Leisure | Josef Pieper

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


Dive into the fascinating world of ‘Leisure: The Basis of Culture’ by Josef Pieper and uncover the shifting dynamics between work and leisure from ancient Greek societies up until the modern era. Discover how ancient Greeks revered leisure as the center of life, while the concept of ‘total work’ came to dominate in the 20th century. Explore the distinct difference between contemplation and observation, and the role of intellectus and ratio in shaping the perception of intellectual activity. This book summary will guide you through the crucial need to reassess our understanding of leisure and its integral role in society.

The Evolution of Work and Leisure

In ancient Greek society, work and leisure were two distinct ways to spend time. Leisure was defined as taking time to broaden your intellectual horizons. However, in the twentieth century, the concept of “total work” emerged, and life came to revolve around hard work with little time for leisure. The idea that one lives to work became prevalent, as opposed to working to live. The contrast between ancient and modern ideas of work and leisure is examined, beginning with differing views on the nature of intellect.

The Definition of Intellectual Work

The concept of intellectual work has evolved through time and varied philosophies. In antiquity, contemplation was considered an intellectual activity while observation was viewed as a physical task. However, Immanuel Kant from modern philosophy proposed that even abstract concepts require logical examination, deduction, comparison, and reasoning, making them work. This idea laid the foundation for the post-war concept of total work, which regards intellectual activity as a task to be completed like any other job. Therefore, the terms “intellectual work” and “intellectual worker” emerged. These varying beliefs about intellectual work reflect the changing paradigms of society and how it values knowledge.

The Value of Leisure

The idea of total work has shaped the belief that effort and hard work are the ultimate moral virtues in society. Ancient Greek philosophers, however, argued that intellectual contemplation is not work at all, revealing intellect as a devalued quality in our culture. Leisure is seen as lazy or self-indulgent since society pushes us to expand on what we can already do easily, while doing nothing is tantamount to a sin. In this perspective, leisure is not idleness but rather a state of mind of internal calmness that is an essential part of human life and work. By reintegrating leisure into our lives, we can escape the oppressive expectations of total work that require us to be workers every hour of every day.

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