“Until recently, I thought leisure was what I do when I’m too tired to work. After much prodding, I finally read Josef Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture. While clearly upholding the material and spiritual value of all work, Pieper critiques the modern view of life as “total work.” Although no one really works 24/7, the ideological commitment to “total work”, subscribing to the idea that hard work defines the good life, can be just as harmful as (almost) never taking a break from work.
Why? Because, Pieper masterfully explains, the view that the highest good is found in hard work emphasizes reason and cognition as the only path to knowing. As an intellectual, I rightly prize knowledge. But Pieper challenges us: is knowledge only acquired through arduous mental labor? Pieper asserts:
“The essence of knowledge does not consist in the effort for which it calls, but in grasping existing things and in unveiling reality. Moreover, just as the highest form of virtue knows nothing of ‘difficulty,’ so too the highest form of knowledge comes to man like a gift–the sudden illumination, a stroke of genius, true contemplation; it comes effortlessly, and without trouble.” (p. 34)”
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