Josef Pieper


German Philosopher

Author Quotes

As an ethicist of independence, this Antisthenes had no feeling for cultic celebration, which he preferred attacking with "enlightened" wit; he was "a-musical" (a foe of the Muses: poetry only interested him for its moral content); he felt no responsiveness to Eros (he said he "would like to kill Aphrodite"); as a flat Realist, he had no belief in immortality (what really matters, he said, was to live rightly "on this earth"). This collection of character traits appears almost purposely designed to illustrate the very "type" of the modern "workaholic."

Idleness, for the older code of behavior, meant especially this: that the human being had given up on the very responsibility that comes with his dignity... The metaphysical-theological concept of idleness means, then, that man finally does not agree with his own existence; that behind all his energetic activity, he is not at one with himself; that, as the Middle Ages expressed it, sadness has seized him in the face of the divine Goodness that lives within him.

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is the necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear....Leisure is the disposition of receptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion ? in the real.

Now it is not our purpose here to condemn this world, from the standpoint of some "holiday-world" of philosophy. No words need be wasted on saying that this work-a-day world is very much with us, that in it the foundations of our physical existence are secured, without which no one can philosophize at all! Nevertheless, let us also recall, that among the voices which fill the workplace and the markets ("How do you get this or that item of daily existence?" "Where do you get that?" etc.) ? in the midst of all these voices suddenly one calls above the rest: "Why is there anything at all, and not nothing?" ? asking that age-old question, which Heidegger called the basic question of all metaphysics! Must we explicitly state how unfathomable this philosopher's question is, in comparison with that everyday world of needs and purposefulness? If such a question as this were asked, without introduction or interpretation, in the company of those people of efficiency and success, wouldn't the questioner be considered rather ? mad?

The code of life in the High Middle Ages [held] that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work's-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise form the absence of a will to accomplish something.

The statement is made with certainty: a festival that does not get its life from worship, even though the connection in human consciousness be ever so small, is not to be found. To be sure, since the French Revolution, people have tried over and over to create artificial festivals without any connection with religious worship, or even against such worship, such as the "Brutus Festival" or "Labor Day," but they all demonstrate, through the forced and narrow character of their festivity, what religious worship provides to a festival....Clearer than the light of day is the difference between the living, rooted trees of genuine cultic festival and our artificial festivals that resemble those "maypoles," cut at the roots, and carted here and there, to be planted for some definite purpose. Of course we may have to prepare ourselves for the possibility that we are only at the dawn of an age of artificial festivals. Were we [in Germany] prepared for the possibility that the official forces, and especially the bearers of political power, would artificially create the appearance of the festive with so huge an expense in external arrangements? And that this seductive, scarcely delectable appearance of artificial "holidays" would be so totally lacking in the essential quality, that true and ultimate harmony with the world? And that such holidays would in fact depend on the suppression of that harmony and derive their dangerous seduction from that very fact?

What happens when our eye sees a rose? What do we do when that happens? Our mind does something, to be sure, in the mere fact of taking in the object, grasping its color, its shape, and so on. We have to be awake and active. But all the same, it is a "relaxed" looking, so long as we are merely looking at it and not observing or studying it, counting or measuring its various features. Such observation would not be a "relaxed" action; it would be what Ernst Jngertermed an "act of aggression." But simply looking at something, gazing at it, "taking it in," is merely to open our eyes to receive the things that present themselves to us, that come to us without any need for "effort" on our part to "possess" them.

Beauty is not so much a fulfillment as rather a promise. In other words, by absorbing beauty with the right disposition, we experience, not gratification, satisfaction, and enjoyment but the arousal of an expectation; we are oriented toward something not-yet-here. He who submits properly to the encounter with beauty will be given the sight and taste not of a fulfillment but of a promise--a promise that, in our bodily existence, can never be fulfilled. . . . Lovers and philosophers are connected by special ties, insofar as both erotic excitement and genuine philosophical quest trigger a momentum that, in this finite existence, can never be stilled. In an encounter with sensual beauty, if man opens up totally to the object of the encounter, a passion is born that, in the realm of the senses, which at first would seem to be the only adequate realm, can never be satisfied. The same holds true for the first moment of philosophical wonder (the wonder that arises from our contact with reality); a question arises that, in our finite world--which may mean, for example, with the tools of science--will also never receive an answer. The philosopher and the true lover--neither will find fulfillment except through a divine favor.

If God really became incarnate, and if His Incarnation can with justice compel man to change his life, then we have no alternative but to conceive of this Incarnation as something which is still present and which will remain present for all future time. ... What happens in the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist is something for which all religions of mankind have expressed longing, dimly sensed was coming, and as a rule even prefigured- the physical presence of the divine Logos made man, and the presence of his sacrificial death, in the midst of the congregation celebrating the mysteries.

Leisure is not justified in making the functionary as "trouble-free" in operation as possible, with minimum "downtime," but rather in keeping the functionary human... and this means that the human being does not disappear into the parceled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence. This is why the ability to be "at leisure" is one of the basic powers of the human soul. Like the gift of contemplative self-immersion in Being, and the ability to uplift one's spirits in festivity, the power to be at leisure is the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with those superhuman, life-giving forces that can send us, renewed and alive again, into the busy world of work.

Now one may ask, How could a Christian philosophy have something over a non-Christian philosophy, if it does not reach to a higher level of solutions, if it cannot get handy answers, if the problems and questions are still there? Well, perhaps a greater truth could be present in its ability to see the world in its truly mysterious character, in its inexhaustablity. It could even be the case that here, in the very experience of being as a mystery, that it is not to be grasped in the hand as a "well-rounded truth" ? herein is reality more deeply and truly grasped than in any transparent system that may charm the mind of the student with its clarity and simplicity. And this is the claim of Christian philosophy: to be truer, precisely because of its recognition of the mysterious character of the world. In no way, then, does philosophy become easier. Plato appears to have discovered and felt that too ? if a certain interpretation of Plato is correct, maintaining that Plato understood philosophy to be something tragic for this reason, that it must constantly have recourse to mythos, since the teaching of philosophy can never close itself into a system.

The common element in all the special forms of contemplation is the loving, yearning, affirming bent toward that happiness which is the same as God Himself, and which is the aim and purpose of all that happens in the world.

The supreme good and its attainment -- that is happiness. And joy is: response to happiness.

What is normal is work, and the normal day is the working day. But the question is this: can the world of man be exhausted in being "the working world"? Can the human being be satisfied with being a functionary, a "worker"? Can human existence be fulfilled in being exclusively a work-a-day existence?

Being precedes Truth, and ... Truth precedes the Good.

If in this supreme test, in face of which the braggart falls silent and every heroic gesture is paralyzed, a man walks straight up to the cause of his fear and is not deterred from doing that which is good -- which ultimately means for the sake of God, and therefore not from ambition or from fear of being taken for a coward -- this man, and he alone, is truly brave.

Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go, who lets himself go, and "go under," almost as someone who falls asleep must let himself go... The surge of new life that flows out to us when we give ourselves to the contemplation of a blossoming rose, a sleeping child, or of a divine mystery ? is this not like the surge of life that comes from deep, dreamless sleep?

Now the code of life of the High Middle Ages said something entirely opposite to this: that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work's sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise from the absence of a will to accomplish something.

The contemplation of revealed truth is a disturbing element in Christian philosophy though a very beautiful one, for it means that the framework of philosophy is widened, and, above all, it can never rest satisfied with the flat, one-dimensional harmonies of rationalism. That is the moment when a Christian philosophy, striking upon the rock of divine truth, foams and boils; and that is its unique privilege.

The truth is the good of our knowing mind, upon which the mind fixes itself by nature; it is not granted to the mind to choose or not choose that good (truth!) on the basis, again, of knowledge. The finite mind does not comprehend itself so profoundly, and does not have such power over itself, that it follows its own light.

When the physicist poses the question, "What does it mean to do physics?" or "What is research in physics?" ? his question is a preliminary question. Clearly, when you ask a question like that, and try to answer it, you are not "doing physics." Or rather you are no longer doing physics. But when you ask yourself, "What does it mean to do philosophy?" then you actually are "doing philosophy" ? this is not at all a "preliminary" question but a truly philosophical one: you are right at the heart of the business.

Can a lie be taken as communication? I tend to deny it. A lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other's share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality.

If knowing is work, exclusively work, then the one who knows, knows only the fruit of his own, subjective activity, and nothing else. There is nothing in his knowing that is not the fruit of his own efforts; there is nothing received in it? It is the mark of absolute activity (which Goethe said makes one bankrupt, in the end); the hard quality of not-being-able-to-receive; a stoniness of heart, that will not brook any resistance ? as expressed once, most radically, in the following terrifying statement: Every action makes sense, even criminal acts ? all passivity is senseless.

Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves. We tend to overwork as a means of self-escape, as a way of trying to justify our existence.

Now this structure of hope (among other things) is also what distinguishes philosophy from the special sciences. There is a relationship with the object that is different in principle in the two cases. The question of the special sciences is in principle ultimately answerable, or, at least, it is not un-answerable. It can be said, in a final way (or someday, one will be able to say in a final way) what is the cause, say, of this particular infectious disease. It is in principle possible that one day someone will say, "It is now scientifically proven that such and such is the case, and no otherwise." But...a philosophical question can never be finally, conclusively answered? The object of philosophy is given to the philosopher on the basis of a hope. This is where Dilthey's words make sense: "The demands on the philosophizing person cannot be satisfied. A physicist is an agreeable entity, useful for himself and others; a philosopher, like the saint, only exists as an ideal." It is in the nature of the special sciences to emerge from a state of wonder to the extent that they reach "results." But the philosopher does not emerge from wonder. Here is at once the limit and the measure of science, as well as the great value, and great doubtfulness, of philosophy. Certainly, in itself it is a "greater" thing to dwell "under the stars." But man is not made to live "out there" permanently! Certainly, it is a more valuable question, as such, to ask about the whole world and the ultimate nature of things. But the answer is not as easily forthcoming as for the special sciences!

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German Philosopher