by Ken Myers
“The Middle Ages drew a distinction between the understanding as ratio and the understanding as intellectus. Ratio is the power of discursive, logical thought, of searching and of examination, of abstraction, of definition and drawing conclusions. Intellectus, on the other hand, is the name for the understanding in so far as it is the capacity of simplex intuitus, of that simple vision to which truth offers itself like a landscape to the eye. The faculty of mind, man’s knowledge, is both these things in one, according to antiquity and the Middle Ages, simultaneously ratio and intellectus; and the process of knowing is the action of the two together. The mode of discursive thought is accompanied and impregnated by an effortless awareness, the contemplative vision of the intellectus, which is not active but passive, or rather receptive, the activity of the soul in which it conceives that which it sees. . . .
“A functionary is trained. Training is defined as being concerned with some one side or aspect of man, with regard to some special subjects. Education concerns the whole man; an educated man is a man with a point of view from which he takes in the whole world. Education concerns the whole man, man capax universi, capable of grasping the totality of existing things.
“This implies nothing against training and nothing against the official. Of course specialized, and professional work is normal, the normal way in which men play their part in the world: ‘work’ is the normal, the working day is the ordinary day. But the question is: whether the world, defined as the world of work, is exhaustively defined: can man develop to the full as a functionary and ‘worker’ and nothing else; can a full human existence be contained within an exclusively workaday existence? Stated differently and translated back into our terms: is there such a thing as a liberal art? The doctrinaire planners of the world of ‘total work’ must answer ‘No.’ The worker’s world, as Ernst Jünger puts it, is ‘the denial of free scholarship and enquiry.’ In a consistently planned ‘worker’ State there is no room for philosophy because philosophy cannot serve ends other than its own or it ceases to be philosophy; nor can the sciences be carried on in a philosophical manner, which means to say that there can be no such thing as university (academic) education in the full sense of the word. And it is above all the expression ‘intellectual worker’ that epigrammatically confirms the fact that this is impossible.”
— from Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (Faber and Faber, 1952)
A reading of Roger Kimball’s article, “Josef Pieper: Leisure and Its Discontents” (The New Criterion, January 1999) is available as one of our Audio Reprints series.