How much leisure do you have? Not much, it may be imagined. Does Pieper have a valid point here, or is he being unrealistic? Are our lives basically all right even if we have no time for contemplation? Isn't leisure for video games, TV, movies, or surfing the Net?
In Josef Piepers's book Leisure: the Basis of Culture he explains that there is a lot more to leisure than sitting around the house and relaxing. True leisure time is spent invigorating some part of the soul or body, either through continual education of the self or through some other means. His link between leisure and education is particularly important. I have never thought about it before but there is a lot of learning in what people consider to be leisure time. For example, when we pick up a book to read that is ostensibly for entertainment, we are in fact adding to our knowledge of the world (Pieper 23). Even in a work of fiction, the reader is given a set of characters and locations and a plot which they can then reflect on after they put the book down. This in and of itself is the act of critical thinking which is an expansion of the brain and the continuation of education. Education, he says, used to be considered leisurely. Become knowledgeable and educated was a privilege and was not connected to being able to work (Pieper 25). Now people become educated less out of personal desire to expand and improve the mind, but in order to do work. They are merged together where once they were clearly divided into two different spheres.
One of Pieper's major points is the difference between leisure and work. Instead of doing work to earn money in which to live our lives, people instead live in order that they can do work. This concept is not alien to modern people. The business worlds and the home life are becoming even more interlaced if possible. Whereas before, a man could get a call at home in an emergency, with the advent of internet, cellular phones, and tablets, people do work while they are at home. Some do all of their work from home. Therefore the time they spend with their children and loved ones is no longer separated by spheres from their work but instead they spend time with family while doing work. This ever-growing problem seems to be only getting worse making what is considered leisure time less and less. If leisure is not just relaxing but is instead about self-satisfaction and reflection of the individual identity, and there is not time for that with the increasing presence of work, then people are becoming even more robotic and like automatons.
There is a difference, in Pieper's view between types of work. Those who do hard work, who put physical and mental exertion into what they do, are good men because they are using up their physical potential and doing actions which befit their abilities. However there is still a separate sphere for the types of work that are to be done. Work done for the self is part of leisure while work done for money is not. Hard work is idealized, as in the labors of Hercules (Pieper 33). People who are able to perform physical feats and to do actions which others cannot are considered heroic. There is a tendency to "overvalue" hard work according to Pieper (33). Although working hard is admirable if it is for the self, people do not take the reason for the work into account when determining an action's value.
The point is very well-made. The world we live in is far removed from the world of the Ancient Greeks and Romans who had completely different ideas about work and home. Perhaps he is also a bit idealistic. It is highly unlikely that the world will revert to what it was in the times of the ancients and that people will once again clearly delineate work and home. If anything, the two things will more than likely just become more and more complicated and interwoven. Education is also unlikely to return to the Aristotelian concept of knowledge for the sake of self-improvement because people are going to continue to go to school in order to gain knowledge so that they can get the jobs that they desire. It is unfortunate that people do not think about education for self-improvement or education for individual growth but instead as a commodity which they can then use to benefit themselves financially, but that is simply the world as it is now.
In fact, it is far different in the world today in many things besides education. In Pieper's book, he talks about the importance of self-reflection and understanding the world based on one's own individual perception of the surroundings. However, this is not the case anymore. Very few people tend to sit around and philosophize about the world in general. Philosophy was a field of study in times gone by but there are not many philosophers in the modern time period. Contemplation and understanding of the self is equated with psychedelic music and hippy clothing. Those who concentrate on the natural world are marginalized and mocked as "tree huggers." There is no difference between nature and environmental activists and a real desire to understand the self. The other way to be introspective is to seek psychiatric treatment but this is usually because of a mental condition or a trauma which must be overcome rather than a need to understand the self. From these examples, it can be concluded that in the modern period, introspection and self-analysis itself are not only uncommon but are in fact treated as odd and behaviors which "normal" people do not take part in.
B. What do you think of Thoreau's discussion of life and economics?
Henry David Thoreau believed that people were too concerned with avariciousness and materialism. They were too much concerned that if they did not work hard enough that they then would not make enough money and that they would not be able to purchase the material items which were the only things that could possibly make them at all happy. These are things which Thoreau abhorred and he endeavored to avoid them in his own life at all possible. He believed that people complicated their lives by the accumulation of objects and accumulation of people. Instead of learning to live simplistically, people surrounded themselves with volumes and volumes of unnecessary stuff. In doing so, not only did they completely lose sight of what was important in life, but they prevented themselves from learning what was really important. They deprived themselves from a true and honest and unencumbered life because they rejected simplicity. Part of the reason for his undertaking was in witnessing people around him fall into the trap of materialism, such as "young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of" (Thoreau 200). When people have things and become inclined to materialism, it is very difficult to convince them of the value of relinquishing their claim to objects and finding truth.
In the book Walden, Thoreau wrote about his experiences when he decided to build a house in the woods, far away from human beings and to live alone without any unnecessary material things. When he returned from the experience, he wrote down much of what he did and felt and saw in order to influence others to simplify their own lives and to seek out simplicity as he did. He believes that only he has lived, unlike the men who work and toil for years in the search for money and financial windfall. Thoreau says, "Men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for the compost" (201). Men work and work until the day they day without ever having really lived or understood anything about the world. They have worked for all of the wrong reasons and in pursuit of all of the wrong rewards for their labors. Thoreau postulates that the man who labors for another man is even more in the wrong than the farmer or a man who works for himself.
One of the other important facets of Thoreau's essay is his position on self-understanding. Men who do not see themselves honestly or fear too much how the world sees them are suffering in vain, he says. People put too much faith in what others say about them instead of believing in their own abilities and extolling their own virtues. The example that Thoreau uses is a teamster whose main job in life is to water and feed horses (Thoreau 203). This man knows that he is mortal and yet he spends every day watering and feeding a horse, each day closer to the limits…