Leisure, culture and philosophy

“Culture depends for its very existence on leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is not possible unless it has a durable and consequently living link with the cultus, with divine worship.

The word “cult” in English is used exclusively, or almost exclusively in a derivative sense. But here it is used, along with worship, in its primary sense. It means something else than, and something more than, religion. It really means fulfilling the ritual of public sacrifice. That is a notion which contemporary “modern” man associates almost exclusively and unconsciously with uncivilized, primitive peoples and with classical antiquity. For that very reason it is of the first important to see that the cultus, now as in the distant past, is the primary source of man’s freedom, independence and immunity within society. Suppress that last sphere of freedom, and freedom itself, and all our liberties, will in the end vanish into thin air.

Culture, in the sense in which it is used above, is the quintessence of all the natural good of the world and of those gifts and qualities which, while belonging to man, lie beyond the immediate sphere of his needs and wants. All that is good in this sense, all man’s gifts and faculties are not necessarily useful in a practical way; though there is no denying that they belong to a truly human life, not strictly speaking necessary, even though he could not do without them.

Among the bona non utilia sed honesta which are at home in the realm of freedom, in its innermost circle indeed, is philosophy, the philosophical act, which must be understood in the traditional sense of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, and as they understood it. Grant this original sense of the word “philosophizing” to be the true one, and it is no longer possible to speak of the philosophical aspect in the same way that one might speak of a sociological and historical or a political aspect–as though one could take up the one or the other at will. In the tradition of which I am speaking, the philosophical act is a fundamental relation to reality, a full, personal attitude which is by no manner of means at the sole disposal of the ratio; it is an attitude which presupposes silence, a contemplative attention to things, in which man begins to see how worthy of veneration they really are. And it is perhaps only in this way that it is possible to understand how it was that Plato’s philosophical school, the Academy in Athens, was at the same time a sort of club or society for the celebration of the cultus. In the last resort pure theory, philosophical theoria, entirely free from practical considerations and interference–and that is what theory is–can only be preserved and realized within the sphere of leisure, and leisure, in its turn, is free because of its relation to worship, to the cultus” (Josef Pieper, Leisure: the Basis of Culture, p 17-18).

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