Laziness and Inhumanity

“Eight hours for work; eight hours for rest; eight hours for what we will!” So said a slogan frequently repeated by 19th century advocates of workers’ rights. Many of these activists dreamed that someday it would be possible, in the words of Karl Marx, “to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, … without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.”[1] The results, however, have been quite different from what these dreamers imagined. A survey of American time use by the U.S. Department of Labor in June of this year claimed that the average working American spent more than five hours a day in “leisure activity.”[2] This seems like cause for the advocates of workers’ rights to celebrate, until the use of that “leisure” time is examined in greater detail. According to the study, “watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day), accounting for more than half of leisure time, on average, for those age 15 and over.” The next most common “leisure activity,” which the study describes as “socializing,” the act of communing with other human beings, clocked in at a mere 43 minutes a day for the average American. Of course, this use of so-called “leisure” time as an escape seems almost forgivable when confronted with the abysmally small number of people (13%) in almost any industrialized nation who report feeling “engaged” and having a “passion for their work.”[3] The words of Josef Pieper provide a succinct evaluation of the current state of work and leisure in the United States: “Cut off from the worship of the divine, leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”[4]

The removal of a central axis from man’s life, in both his work and his leisure, has resulted in a hatred of work and a desultory and escapist approach to time that should properly be spent in leisure. In the same work, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Pieper argues that “celebration is the core of leisure” and that the only available “basis” for authentic leisure is “divine worship.”[5] Elsewhere, he draws upon the imagery of God’s creation of the world in six days followed by his seventh day rest as depicted in the opening of the Book of Genesis. In his In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, Pieper avers that “the Seventh Day commemorates not only the completion of the divine work, but also the divine assent to Creation.”[6] A restoration of authentic leisure, which leads as well to a restoration of an authentic orientation toward work by man, is a reorientation to what the 4th century Church Father St. Gregory of Nyssa described as the very purpose for which man was first created; God “thus manifests man in the world,” he says, “to be the beholder of some of the wonders therein, and the lord of others; that by his enjoyment he might have knowledge of the Giver.”[7]


[1] Karl Marx, The German Ideology, Vol. 1, Part 1.

[2] “American Time Use Survey Summary.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. June 18, 2014. Accessed October 26, 2014.

[3] Susan Adams, “Unhappy Employees Outnumber Happy Ones By Two To One Worldwide,” Forbes. October 10, 2013. Accessed October 26, 2014.

[4] Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 68.

[5] Ibid. 65.

[6] Josef Pieper, In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 1999), 47.

[7] Gregory of Nyssa, “On the Making of Man,” 2.2.


Book Review: In Tune with the World by Josef Pieper

In this short book, Pieper provides, as the subtitle puts it, “a theory of festivity.” At the heart of his thesis is the claim that festivity is a wholehearted affirmation of what is. Festivity is, in its essence, an outburst of the affirmation pronounced by the Creator upon his creation at the dawn of existence: that it is καλόν — good and beautiful in every way.

Pieper begins by tracing the origins of the festival in its earliest forms, both among primitive peoples and in its classical developments. He also traces its origins within Christianity. In this study, Pieper concludes that modern man is, to a great extent, unable to experience the true spirit of festivity. He cannot bring himself to an unequivocal affirmation of being itself, the necessary prerequisite to festivity.

Because of this, modern man has had to invent various pseudo-festivals. Pieper discusses at some length the pseudo-festivities of Revolutionary France and of the various totalitarian states of the twentieth century. In these, as in the commercialist “holidays” of the liberal West, Pieper finds a distinctly un-festive spirit. These are not, as the festival is, the joyous movement of exaltation within and thanksgiving for a freely given gift, but rather a forced concoction, an imposition of the man-made upon man.

In all of this, Pieper offers a cogent reminder that the way of being for which man was made is one of joyous affirmation of the cosmos. Without this — without festivity — man is not man.

Man’s environmental limitations

Animals are perfectly adapted to their sharply defined and delimited environment — perfectly adapted to it, but equally, imprisoned within it, so that they cannot overstep the frontier in any way whatsoever: they cannot even find an object though armed with senses that are apparently well adapted to the purpose, unless, that is, the object fits completely into their selected, partial world. This selected reality, selected by the biological necessities either of the individual or the genus or species, so limited and sharply define, is what Uexküll calls Umvelt: “environment” in contrast to “surroundings” and in contrast to “world”, as appeared from the subsequent discussion of the question. An animal’s field of relationships is not its “surroundings” and certainly not “the world”. Its field of relationships is a very clearly delimited “environment”: a world from which something has been omitted, in which its inmate is enclosed and to which it is, at the same time, perfectly adapted.

All this may seem, at first sight, somewhat distant from the theme with which we began: “What do we mean by philosophizing?” But it is not simply a digression. We had reached the point of asking about man’s world, and that is where Uexküll’s conception of “environment” is relevant — for (according to Uexküll) our human world “cannot claim to be any more real than the animal’s world”; man, then, is limited by his environment in exactly the same way as an animal, that is to say, he is limited to a selected environment assembled, as it were, by natural selection and biological necessity; he is incapable of apprehending anything and, even though searching for it, of finding anything outside his environment — like the crow that cannot find a motionless grasshopper. (The question does arise, however, as to how a creature limited to its own environment and imprisoned so effectively within it could study the theory of environment.)

Josef Pieper, “The Philosophical Act”

Capacity for leisure

Leisure is not the attitude of mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves — almost like a man falling asleep, for one can only fall asleep by “letting oneself go”. Sleeplessness and the incapacity for leisure are really related to one another in a special sense, and a man at leisure is not unlike a man asleep. Heraclitus the Obscure observed of men who were asleep that they too “were busy and active in the happenings of the world.” When we really let our minds rest contemplatively on a rose in bud, on a child at play, on a divine mystery, we are rested and quickened as though by a dreamless sleep. Or as the Book of Job says, “God giveth songs in he night” (Job 35:10). Moreover, it has always been a pious belief that God sends his good gifts and his blessing in sleep. And in the same way his great, imperishable intuitions visit a man in his moments of leisure. It is in these silent and receptive moments that the soul of man is sometimes visited by an awareness of what holds the world together:

                      vas die Welt
Im innersten zusammenhält

only for a moment perhaps, and the lightning vision of his intuition has to be recaptured and rediscovered in hard work.

Josef Pieper, “Leisure The Basis of Culture,” pp. 47-8

Review: Leisure: The Basis of Culture: Including the Philosophical Act

Leisure: The Basis of Culture: Including the Philosophical Act
Leisure: The Basis of Culture: Including the Philosophical Act by Josef Pieper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, which actually consists of two essays, is very short; I read the entire thing in only three sittings and probably could have read it in less time if I had not gone back and re-read several portions of it. It is, at the same time, one of the best books I have ever read and one of the greatest defenses of and introductions to philosophizing that I have yet come across. Pieper offers a wealth of insight into the subjects he takes up, focusing especially on the necessity of authentic leisure and the possibility and nature of Christian philosophizing. I recommend this book to anyone interested in philosophy and in living an authentically human life.

Thanks very much to the friend who sent this gem my way!

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