Thursday, October 1, 2009

Leisure, chapter 2 part 2

In the second part of chapter two, Pieper defines the servile arts as “those which have an end beyond themselves, and more precisely an end which consists in a utlitarian result attainable in practice, a practicable result.” Compared with this, the liberal arts are “all forms of human activity which are an end in themselves.”

By making this distinction he is not saying “This is a bad apple; that is a good apple.” He is saying something more like, “This is a transitive verb, and that one is intransitive.” The servile arts are utilitarian -- that is, there is an object outside of themselves, just as when “Sally throws the ball” the action is performed on some object other than herself. But if “Sally smiles,” the action remains with herself, even though it may have an effect on the people around her.

We have trouble with his distinction because he is saying that the servile arts are inferior to the liberal. Egalitarianism is in the very air that we breathe and so we tend to view this kind of hierarchical distinction as being one of good v. bad, or better v. worse. But I think he's saying that the servile arts are inferior to the liberal in the same way that a foundation is inferior to the walls of a house, which are in turn inferior to the roof.

The foundation is, well, fundamental. But it's not there for its own sake; it's there to hold up the rest of the house.

Likewise, the servile arts are absolutely necessary to life. But we don't live to work, do we? We work so that we may be at leisure. Or, as John Gould Fletcher put it:
We feed and clothe and exercise our bodies, for example, in order to be able to do something with our minds. We employ our minds in order to achieve character…. We achieve character, personality, gentlemanliness in order to make our lives an art and to bring our souls into relation with the whole scheme of things, which is the divine nature.


  1. So, to continue the grammar illustrations, servile is subordinate to liberal, perhaps?

  2. Yes, I think so.

    I'm reminded of a neighbor of mine several years ago -- she was the only other SAHM in our neighborhood, and all of her friends away from home. She would quiz me about stuff regularly, and once she asked about housework -- she just didn't see the point of it beyond bare maintenance, and wondered if I thought it was a waste of time. Now there's only a little housework I actually enjoy the doing of, but I told her I thought it was important for the house to be orderly because the children always behaved better when things were tidy, and I could think better and didn't waste time looking for stuff when it was well-kept.

    Obviously there's more to it than that, but my point is that that kind of work is always foundational. Food, clothing, shelter, a proper environment have to be provided first in order for there to be leisure.



  3. Nice illustration of the distinction, Kelly.... never mind that fact that I totally agree with the tidy home promoting better behavior :)

  4. Mystie, after posting my response to you I realized I'd misunderstood your question. Now that I've had time to look up the grammar term and refresh my memory I can answer the question you actually asked.

    According to Warriner's English Grammar and Composition, "A subordinate clause does not express a completed thought and must always be attached to a main clause."

    I'd say that servile work is not subordinate in that sense, because servile work can exist independently from leisure, but "the life of leisure" can't be sustained for very long unless somebody somewhere is providing food, clothing, and shelter.

    "Work" is something we have in common with the animals -- they have to feed themselves, some of them feed their young, and some of them build nests or other shelter. Work is proper to us -- it was commanded in the Garden before the Fall -- but it's leisure that fulfills our potential as men made in the image of God.

    [Now I hope I really did answer your question!]

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