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Culture and Education in Josef Pieper’s Thought

Culture And Education In Josef Pieper’s Thought

Josef Pieper is best known in this country for his work, Leisure as the Basis of Culture, and its companion essay, The Philosophical Act, published as one book in 1952. In this book, Pieper’s argument is seemingly straight-forward: culture depends upon leisure, and leisure, in its turn, depends upon the cult of divine worship. For Pieper, the cult is the ritual of public sacrifice that acts as the primary source of our independence and freedom, while culture is the natural goods of the world which belong to us but are beyond our immediate needs and wants. Leisure, as the basis of culture, is our fundamental relationship to reality as a type of “philosophical act” where we learn to see how worthy certain aspects of reality are and therefore require a celebration of them in divine worship. For Pieper, the highest relationship we can have with reality is one that is free of practical considerations, a philosophical theoria, and that can only be preserved within the sphere of leisure.

During Pieper’s time this understanding of leisure remains unchanged and has been pushed aside for one that sees it as a type of  recuperation or revitalization in the service of work, whether in its manual or intellectual form. Prior to Kant, intellectual activity was conceived as superior and different from manual labor, but now, because of the influence of Kant, it is seen like its manual counterpart as a type of work. Intellectual activity is a form of ratio: discursive, logical thought in search of abstractions, definitions, and conclusions. The receptive aspect of intellectual activity—contemplation, intuition, intellectus—has become lost in this reconeputalization of intellectual activity. While recognizing the role that ratio played in our understanding of reality, the ancients and medievals, such as Aristotle and Aquinas, also knew the importance that intellectus had in our comprehension of it.[i]

What these classical and Christian thinkers required for proper human flourishing was both ratio and intellectus. Knowledge is not possible without work (ratio) but it does not reside exclusively within the world of work: the fruits of ratio are a philosophical or spiritual knowledge of intellectual contemplation (intellectus). According to Pieper, the moderns make two mistakes in their conception of knowledge. On the one hand, some think of knowledge only as the product of ratio (e.g., Kant, Marx, Weber); while those, on the other hand, believe knowledge is simply passive and receptive in nature (e.g., romantics like Jacobi, Schlosser, and Stolberg). Genuine knowledge demands both ratio and intellectus, work and contemplation, in our understanding of reality.[ii]

Contrary to modern philosophers like Kant, Pieper assumes that our natural inclinations are ethical and moral. The good is not defined by difficulty itself. Although some work is required, the good will naturally reveals itself to us via. intellectus. “The essence of virtue consists in the good rather than in the difficult,” Pieper quotes Aquinas.[iii] For Pieper, “the essence of thought does not consist in the effort for which it calls, but in grasping existing things and in unveiling reality.”[iv] Instead of residing in a world of work, knowledge lies in a “world of play and grace.” This latter notion is particularly important to Christians (as Pieper was), for they conceive of reality as a gift given to us by God for our enjoyment and worship of Him.[v]

Thus Pieper rejects the epistemology claims of the moderns that knowledge is exclusively discursive thought and effort is the criterion of its truth: knowledge is both a product of discursive and contemplative thought and its criterion of truth is natural as opposed to effort or difficulty. Unfortunately for Pieper the claims of the moderns hold sway and have even spilled over into the social and political, where intellectual activity has become specialized and subordinated to the social and political demands of society. This new place of the intellectual life in society has particularly terrible consequences for education. Liberal education—an education concerned with knowledge apart from utilitarian ends—becomes transformed into a servile one. The idea that a sphere of human activity is allowed to exist and not justified by utilitarian goals becomes banished from the academy. All that is left is training and professionalization.[vi]

Now Pieper is not claiming that there is something inherently wrong with training and professionalization as a form of education; rather, he is arguing that such a servile education should not be the only one. He recognizes the place and importance that servile education plays in the world, unlike some who advocate liberal education as the only worthwhile education.[vii] Like ratio and intellectus with respect to knowledge, both servile and liberal educations are valuable to human and societal flourishing. What Pieper is concerned with is the privileging of the world of work and its servile education over all other forms of human activity. He wants to carve out a place for liberal education and intellectus in this world of work—a place of leisure.

Leisure is our ontological relationship to reality where we are at home with it physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is a receptive and silent attitude towards reality where we are content for reality to reveal itself to us; and it is a recognition of our incapacity to understand all of reality while, at the same time, we are confident in its the ebbs and flows. We are content participating in the mystery of reality without ever knowing it entirely. However, this is not to mistake leisure as merely a passive attitude towards reality, as we find in the Romantic thinkers; rather, it is a paradoxical relationship that is both active and passive simultaneously. We participate in reality as both active subjects and acted upon objects and use both our ratio and intellectus in our pursuit of genuine knowledge.[viii]

Pieper strikes a third path in approaching reality that avoids the subject-object approach of the world of work as well as the passive and receptive approach of the Romantics. In these two other approaches Pieper refers to them as acedia: a refusal to acquiesce in your own being and the world around you that manifests itself as restlessness and idleness. By contrast, leisure is celebratory in nature where our fundamental accord with the world is affirmed in a non-utilitarian way. For Pieper, religion is the great example where leisure takes place. Human values are preserved in religion because paradoxically the specifically human is left behind for celebration of the divine. The full enjoyment of leisure is both human and divine, as Pieper quotes Aristotle: “A man will live thus, not to the extent that he is a man, but to the extent that a divine principle dwells within him.”[ix]

The challenges to this conception of leisure during Pieper’s time were many, ranging from the ideas of humanism to the proletarian. What they have in common was their attachment to a process of work for simply utilitarian and often public ends. Pieper specially focuses on the communist states as illustrations of this world of work, but we could equally make the same charge against capitalist and free-market societies where all values are reduced to commodities and consumption. In both cases the individual and society becomes spiritually impoverished at the expense of either the state or the market. All conversations, thought, and discussion become aimed at utility as defined by the totalitarian forms of the state and marketplace.[x]

This “proletarianization” of society and its individual has its most adverse effect in education where the distinction between liberal education and servile education is abolished in favor of the latter. From the perspective of liberal education, work is to support leisure, such that a worker should receive a wage sufficient to support himself and his family, whereas, from the perspective of servile education, a worker is paid according to the work done and not according to his or her needs. The assumptions of the proponents of servile education make are that humans are only working creatures in the servile sense and that they will only become free by purely political (state) and/or economic (the market) measures.[xi]

This claim on humans by humans is flatly rejected by Pieper: humans are creatures built primarily for leisure and can only become truly free in the celebration of culture. This counter claim by Pieper is rooted in the classical-Christian tradition of western civilization where celebration is at the core of leisure and  is a form of divine worship (at least until the French Revolution and its advent of secular holidays). The act of divine worship includes a demarcation of space and time that is sacred and transcendent to human existence and demands a sacrifice of something that is freely-given to be used for a non-utilitarian end. By active participation in the sacrifice of the cult, members create a surplus of wealth that renews and bonds its members with themselves and the divine. This sphere of sacrifice is delineated by the sacred space and time what we now call holidays.[xii]

Leisure is impossible without the celebration of the cult. Cut off from this sphere, leisure becomes a type of acedia—a series of amusement to fill up the space of boredom—and work becomes inhumane and meaningless. A revitalization of both work and leisure requires divine worship and liberal education, although Pieper interestingly does not seem sanguine about liberal education as a remedy to counteract the prevailing thought of the world as work. What has transpired in education is that it has been cut off from its celebratory roots of divine worship, thereby becoming sterile, empty, and a plaything of intellectuals in their parlor games. Detached from its experiential origins, liberal education has transformed itself into matter of good form with appeals that fall upon the deaf ears of both students and teachers and thus lacks the capacity to renew both individuals and society.[xiii]

Instead of revitalizing liberal education, Pieper seems to call for a return to religion as the way to rejuvenate society; or, to put it more broadly, a new understanding and approach to reality that recognizes the need of celebratory worship of the divine in our culture (of course, the revitalization of religion, or more broadly culture, does not mean we cannot return a liberal education at the same time, too). It is important to note that Pieper is not calling for a conservative sentimentality that seeks to revive some antiquated cult or the liberal eagerness in creating a new religion. Because divine worship is fore-ordained in the sense that we are heirs of a civilization, whether we wish it or not, we must use the tradition that we have inherited to renew our culture. For those who live in the West, divine worship has been traditionally in the form of Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism. This is a historical given that one must accept regardless of his or her religious beliefs or lack thereof.[xiv]

For Pieper, the Christian cult is unique in that it is both “a sacrifice and a sacrament”: it is a sacrifice of the God-man in the feast days, which is every day, and it is a sacrament because it is celebrated in visible signs.[xv] Both of these components of Christianity permit humans to access transcendental reality through a visible medium, such as the Incarnation. The Christian celebration therefore draws us out of the world of work into the world of culture where we are no longer at the center of creation. The cult re-orients our attitudes toward the world where we learn about a reality that is apart from us but is inherently worthwhile and therefore demands celebration. Such is the life of philosophy.

*  *  *

Philosophy and work, therefore, are incommensurable acts: the former is for freedom; the latter is for the satisfaction of physical needs. Like religion or aesthetics, philosophy is an approach to reality that seeks to step outside the world of work in order to understand and enjoy reality as it reveals itself to us.[xvi] For Pieper, this act is characterized by the enthusiasm of the quest, especially found among the young, and the freedom of the liberal art. In fact, philosophy has been regarded as the freest of the liberal arts because it is the farthest removed from utilitarian concerns. As the most theoretical of disciplines, philosophy looks at reality purely receptively, i.e., completely untouched by practical concerns, and becomes integrated into the common good of society as one that contemplates the truth, the beautiful, and the good.[xvii]

But prior to the practice of philosophy is an approach or attitude towards reality that assumes a certain ontology. For Pieper, these assumptions were that reality was transcendent as well as material and created by God. Without these assumptions, the freedom to philosophize and philosophy itself cannot exist. Once reality is perceived merely as the raw, uncreated material of human activity, theory becomes loss, and with it, the loss of the freedom to philosophize: it becomes merely one function among many in society. We see this occur in modern philosophy, where knowledge is equated with power in its desire to replace theory and contemplation with mastery and ownership of reality. The transformation of philosophy into its spurious form is fundamentally a change in attitude towards reality where we no longer wish to participate in it but rather dominate and master it for our rational and utilitarian ends.[xviii]

It is important to note that for Pieper, philosophy still belongs to the world of work in the sense that it does not abolish this reality and becomes a type of philosophical abstraction, such as we see in idealism. Reality is both the world of work and the world of theory. But of what does this world consist? For Pieper, this world is first characterized by a field of relations among the objects that sit within it. The world has “a dynamic center from which all activity proceed and to which everything in the nature of experience is referred.”[xix] In other words, reality is not a piece of objective datum that can be observed from a vantage point outside of reality; rather, reality is a participatory or relational process in which living beings exist.[xx]

The second characteristic of the world that Pieper notes is “the higher the order of a being, the more embracing and wider its power of establishing relations—the greater the field of relations within its powerthe higher a being stands in the order of reality, in the hierarchic order of being, the wider and deeper its world.”[xxi] Beginning at the bottom of this hierarchic order, Pieper lists the physical (no relations) and then moves on to the vegetative (nutrition, growth, and touch), the animal (senses and awareness), and the human (spiritual knowledge). What Pieper means by spiritual knowledge is our capacity for establishing relations with the whole of reality and being able to transcend all these relations such that we can relate or identify with the totality of being itself. With our capacity of both ratio and intellectus, we are able to know ourselves in relation to every aspect of reality and to the whole of reality itself.[xxii]

The third characteristic of our relationship to reality is the greater capacity to establish relations with the world, the greater the degree of “inwardness” of the participant. The more power we have to establish relations with the world, the more rooted within ourselves we must be in order to counterbalance our steps outside ourselves. This dynamic relationship between the external relations with the world and internal subjectivity constitutes spiritual knowledge where we can know the whole of reality while, at the same time, maintaining our independence and freedom from it. Our relationship with reality neither reduces itself to a subjectivity of its own nor becomes simply a type of materialism apart from us: we are both a part and apart from the reality in which we exist and understand.[xxiii]

For Pieper, human nature is one that constitutes of all aspects of reality, from the physical to the spiritual, with every aspect important to the constitution of the person. It is a mistake to think of the spirit as the essential aspect of humankind, for, as Pieper quotes Aquinas again, “The soul united to the body is more like God than the soul separated from the body because it possesses its own nature more perfectly.”[xxiv] We are both body and soul that exists as an integral whole. Although the spiritual informs the physical aspects of our existence, we require both in order to participate and to understand a multi-faceted reality. In order for us to know the physical, the vegetative, the animal, and the spiritual in reality, we, too, must be all of these, for only like can only know ontological like.[xxv]

Because of our capacity to know reality both in its parts and as a whole, we come to the recognition that it is a created entity. This notion of creation is critical for Pieper: both we and reality are created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally-good God. We do not exist in an abstract reality but in one that is created—concrete, and specific—with our teleological end to become similar to the divine. We have a specific relationship with reality, whether it is with a plant or our Creator. And because the Creator is morally good, the reality in which He created is likewise as good as it is true; thus, making reality a type of gift from God. We and our existence are a form of Grace that is both good and true.[xxvi]

Philosophy, therefore, is the contemplation of the essence of reality. It is to withdraw from currently accepted meaning attached to everyday life and question the value placed upon it. Reality itself does not change, only our relationship to it does, where we now perceive reality as something strange, new, or wondrous. It is this sense of wonder that dislocates us in our place in reality and becomes the starting point of philosophy. For Pieper, wonder has two components that guide us towards the philosophical life: our recognition of our own ignorance within the world in which we live, and our desire to remedy this condition in our search for knowledge. Wonder is the lasting source of philosophy that propels us to step outside of ourselves and into the world of the good and the true.[xxvii]

It is this second aspect of wonder, hope, which distinguishes philosophy from science. The latter assumes in principle that all questions will eventually be answered; the former does not. Philosophy demands we know the essence of things which ultimately cannot be known. This quest can become one of despair unless we have the virtues of hope and humility to accompany us, since philosophy, when compared to science, cannot claim to be a superior form of knowledge. In fact, this is the error of modern philosophy which has abandoned hope and humility for the pursuit of scientific certainty. By modeling itself after the sciences, modern philosophy seeks answers to questions that in principle can never be answered. The result is a morose mood of doubt and despair instead of joy and delight in its quest for answers. It is the pride of the modern philosopher who banishes wonder from his realm as he or she transforms philosophy from the search for wisdom to the mastery of knowledge.[xxviii]

For classical and medieval philosophers, neither wisdom nor knowledge was something we could ever possess, for both wisdom and knowledge, as the complete comprehension of an entity’s essence, areimpossible. The result of this incomplete condition is that we seek knowledge and wisdom for their own sakes; and because we will never be satisfied in our quest, we paradoxically will continue to find a reason to live. It is our inability to become satisfied that makes the virtues of hope and humility possible in the first place. As creatures constructed on the condition of hope, we seek things for their own sake but, by never reaching them, we continue to have a reason to exist in our search for knowledge and wisdom.[xxix]

According to Pieper, philosophy is the search not for any one type of wisdom but one that is possessed by God. Contrary to modern philosophy, Pieper argues that the direction of philosophy is toward theology as we find in the classical and Christian tradition, although philosophy should never become a theology itself. We seek the wisdom of God because, as the Creator of reality, His knowledge is comprehensive of all of reality’s essence. Philosophy seeks to understand reality from this single principle even though it will never succeed (unless humans are turned into gods). This does not mean that we will not be able to glean any wisdom or knowledge from philosophy—some of it may be on loan to us from the divine—but we will never believe, as some modern philosophers claim, that we will possess a comprehensive account of all of reality. Instead of pride and despair, we should follow the tradition of the ancients in humility and hope in our philosophical quest.[xxx]

This tradition started from time immemorial and was first articulated in the West by Plato and Aristotle. Both of these thinkers spoke of ideas and doctrines handed down to them from their forebears as part of tradition. Unlike modern philosophy, with its narrative of progress and rationality, classical and medieval philosophy was part of and was preceded by a tradition of divine origins. Philosophy emerged from this tradition of theology and consequently came after theology: it seeks to understand the reality created by a God as accounted for and by theology. Although the two disciplines are intimately bound with each other, they are separate and different in function. The theologian is to preserve, defend, and clarify tradition; the philosopher seeks knowledge that will be demonstrable of things in and of themselves. One is concerned with the preservation of the given; the other with how we experience and understand it.[xxxi]

To be a philosopher does not mean one has to be a Christian, accept the Christian tradition, or believe that Christian philosophy is the only philosophy; but, it does mean that “Christianity can only be replaced or supplanted, in this respect, by another belief.”[xxxii] In this sense, theology must still be recognized whether one works within that tradition or against it, as we find in modern philosophy. When philosophy is cut off entirely from theology, it becomes specialized and shriveled-up, even among those who are purportedly Christian philosophers. The popularity of postmodern thinkers like Heidegger and Derrida is that their challenging questions come from a theological source: What is purpose of existence? What is the nature of reality? What something as opposed to nothing? Theology for Pieper, therefore, is not a tradition passed down that is studied dispassionately but it is how we encounter reality in a meaningful and experiential way. It is the questioning of who we are, our place in the world, and the world itself as related to divinity itself. All philosophy, Christian or otherwise, is characterized by this constant questioning as started from wonder and as shaped by hope.[xxxiii]

The only possible advantage that Christian philosophy possesses over its rivals is the possibility that it sees a greater truth about reality—that the real character of reality is mysterious: “And this is the claim of Christian philosophy: to be truer—in its very recognition of the mysterious character of the world.”[xxxiv] For the Christian, the role of faith hinders the desire for a clear and transparent account of reality because it widens the horizons of reality of which he or she studies. To account for a reality with the divine is a more difficult task than to account for a reality without one. Philosophy is more complicated for the Christian because its range of study is wider. For the Christian, this does not make philosophy a tragic enterprise but rather a comedic one because philosophy is structured by the virtue of hope rather than certainty in its quest to understand the world.[xxxv]

Christian philosophy is enriched by incorporating both reason and revelation into its account. Its power resides in its willing to expand and complicate the horizon of study as something ultimately mysterious; and its attraction rests in the fact that it is not necessary for Christian salvation. Philosophy is a type of gift given to us: it “is as necessary and as superfluous as the natural perfection of the human being.”[xxxvi] Although we have a natural inclination to philosophize, we are not required to do so for Christian salvation. Philosophy is a type of gift or loan to us from tradition and the divine. The fact that we need it for human perfection but not for Christian salvation is one of the great paradoxes and mysteries of Christian reality.

According to Pieper, Christian philosophy rejects the doctrines, dogmas, and ready-made answers of theology, for Christianity is essentially a reality. The problem of a Christian philosophy therefore does not:

“. . . lie in harmonizing natural and supernatural knowledge theoretically; nor does it consist in the choice of method to be adopted to that end. The point is that a man’s existence should be so deeply rooted in the Christian reality, that his philosophy, too, should become, as a result, Christian.”[xxxvii]

To become a Christian is to change ontologically in the sense we are open to more aspects of reality than before. The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ are not dogma to be learned and recited but are part of an existential reality to which we become and relate. It is knowledge per connaturalitatem (participatory knowledge) as opposed to per cognitionem (conceptual knowledge). It is to accept the mysteries and paradoxes and reality as they reveal themselves to us.

Pieper’s conception of Christian philosophy is one that recognizes philosophy as a type of gift from God to us in order to perfect but necessarily to save our nature. By expanding the horizons of our study, to incorporate the divine into our account of reality, we have complicated our task to know the world; and, yet, we are hopeful that we will succeed. To practice Christian philosophy therefore is first to recognize our relationship to reality as both participatory and conceptual and allow reality to reveal itself to us in all of its aspects: human, divine, and other. Once we see reality in all its features, we will realize that Christian philosophy provides us a way to understand it and our place within it.

*  *  *

This particular conception of Christian philosophy leads to a particular conception of the education that is liberal in nature. By liberal, we mean an education with a view to the whole of life that is non-utilitarian so that that we realize our intellectual and spiritual nature. Unlike vocational education, which seeks to fit students into a particular function in the economy, liberal education lasts an entire person’s lifetime. The liberally educated person does not become obsolete as certain training and technology becomes less valuable over time. The benefits of liberal education continue to accrue throughout one’s lifetime as long as one lives a life of leisure.

Leisure is the philosophical act that provides us the opportunity to learn. As Aristotle states:

“Nature herself, as has often been said, requires that we should be able not only to work well, but to use leisure well; for, as I must repeat once and again, the first principle of all action is leisure . . . It is clear, then, that there are branches of learning and education which we must study with a view to the enjoyment of leisure, and these are to be valued for their own sake.”[xxxviii]

To enjoy leisure properly is to become liberally educated: to study things for their own sake. Liberal education therefore is not definable in terms of a particular subject; rather, it is an approach to learning—and more broadly an approach to reality—that defines liberal education. Whether we study something for its own sake or for utilitarian ends, whether we begin from a place of wonder or from doubt, whether we end in hope or despair determines the character of the education we pursue.

Now to study something for its own sake means to study something as it reveals itself to us as we participate in the process of learning. The end of liberal education is not utility, be it economic, political, or even pedagogical. The purpose of liberal education is to engage in the philosophical act as we participate in a reality about which we contemplate. It is not the mastery and transmission of particular bodies of knowledge.  Knowledge is a byproduct rather than the objective of liberal education. Learning becomes derailed when pedantic know-it-alls are produced rather than eager students open to the mysteries of reality or when the outcomes of education are to be assessed mathematically rather than evaluated prudentially. The pedantic approach to education seeks a mastery of material instead of an openness to an unending process.

The aim of liberal education is to transform the mind and character of the student so he or she will become a different type of individual who will be able to bring insight that draws from various disciplines to particular complex issues and exercise prudential judgment as a person and as a citizen. However, a liberal education is not enough to transform the entire person, as Pieper recognizes. Education by itself cannot be the means for moral improvement; rather, culture, of which education is a part, is the mode to improve our character. For Pieper, culture as rooted in divine worship was not only the foundation of western civilization but the means by which we cultivate and educate our young. To change our culture is to change our children’s education.

There are several obstacles in contemporary culture that impede the cultivation of character and liberal education. I only want to sketch out a few of them which I think are the most important. The first is the political community. Although Aristotle argued for an education that studies things for their own ends, he also recognized the demands of the state:

“Of all things I have mentioned, that which most contributes to the permanence of constitutions is the adaptation of education to the form of government . . . No one will doubt that the legislator should direct his attention above all to the education ofyouth, or that the neglect of education does harm to the states. The citizen should be shaped to suit the form of government under which he lives.”[xxxix]

Education has a two-folded purpose: the pursuit of learning and the pursuit of political ends. The desire to know and the call of citizenship are not necessarily identical. Citizenship education is not necessarily the same as liberal education.

This matter becomes even more complicated when the state involves itself in the education of its young. On the one hand, the state has a legitimate concern to make sure its children are suited for its political life, otherwise chaos and strife will result; on the other hand, a state educational system may churn out loyal but illiberal citizens. The demands of the political community are inexorable, but so are the demands of liberal education. It is important to recognize the tension between the exigencies of the state and the self-sustaining life of liberal education. Both sides have legitimate claims to the life of the person: the existence of the state with its citizens is as important as a commitment to a life of leisure. Whether and how this conflict can be resolved is one of the great themes and obstacles in liberal education.

If the political demands of the state are as old as classical antiquity, then the lure of the marketplace is as new as mass education. Although servile education has always existed as a competitor to its liberal counterpart since time immemorial, it has acquired a novel form that makes it more insidious and dangerous. As universities have expanded into small city-states to meet the demands of the marketplace and politics, the conditions for liberal learning have become lost. The ideal setting for learning is the seminar, with a few students and a teacher where spontaneous questions and answers can arise. This environment has been replaced with the mass lecture hall or online technology because these are most efficient and effective methods to reach students, i.e., profitable to the university. The notion that a university would deliberately downsize is probably unthinkable to most people in higher education.

To compound this problem, teachers at some institutions are not encouraged to teach but instead are instructed and incentivized to engage in scholarship and grant-seeking. The result is that students are no longer seen as people to whom a tradition is passed down but, at best, consumers of courses and, at worst, nuisances that gobble up valuable research time. The research ideal has become the preeminent paradigm of the leisurely life because the production of scholarship is akin to the production of work from other professions in the marketplace. Whereas the evaluation of teaching is ultimately subjective and therefore one can never come to agreement about it, scholarship gives the appearance of objectivity because it is quantifiable. Like hours billed, scholarship becomes the justification of teachers’ existence.

The need for universities to justify themselves not only to the state but to society requires the implementation of the marketplace ideology in the university. Activities that once had a human dimension are reduced to cost-benefit and efficiency-production analyses in order to justify themselves to various administrators and eventually to society itself. Teaching is no longer conceived as a mentorship and initiation into a tradition but as a process that can be measured and manipulated for certain outcomes that are mathematically-defined; and scholarship, as previously said, becomes a form of productive work instead of contemplative assent. The institutionalization of the marketplace ideology in the university has redirected the life of leisure to the world of work.

This is not to deny the importance of institutionalization, for learning itself requires a discipline and orderly procedure. Human beings, by nature social and rational, require the order of rules and regulations, such as class schedule, curriculum changes, and the conferring of degrees. But when the institutional character of learning prevails, especially when paired with an ideology of the market, then the aims of liberal education become loss, even if those other objectives are worthwhile. When the university arranges itself for the production of research, the highest student enrollment, and the mathematical and uniform assessment of learning outcomes, we know that the spontaneity of wonderment, which is the starting point of all genuine learning, is shoved aside and subordinated to these other concerns.

Part of the impetus to institutionalize education is that we are heirs to a long and deep intellectual tradition. We are often rightly proud of this tradition, even when there are aspects of it that we are opposed to, but we must learn it anew in the form of a tradition handed down to us. Unlike other animals with their instinctual knowledge, we must learn from the beginning. This tradition, therefore, has to be classified and organized to make learning it more effective and efficient. Although this is required for learning, it can also lead to a fossilization of our knowledge where we can know a tradition but not learn it. We see this happen in the great intellectual revolutions in the West, where medieval philosophy, becoming petrified to the point of talking about angels on a pin head, is replaced with the Enlightenment and its then contemporary concerns of tolerance, representation, and commerce. As we should guard against the over-institutionalized university life, we should also be wary of the fossilization of our tradition.

These are the obstacles that confront us in reclaiming the life of leisure and, more specifically, a renewal in Christian philosophy. For Pieper during his time, Christian philosophy was not a tradition known but not learned: it was not a collection of doctrines, dogma, and ready-made answers (although these things have a role in the Christian life). Christian philosophy was a specific reality rooted in a specific culture—a culture that was characterized by leisure. What we see in Pieper is the attempt to renew our culture that blows away the fossilization and institutionalization of learning and challenges the marketplace and state in defining what it means to be human. Pieper in essence is calling us to renew the world as it is: to readjust our relationship to reality so we know how to live the life of leisure. It is simply to see the world both liberally and philosophically such that we can participate in the divine wisdom of reality as started by wonder and ended by hope.



[i] Pieper, Josef. Leisure as the Basis of Culture (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1952), 6-10.

[ii] Ibid., 8, 11.

[iii] Ibid., 14.

[iv] Ibid., 15.

[v] Ibid., 16-17.

[vi] Ibid., 17-20, 31.

[vii] An example of this type of thinking, with an argument opposed to it, can be found in Crawford. Shop Class as Soulcraft (New York: Penguin Groups, 2009).

[viii] Pieper. Leisure, 26-30.

[ix] Ibid., 32; 23-26, 29-32.

[x] Ibid., 33-40.

[xi] Ibid, 41-44.

[xii] Ibid., 44-47.

[xiii] Ibid., 48-50.

[xiv] Ibid., 50-52.

[xv] Ibid., 52.

[xvi] Ibid., 63-66.

[xvii] Ibid., 72-77.

[xviii] Ibid., 77-80; 78-79, 69-71.

[xix] Ibid., 82.

[xx] Ibid., 82-83.

[xxi] Ibid., 83.

[xxii] Ibid., 83-87.

[xxiii] Ibid., 90-91.

[xxiv] Quoted in Ibid., 93.

[xxv] Ibid., 93-94.

[xxvi] Ibid., 88-89.

[xxvii] Ibid., 95-97, 100-107.

[xxviii] Ibid., 109-111, 104-105.

[xxix] Ibid., 110-113.

[xxx] Ibid., 113-116.

[xxxi] Ibid., 118-123.

[xxxii] Ibid., 124.

[xxxiii] Ibid., 124-126.

[xxxiv] Ibid., 128.

[xxxv] Ibid., 128-130.

[xxxvi] Ibid., 132.

[xxxvii] Ibid., 133; also see 128.

[xxxviii] Aristotle, Politics, VIII.3.

[xxxix] Ibid., V.9; VIII.1.


This excerpt is from The Democratic Discourse of Liberal Education, Lee Trepanier, ed. (Southern Utah University Press, 2009).

Lee TrepanierLee Trepanier

Lee Trepanier

Lee Trepanier is a Professor of Political Science at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He is author and editor of several books and also is the editor of VoegelinView (2016-present) and editor of Lexington Books series Politics, Literature, and Film (2013-present).

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