08 November 2006

Leisure the Basis of Aristotelian Culture

I'll post just a couple or three more times on the Kraut anthology (The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics). It's time to move on to something else.

Today let me clarify something as regards Broadie's contribution. As I said, it is a serious omission in her essay that she fails to discuss what difference it makes, in the reception of Aristotle's ethics, once teleology and a rich notion of 'nature' are rejected. But for all that, her essay is extremely subtle and provocative. It is full of fascinating observations, among which I count her remarks on leisure as a notion important to moral philosophy.

As Kraut notes in his introduction, Gavin Lawrence and Dorothea Frede also comment on the topic--a welcome trend, I think.

Lawrence, for instance, in his concluding remarks says that Aristotle is "correct--or, if wrong, interestingly wrong" in his concern over the "role of free time", and Lawrence properly draws a connection between leisure and 'liberal' eduction:

There are admittedly difficulties in elucidating the notion of free time and its proper activities. But Aristotle is correct in emphasizing its centrality. Our modern Weltanschauung is dominated by a work "ethic" that invites us to view "normal" life as a matter of five days of labor and two days R&R--itself increasingly viewed as an opportunity for business to recoup its outlay on the workforce. And, correspondingly, we are increasingly encouraged to view education as education for gainful employment, not as the requisite preparation for a truly rich life (cf. Pol. VIII.3.1338a9-22, 1338a30-32). But there is all the difference between vacation and free time. In the blurring of this distinction, we lose nothing less than our lives in the most important sense.
In her discussion of leisure under the heading, "One Neglected Aristotelian Theme", Broadie actually brings in Joseph Pieper's minor masterpiece, Leisure the Basis of Culture:
Aristotle's remarks about leisure are not copious, but the theme is a vitally important one for him. Most philosophers of ethics today regard as important the ethical matters that Aristotle regarded as important. Surprisingly, then, except for Joseph Pieper's (1948) contribution, which is very much of the nature of a protreptic, there has been practically no modern ethical discussion of leisure. As can easily be verified, the topic does not appear in modern surveys and compendia of ethics.
One might perversely wonder why philosophical discussions of the purpose of education (school) don't count as discussions of leisure (schole). Don't we all appreciate that years in college are 'free time'?

But Broadie thinks there is a lack nonetheless and provides her own diagnosis:
First, leisure in Aristotle is associated with his notorious doctrine of the supremacy of the theoretical life, which in turn is based partly on a theological picture. And Pieper's (1948) essay, while often penetrating, ties leisure so closely to the sacred and the sacramental that there may seem not to be enough of a topic left over for non-religious philosophical reflection. Secondly, a priori it may seem that even if there are philosophical questions about leisure, they are quite easy ones, presenting no professional challenge. Thirdly, philosophical discussion of leisure, especially in the footsteps of Aristotle and of Pieper, is sure to get on to the question of its proper uses, but to take that seriously may seem uncomfortably close to legislating about how people should use their leisure-time: "which is no one's business but their own."
To which Broadie next answers (here the respondeo occurs before the corpus) :
In response: first, there is plenty to be said humanistically about leisure. Secondly, even if the questions are easy, one can find this out only by engaging with them. Thirdly, if for a moment we allow ourselves the phrase "the purpose of leisure," why should that set us on the path of telling people what to do any more threateningly than a question about "the purpose of art" or, for that matter, "the purpose of morality"?