to remember. But right now it doesn’t help all that much.
I remember reading somewhere that once you start eating better, that when you cheat, and eat junk it tends to make you feel worse than it did before you were eating healthy. I think the same principle applies here. Before I started seriously evaluating my daily activities in light of the classical virtues I doubt whether today’s missed opportunity would have left much of an impression on my psyche. 
Progress? In a way, I guess it is. But I’ll tell you one thing. Next time I feel anxiety pushing me away from a task I know I should do, I will work harder to push it aside. One step forward…