Leisure is the Goal of Labor | Leisure, the Basis of Culture, chapter 1

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The good of book groups is not only the accountability of actually reading, but also the accountability of actually thinking about what you’re reading. And so, I’m reading Leisure: The Basis Of Culture along with Cindy and friends. I already owned the book, having found it while browsing the shelves at Exodus Books last year with store credit on my account. And, the reason I picked it up is because I remembered Cindy mentioning it; so, if Cindy’s going to be discussing it, now is the time to pull it off the shelf and actually read it!

Leisure is the point, not a distraction.

The ancient and medieval man saw leisure as the reason for labor, the goal of labor, whereas modern man sees labor as an ends in itself.


  • leisure: contemplative life, Sabbath-type rest, liberal arts
  • work: hustle & bustle, jobs, servile arts (vocational, we would now say)
We are not-at-leisure in order to be-at-leisure. –Aristotle

Quote to discuss

The real reason for mentioning [Aristotle’s quote] was to show how sharply the modern valuation of work and leisure differs from theat of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The different is so great, in fact, that we can no longer understand with any immediacy just what the ancient and medieval mind understood by the statement, “We are not-at-leisure in order to be-at-leisure.”

This was a very short chapter, an introductory chapter almost, but it gave no real definitions and had no real point in itself but to draw one on into the book. I think he is certainly correct that we have no concept of leisure. If we use leisure the way we commonly do, then I think certainly we could say people work in order to be at leisure: they work so they can amuse and entertain themselves. TGIF and all that rot. But leisure in Pieper’s and Aristotle’s sense is not television-watching, bar-hopping, facebook-browsing, or vacation-taking. They are referring, I think, to contemplation, to reading and thinking and praying and being at rest in one’s soul.

What defines who we are? Our jobs, our work, or our mind & soul? And what feeds ourselves, our mind & soul? Jobs? Work? Entertainment? Contemplation? And if we have no room in our lives for contemplation (which can happen — often most effectively — while the body is engaged in action like walking or weeding or bread-making…I’m curious to see how he defines “work” later on), then what will become of us? Pieper ends the chapter by asking us what is man? What is man made for? What makes the Ideal Man? Our modern answer is efficient productivity, but that has not been the historic answer nor the biblical answer.

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