Today as we continue to slowly, ever so slowly, read through the tome The Great Tradition, we come to the section from Aristotle where he presents the idea that initially drew me in to a more full concept of classical education and made me willing to read a book like Leisure: The Basis of Culture.
Now, I didn’t hear this concept from Aristotle first; like most of us, I heard it first online. Cindy Rollins would say that she taught her boys humanities so that when the rats were nibbling their toes in prison (where they were thrown for their faith, hopefully, and not for wrongdoing, but either way) they’d still have an interesting place to spend their time: their own minds. This was years and years ago, so that is a rough paraphrase, of course. :)
She got me with that one. The leisure that classical education prepares you for is not the leisure of “the leisure class” – although it began that way in classical times – a class supported by a servant or slave class who takes care of the pesky menial labor that drags us all down to that annoying real life in front of us. Rather, classical education furnishes the mind so that when we have leisure – which we can have in our current society, though we often choose not to have it – we can actually enjoy it rather than be bored and wish we were back at work or resort to mindless entertainment. With a fully furnished and active mind, down time, time alone, quiet spaces of time are a treasure not to be filled idly. We’re able to enjoy contemplative time because we have things to contemplate.
Today I come to the source for that idea (well, besides the source found in God Himself when He rested on the seventh day – that is the ultimate model, source, and reason for leisure).
Life is not all about work.
We should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well. –Aristotle (pg. 60)
It does not have to be one or the other, but both have a place in the well-ordered life.
What ought we to do when at leisure? Clearly we ought not to be amusing ourselves, for then amusement would be the end of life.
Now, Aristotle does justify a little amusement – we don’t need to shun amusement altogether – but it is to be used sparingly as a remedy and relief for over-busy-ness, not as a habit.
Rather, we should arrange to have spare time, and to use it for leisure:
Leisure of itself gives pleasure and happiness and enjoyment of life, which are experienced, not by the busy man, but by those who have leisure.
And, the education we pursue, helps us enjoy our leisure and use it well:
It is clear then that there are branches of learning and education which we must study with a view to the enjoyment of leisure, and these are to be valued for their own sake; whereas those kinds of knowledge which are useful in business are to be deemed necessary, and exist for the sale of other things.
One subject in particular is targeted at leisure:
And therefore our fathers admitted music into education, not on the ground either of its necessity or utility; […] the use of music [is] for intellectual enjoyment in leisure […] this being one of the ways in which it is thought that a freeman should pass his leisure.
It is evident, then, that there is a sort of education in which parents should train their sons, not as being useful or necessary, but because it is liberal or noble.
- Hard: The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble
- Medium: Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle
- Light: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg
- Audio: The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer