Friday, November 21, 2008

David Foster Wallace on Life and Work

An acquaintance of mine sent me this article by Mr. Wallace. It's a very timely piece considering I dedicated a good majority of my posts relating to this topic on life and work.

Read on, interestingly enough, and tragically, Mr. Wallace committed suicide this past September.

"Everybody worships."


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Philosophical Act: Part IV (The Final Post)

"In the philosophical act, the human being's related-ness to the totality of being is realized; philosophy is oriented toward the world as a whole." A pre-condition to the philosophical act (which the Greek philosophers took for granted) is an "already given" view of the world. Plato wrote, "The ancients knew the truth; if we could only find it, why would we have to investigate the opinions of men?" Pieper explains it like this, "that a previously handed-down interpretation of the world stands before all philsophizing from which philosophy gets a spark."

Plato went further and said that this wisdom from the ancients is of divine origin, it is a "gift of the gods!"

We have come to the point now where philosophy comes into contact with theology. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from John Paul II, "Faith and Reason (Theology and Philosophy) are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth--in a word, to know himself--so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves."

According to the Ancient Philsophers, theology precedes philosophy. "No philsophy is in existence which does not receive its first impulse and impetus from some previously existing, uncritically accepted interpretation of the world," writes Pieper.

In simplistic terms, before one can search, there must be first something for which to search. Before we can inquire into the meaning of human life, we must first believe...there is meaning to life.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Here's a brief backwards nutshell (depending on the way you look at it):

1. Doing philosophy presupposes theology. ("study of God")
2. Philosophizing is a uniquely human act, only humans can do it.
3. The "disturbances" of the philsophical act is what removes us from "environment" into "world."
4. To exist solely in the "environment" or world of work is to live in a partial-world similar to that of animals and plants.
5. Humans who worship "work" are slaves, confined to the "here-and-now" world.
6. The Cultus (or "worship" in the religious sense) is the highest form of leisure.
7. Leisure is the basis of culture.

The Philosophical Act: Part III

It should be noted that it is not by ignoring man's "environment" that he enters into the totality of being or "world." It is the visible world "the one before our very eyes which we touch with our hands" that the philosopher gazes upon. The philosopher is concerned with the ultimate, what things are in the last analysis.

The philosopher does not ask, "Am I happy?," but "What is happiness?"

Philosophy can not be "done" without the things of the everyday world. (This is what distinguishes a philosopher from say, a madman...who Chesterton once quipped, "has lost everything BUT his reason.") This, for the Christian, makes sense in the analogy that Christ does not save us despite our humanity, but through it.

To philosophize then is not to remove oneself from the things of the world but to to transcend it, to see things in a new light. Not with the agenda to "change" things (this would transform philosophy into a servile "serve" a purpose) but to see the deeper reality.

Philosophy begins then, in an experience of wonder. "The ability to experience wonder is one of the highest possibilities of human nature." Thomas Aquinas believed that wonder is the first step on the path that leads to the beatific vision. Wonder is not just the first phase of philosophy but its ever abiding principle. In the way that a person you are getting to know becomes more and more don't lose that sense of wonder about the person, but even as you get to know more about them, the more there is to learn. As the old saying goes, "The more you know, the more you don't know." It's a paradox and it is connected to the sense of mystery. Aristotle went further and said that along with wonder is joy and as we often say in my Communion and Liberation circles, "the only joy is to begin again." Pieper says, "the joy of one who is astounded is the joy of a soul that is beginning something, of a soul that is always ready and alert for something new, for something unheard of."

Also, there is a hopefulness in wonder. Philosophers are never done with their work (unless they are dead in Heaven enjoying the beatific vision) as Pascal wrote, "we are not, but we hope to be." The structure of hope built into wonder shows how much it is a part of our human nature. Only humans can hope, wonder, philosophize. Neither God nor the animals, but only humans experience wonder.

The word philosopher means "lover of wisdom." According to Plato, only God is wise. The best a man can do is be a lover of wisdom. This is what makes philosophy so noble and so free. The knowledge to which philosophy aspires is never attainable.

Pieper says that "philsophy is shown to be something completely human and indeed, in a certain sense, as the fulfillment of human existence itself."

The Philosophical Act: Part II

Now we understand that whoever philosophizes transcends the "work-a-day" world.

But where does he go? Pieper says that both the world of work and the "other realm" belong to man. This leads us to the question, "What is the nature of the world of man?"

A world can be defined as a "whole field of relationships." This implies that only a being that has an ability to be in a relationship has a world. Further, a relationship can only exist when there is an "inside." This is what gives the being the ability to have a relationship, to be "in" a relationship. True relationships join the inside with the outside. Thus, a pebble can not be in a relationship and does not have a world. The higher the level inwardness ("the more comprehensive and penetrative the ability to enter into relations") the more profound the world.

This makes a lot of sense to me. It's like when I meet someone and call my sister, "Ugh, they live in a dark world." Obviously they live in the same world I do, but in the "other realm" of transcendence, their world is quite different than mine.

OK, so the pebble has no world. Pieper says that the plant has a world but its the lowest world because it can not reach beyond "what it touches in its own vicinity." The world of the animal is greater than the plant because different from the plant the animal has sense-perception. (Animals can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.) But "the environment of animals are not the whole expanse of nature but resemble a narrow, furnished apartment," said biologist Jakob von Uexkull. A fascinating example of this is the crow. It is imaginable that a crow could see a grasshopper which is very desirable for a crow whenever the grasshopper comes into the crow's view. But this isn't true, according to Uexkull, a crow is unable to see a grasshopper at rest. Further, a crow does not even recognize the form of grasshopper. (Wow!) Crows are only able to see moving things! This is why insects can play dead. "Since their resting-form does not at all appear in the sense-world of their predators, they escape that world completely and securely simply by lying still (grasshopper: play dead! :), and can not be found, even if they are actively sought." The field of relations, the "world" of the animal is really only its selective world or environment. And it is confined to it.

OK, so this is really interesting, right? But I thought we were talking about the philosophical act? Here's how it relates, which of course leads to another question:

What is the relating-power of the human being? Is it no better than the crow? (Of course, the answer is self-evident by the fact that I am given the ability to inquire about this in first place, right?)

Just as the world of the animal trascends the world of the plant, so we human beings, by virtue of our higher relating-power (known as the intellect...another word for "spiritual" by the way, something else I just learned) transcend the world of plants and animals. "Western philosophical tradition defines spiritual knowing as the power to place oneself into relation with the sum-total of existing things." The essence of this power is the ability it has to "be in relation with the totality of being." (As opposed to the "partial" worlds of the plants and animals.)

What does it mean to say someone has a great personality? It really means that this "inwardness" ( the power of "living-with-oneself, of "being-in-onself" of "independence" of "autonomy") of the person, the deeper it is, the stronger the correspondance with the field-of-relations (the world), the fuller the reality of the world is made known to the "I."

So what kind of world is the world of man? (This was the original question...)

Pieper says, "Man's world is the whole reality, in the midst of which the human being lives, face-to-face with the entirely of existing things--but only in-so-far as man is spirit! (Side note: Keep in mind that man is uniquely body and soul, flesh and spirit. We are not saying here that the body, the material, are bad (this is heretical to Christians) but only that it is not the totality of who we are.)

So then the other question we were asking was, "What does it mean to philosophize?"

Pieper answers that Philosophy is "to experience that the nearby world, determined by the immediate demands of life, can be shaken, or indeed, must be shaken, over and over again, by the unsettling call of the "world," or by the total reality that mirrors back the eternal natures of things."

To philosophize then is to take a step into coming face-t0-face with this world. "To direct one's view toward the totality of the world."

And, "you cannot ask and think philosophically without allowing the totality of existing things to come into play: God and the World."

This is what is distinctive about philosophy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Philosophical Act: Part I

So now you may ask (as I did...) what does the philosophical act have to do with leisure?

Basically, doing philosophy is leisure's great good or expression. We are most human, when we are philosophizing. If you think about it, this makes sense. What distinguishes humans from all God's other creatures? Animals eat, reproduce, etc. But only humans can ponder and ask, "What is the meaning of life?" We recognize that there is a reality beyond the visible. Further, happiness does not consist in having all my material needs met. (Hence all the rich, unhappy people.) It is when I understand something about myself or the world, that is when I am most satisfied. When what I see everyday is transcended. This transcendence is not an escape from the world but rather, a deeper look (remember that "intellectual vision") into reality. What I can perceive invisibly is more real sometimes, than that tangible item I can hold in my hand.

Father Luigi Giussani's father recognized this need for (true) humanity and would sometimes spend the family's money on hiring a musician to play for his family instead of purchasing food for dinner.

The philosophical act is a disturbance that "knocks" us out of the world of work much like a genuine poem, or a musical experience, or prayer does--it transcends. Thomas Aquinas said that "the Philosopher is akin to the Poet in this, that both are concerned with the "wondrous." Remove this connection with "wonder" and the world becomes a place where "religion is not allowed to grow, where the arts can find no place, where philosophy can not survive."

Philosophy is most pure, and most free, when it is untouched by anything practical. To tie philosophy in with the practical is to give it an agenda, to bind it to an intention to change things, to serve (and thus be slave) to some purpose. But philosophy done right, for its own sake, is where the soul is free to maintain a completely receptive gaze on reality. The realization of this is connected with the presupposition that the world is something "other than a mere field, the mere raw material, of human activity." The world then is something "worthy of reverence, and ultimately, is creation in the strictest sense. (The world is created, by a Creator, and expresses creativity.) This is the essence of philosophy!

True philosophy is founded upon the belief that the real riches of man lie not the "satisfaction of his necessities" but rather having the capacity to understand the totality of existence, of the world. Ancient philosophy says it this way, that "this is the utmost fulfillment to which we can attain: that the whole order of real things be registered in our soul." The conception was consumed in the Christian tradition of the beatific vision as St. Gregory the Great said, "What do they not see, who look upon Him, Who sees all?"

To be continued...

Leisure: The Basis of Culture Part IV

What is Leisure's ultimate justification?

In order to answer this question we must return to the explanation that the heart of Leisure consists in "festival," over "function." If this is true, then Leisure would derive its justification "from the very source whence festival and celebration derive theirs:" worship.

To experience an inner harmony within oneself and to live out this harmony with the world (quite different from the everyday life of work) is to be festive; but "no more intensive harmony with the world can be thought of than 'Praise of God.'" A genuine festival is only experienced when there is a living relationship with religious "cult" or worship. History of religion gives us this evidence.

"Rest from work" signifies a sacrificial time for worship of the divine. Rest is therefore cultic. For the Jew and Christian, this rest (this leisure) is signified on the Sabbath. Every seventh day is "festival-time." One of the external signs that we have lost this concept of leisure in our day is that every year, fewer and fewer stores are closed on Sundays as once was commonplace. Even the family "meal" is a spiritual event. The time, set aside, for families to celebrate and be together distinct from work.

In the world of work, there is no such concept of festival. "Time is money," as the saying goes. Even "breaks from work" are there for the sake of work--in order to get back to work.

When divorced from the realm of worship and festival, leisure becomes a burden. "Only someone who has lost their spiritual power to be at leisure can be bored." Work without true leisure becomes inhumane and no matter how hard you work, or how much you achieve, you can never be satisfied. This explains why so many "successful" people out there are depressed, suicidal, and unhappy. They forgot the entire reason why they were working in the first place. As one of my Sisters of Notre Dame constantly reminds me: we are human beings, not doings!

In order to resurrect leisure, there needs to occur a reawakening of the sense of worship.

Next: The Philosophical Act!

Leisure: The Basis of Culture Part III

Reading this book finally closed the gap of why my Alma mater, California Lutheran University (and most other universities in America with a few notable exceptions), can call itself a "liberal arts" college when the majority of its majors are for the purpose of career-specializing. (How is marketing communication (my unfortunate major) a "liberal art?" Ridiculous. Marketing is an art for the purpose of selling its object. Nobody would "market" for the sake of "marketing." It's not free, but has a business-oriented purpose.) Universities have simply adopted Kant's view that even the liberal arts should be under the realm of work and usefulness.

But returning to our previous topic, Pieper makes the case that the liberal arts (in their proper sense and nature as being done for its own sake) are justified. The true cause of idleness in society is not leisure, but a lack of true leisure, which is manifested in a work-for-work's sake attitude.

Pieper explains that the root idleness is "acedia" in Greek which is the deadly sin of sloth. The "metaphysical-theological concept of idleness means, then, that man finally does not agree with his existence; that behind all his energetic activity he is not one with himself." Hence why restlessness and despair are sisters. According to the Ancients, the opposite of acedia is not work but rather the "cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God - of Love." Thus, idleness has nothing to do and is in fact, the exact opposite of leisure. "Leisure then is a condition of the soul--"an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet." (This is why work breaks, vacations, Sundays off doesn't necessarily mean one is "at leisure.")

Pieper goes on to to explain that leisure is only possible "in the assumption that man is not only in harmony with himself but also that he is in agreement with the world and its meaning." Leisure is affirmative then. Thus, leisure is the condition of "considering things in a celebrating spirit." It is "festive" in nature. And this is why the festival is the origin of leisure. The holding of a festival means an "affirmation of the basic meaning of the world and an agreement with it."

Lastly, leisure stands opposed to the "exclusiveness of the paradigm of work as social function. " Leisure's purpose is not for the sake of work. We work to be at leisure. We are not at leisure so we can be "refreshed" or "renewed" to go back to work! Pieper uses the good example of prayer. The one who prays before going to bed sleeps better, but "surely nobody would want to think of praying as a means of going to sleep!" It doesn't work that way!

Further, leisure is of an even higher rank than the world of work. Just like the human's soul power of "intellectual vision," the power to be-at-leisure is the power to transcend beyond the "working world" or the material objects that exist before us and see the deeper reality or meaning behind things.

It is in leisure that the "truly human is rescued" from being a mere "worker" or "functionary" no better than a robot or an animal.

Still more coming...(by the way, I realize this is a difficult subject, please feel free to comment, question, ask for clarification, etc. I'm learning with you!)

Leisure: The Basis of Culture Part II

We have yet to answer the question of what it really means to be at leisure. We'll get there. Pieper is a German philosopher. This means he's brilliant and I have to work really hard to "connect the dots" of the point he's trying to make. Let's leave this question aside for now because before we can approach it we must first examine the nature of knowledge. (There is a "certain interpretation of the human knowing power" which allows work to be glorified the way that it is today.)

Regarding the "act of knowing," Pieper contrasts the modern interpretation (the Kantian view) with the view of the philosophers of Antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) and the Scholastics (mainly Thomas Aquinas) of the Middle Ages.

Kant believed that all human knowing is exclusively discursive. It consists essentially in the act of "investigating, articulating, joining, comparing, distinguishing, abstracting, deducing, proving--all of which are so many types and methods of active mental effort." Therefore, knowing is nothing but activity in the form of work.

The ancient and medieval philosophers went a step further. They distinguished the intellect into two parts. One part was the ratio (reason) part of the intellect which is discursive as Kant believed. The second part (which Kant denied) was the simplex intuitus ("simply-looking") part of the intellect. This can be understood as "intellectual vision" or "intuition." (Pieper uses the example of the distinction between simply gazing upon a rose and knowing it and taking it apart, observing, studying it, "possessing" it in a sense.)

The ancients believed all knowing involves both. "The path of discursive reasoning is accompanied and penetrated by the intellectus' untiring vision, which is not active but passive, or better, receptive-a receptively operating power of the intellect." In this sense, the Ancients did not believe that knowing was necessarily always work.

OK, so what's the point of all this talk on the act of knowing? The point is that Kant's philosophy can be credited to the current notion of "intellectual work" and "intellectual worker." Kant believed that even the act of knowing, and doing philosophy, was only true, credible, and genuine if there was effort, labor, or work in it. Anything other than that was suspicious. This is very different from what the Ancients believed and what Christians believe, too. The receptive "intellectual vision" is what allows us to receive grace, or the gift of the Holy Spirit, for example. This doesn't go against our reason, but penetrates it, accompanies it as Thomas Aquinas said. Thus, even philosophy, and the other "liberal arts" are only useful if they are under the realm of work for Kant.

Pieper argues that this notion goes against the very and true nature of philsophy and the liberal arts. What makes them "liberal" or "free" in the first place is that they are done for their own sake and not for utilitarian purposes as Kant would have them. Pieper argues that there is justification for the liberal arts and that they are "necessary for the perfection of the whole human community."

To be continued...

Leisure: The Basis of Culture Part I

I just finished reading Josef Pieper's brilliant book, Leisure: The Basis of Culture and I wanted to share pieces of its brilliance with you. If you are looking for a thought-provoking book to read, I highly recommend this one. He divides the book into two essays. The first essay has the same title as the book and the second essay is titled, "The Philosophical Act." At first I thought, "What does philosophizing have to do with leisure?" Growing up as I like to say, "somewhere between LA and Cairo"(Yes, I am a cultural gypsy...I think we make the best Americans, but that's an entirely different topic for another blog post of the future I suppose), I thought this book was going to reaffirm my "European" sensibility (I think its quite normal and delightful that my mom and my aunt can have coffee for three hours in the middle of the day) against the work-a-holism of America as one of my priests from Spain said, "The minute I got to this country I haven't had a minute to myself." And in a way, it does. But it does so in a much deeper, and religious way. It goes more deeply into the philosophical reasons why we have become workaholics, suspicious of leisure.

Pieper wrote the book in 1947 but its relevance for today is indisputable. You could have told me it was written yesterday and I might have believed you. In Pieper's time, his contemporaries might have thought that only two years after WWII that talk "Leisure" would seem a bit childish. Pieper makes the case that "Leisure" is the foundation of Western Culture. If Western Culture is going to be re-built, the true notion of being at leisure should be resurrected. In fact, the Greek word for leisure is the origin of the Latin "scola," which is the origin for the English word, you guessed it: school! "The name for the institutions of education and learning mean leisure." I guess when you look at it that way, (as education being the foundation for Western Culture and Civilization), it doesn't seem so childish after all. Obviously the original concept of Leisure is lost to us. Pieper goes on to say that "in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on the world of work." Aristotle's statement, "We are not-at-leisure in order to be-at-leisure" is almost heretical today. I guess that's where we get the popular question, "Do you work to live or live to work?" But what does it really mean to be-at-leisure? One could argue that we don't have a problem with Leisure! Just look around and see how much time and money is wasted on entertainment, video-games, and other idle, useless forms of "leisure." What we need is more productivity! But in fact, these idle activities are not what Pieper, the Greek Philosophers and the Medieval Scholastics meant at all by Leisure. To help us understand, Pieper reminds us that the Aristotelian concept of Leisure was the foundation for the Christian concept of the "contemplative life." However, to really understand Leisure we must look into the modern valuation of the work and further dig "more deeply to the very roots of a philosophical and theological understanding of the human person." In short, what does it mean to be human?

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


As I was telling my conservative and liberal friends after Obama's election I am not completely devastated. In truth, the night he was elected was dark but the morning after I felt a sense of renewal. Here's a quick list of why:

1. Thank God campaigning season is finally over!

2. It's time to start over. The G.O.P. is a mess, time to clean up.

3. We can't be blamed for what happens in the next four years.

4. Having a black president will hopefully put to rest all the absurd beliefs about America being a racist country.

5. Hopefully more conservatives will be inspired to get more actively involved in politics.

6. Maybe now the G.O.P. will finally invest in good PR and Marketing.

7. The time has come to resurrect true conservative values, not just spew out right-wing rhetoric.

8. A reminder that salvation does not come from the government. Culture is what informs politics. If we can work toward a more decent, moral society, politics will reflect that. The reverse does not work as some liberals believe. This is why liberals act like it's the end of the world when the G.O.P. is in power, but conservatives get over it quicker...

Thus, I completely agree with Dennis Prager:

The treatment of President George W. Bush by liberals has been despicable, undeserved and unprecedented. We who oppose Barack Obamas policies will, hopefully, act in accordance with conservative values of decency. Hence my simple announcement on the day after the election: I did not vote for him. I did not want him to be president. But as of January 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be my president.

Read his full article by clicking here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Importance of the Trinity Part 2

John 17: 22- The glory which you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.

Jesus gives us a challenging human vocation: to share divine interpersonal communication, to be a human community in the image of the three-in-one.

Movement-toward-the-other is characteristic of divine personality, and it is the ultimate pattern for all relationships.

According to St. Augustine (De Trinitate), the immanent life of God is described in terms of
1) Processions
3) Names
4) Relationships

Processions: Meaning the Son's eternal birth from the Father and the Holy Spirit's proceeding from the Father and the Son

Missions: Meaning the manifestations of these eternal processions in creation

Names: Designating three-in-one

Relationships: Paternity, Filiation, Passive Spiration

According to St. Augustine, that which distinguishes the persons in God is precisely their relations. The persons are not the relations themselves but the unchangeable relations is what expresses their distinctiveness of persons.

To bring this mystery of the trinity to life St. Augustine sought examples of "trinities" within human experience, "Now love is of someone who loves and something is loved with love. So then there are three: the lover, the beloved, and the love." In divine identity, the "love" is most appropriately called the "Holy Spirit."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Importance of the Trinity

All true Christians believe in the doctrine of the trinity. But not all true Christians reflect on a deeper understanding of the trinity. Still worse, others believe it is not even relevant to do so. If God found it worthy to reveal the mystery of the trinity to us, then there must be implications for how we are to live. We lose a richness of the Faith when we hold to this reductionistic view. God has revealed Himself through the universe and through us. We are made in His image and likeness. We can look for concrete images of the trinity in our daily life.

The mystery of the trinity is indeed a mystery and actually, the greatest mystery. All the more reason to delve into its mysteries. The universe is a mystery to us, and yet only the absurd would argue that scientific discoveries are irrelevant. Humans are mysteries, too. But strangely enough, we try to figure them out, too! And this "figuring" is how we show love. This is how we can be a "gift" to the other. If I am allergic to seafood, and my boyfriend makes me a salmon dinner for our anniversary I would feel completely unloved and say, "Don't you know me at all!? Don't you love me?!" Of course, the mystery of the human person can never be fully realized but that doesn't merit not partaking in the discovery.

If this is how I relate to people, then this must be a clue as to how God wishes me to relate to Him and to love Him. To ask, "Who are you God? What is this trinity that You are?" If I believe that God is trinity, then I must reflect into that mystery of the Triune God if I'm going to reflect about Him at all. I can't just reflect on God, or Son (Jesus), or Holy Spirit without reflecting on all three since it is their particular relationship with one another that distinguishes them in person.

More on the Trinity to follow...


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