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Applied Ethics
(other than Bioethics)

Paideia, Schole, Paidia: Then and Now

Christopher B. Gray
Concordia University

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ABSTRACT: Aristotle centers the citizen’s education (paideia) on leisure (schole). Its features, especially of play (paidia), are evoked to remedy deficiencies in three contemporary philosophies of leisure: classical, critical and communitarian.

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Paideia, the citizen's education, is extensively tied up with liberal studies in most of Aristotle's discussion in book eight of the Politics. But this tie-up intellectualizes the leisure at their root in the first few chapters of the book.

While my undergraduates in leisure studies always need to be drawn up from their sole focus upon sport, perhaps my philosophy colleagues need relief to de-intellectualize paideia back down to schole. There are dimensions of Aristotle's comments which are remedial to contemporary streams of leisure theory. This paper will recapitulate his comments, then apply them to three types of contemporary theory.

His first chapter justifies the reason why politics is not meddling when it takes an interest in the formation of its citizens. This is because any constitution will not be workable unless citizens' characters, their virtues, are compatible with it.

His second chapter opens what should be taught. Without doubt, useful things should be taught. But not all useful things: useful things which "vulgarize" the citizen should not. To vulgarize is to make one less fit for the practice of virtue, the city's concern. Any occupation, art or science can vulgarize. An occupation will, if it is paid employment; that degrades the mind by absorbing it. An art will, if it deforms the body; the Spartans did that, by their excruciating and savage routines. And a science will, if it is pursued to its perfection of detail.

Our bywords about workaholic compulsions, steroid stars, and nerdy scholars, show that we experience the three instances he speaks of, even if paradoxes appear that do not trouble him. Why learn anything at all that is useful, if we can't earn a living at it? How is it virtuous to be never the master but ever a dabbler? Is it not inherent in science to drive us to its ultimate details, one way toward its principles and another toward its applications?

These three are more localized problems, however, than his fourth limitation on useful education. That the very same activity is first excluded from the teachable useful, and then is re-included merely by a change in its object, touches our Aristotle with an anachronistic subjectivity, whereby the subject constitutes whatever identity the object has. Excluded if done for others, a study is included if done for one's self, friends or virtue. Perhaps this can best be grasped as the learner's selection of the latter ends from among the complex of goals which attach objectively to a learnable study.

What follows comes naturally to our modern eye. "If he's excluded all employments, then of course all that left to talk about is leisure." To his eye, however, this is because leisure is the principle of all other activities [taking, with all translators, the ____ of 1337b33 to refer to _________, not the more plausible _______ or _____; as their reference at 1338a11 to _____, not the more likely _____]. Leisure is central not as the residue from busyness but as its purpose and thus its meaning. Leisure is core to both the non-useful and the useful learning in paideia, even in the contracted "useful" which is properly taught.

Play is not excluded from leisure studies, as the four vulgarities are from useful studies; but care is taken not to equate them. Usually translated amusement, his paidia is closer to what we call recreation. That is, this activity is not the purpose of life, but instead contributes to something that is not our purpose. Work or toil is debilitating; no one would do it for its own sake. If anything, work is done for leisure. And, in turn, recreation is done in view of work, since it restores one from-and-for work. Unwinding is what gives pleasure; we all experience that.

Leisure, on the other hand, involves pleasure with reference to nothing else. Pleasure comes from leisure's being already its end, in both modern senses: leisure has no goal but itself; and it drives forward to nothing else. It is a state, not a process, in our speech; it is practice not production, governed by prudence not art, in his speech. It is hard to keep from identifying it with happiness, instead of simply associating them as he does.

It is equally hard to keep from affirming that studies at leisure consist of music, in the comprehensive hellenic sense or the commonplace one Aristotle discusses through the end of the Politics. But this has not kept philosophers, psychologists and sociologists from coopting leisure to the practice of their own discipline as its heart, or at least its sole adequate statement.

Contemporary leisure theories range from completely objectifying leisure to completely subjectifying it, neither of which was among the errors available to a pre-Cartesian philosopher. At the objective end is the so-called "classical" theory of leisure, most famous in Pieper and DeGrazia, and updated by Green. To rest in whatever is eternal is the fulness of leisure. Short of God-given mysticism, leisure becomes speculative philosophy. Other activities share leisureliness to the degree they approximate philosophy.

(Dispensing with gravitation around deity and the eternal, its more eleatic tack is made by Fink in the wake of Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer, and by Rorty in Pierce' and Dewey's, not far from the death-wager in Suit's version of Aesop's grasshopper and ant story. Leisure is the comprehensive category of life because it is the world which plays us, not vice-versa. The lifeworld of Fink and the conversation of Rorty are bounded, but by nothing, and so not necessitated by the whole, which the part can never appropriate and confirm.)

What is noticeable is that Aristotle, for all his emphasis elsewhere upon undying reality and for all his invocation as the patron of the "classical" view, never ties up leisure to pure act, to the spheres which imitate it, or to our reproduction which strives for them. One hint of his unwillingness to philosophize leisure is his indecision whether the happy life is the speculative or the political, or whether happiness — so close to leisure in its pleasures, as has been seen — relates to the changeless or the changing. At the very least, whatever need he saw for eternity was satisfied in his Ethics by the autotelism of doing rather than of making, with no need to invoke the virtue of scientific necessity in order to purchase enough footing for leisure.

The temporal category dear to the classical theory is "diurnal" time. This is the time of large and recurring natural units, to avoid frantic disintegration of actions into the separate fragments which things have, especially machines, more especially clocks. Its eternity drives Pieper and DeGrazia; the unavailability of this value to us today drives Green to jettison classical leisure from the paideia he'd have liked to set up.

Even without it, the following is available. The merit of Huizinga's work, contemporary to Pieper's and unmarginalized by its apt criticisms in Callois' and Ehrmann's developments, is to locate in play the features which provide sufficient local eternity to satisfy the needs of classical leisure theory. Playtime is distinguished from other times. It is set apart, and its temporal units have meaning only from the inside; the sets of tennis, the innings of baseball, have nothing to do with the passage of minutes and seconds. Even the timed periods of other major sports are bent by timeouts, incompletions, delays, penalties defined in their rules and nowhere else. The rules themselves, the costuming, the venues, the identifying of players and non-players hive off a world that is self-contained. Its experience is not so much the one of derivative pleasure for which Aristotle rejected paidia or play, as it is the completeness of the event. Classical leisure can be as fully realized in these pedestrian and democratic forms of sports, of games, and of narratives, as in the exacting and excluding forms of speculative philosophy.

A second contemporary theory of leisure takes and turns this objective formation into its opposite. Csikszentmihalyi and colleagues affect the social psychologists' factual objectivity while driven by the critical theorists' moral imperatives. Less the self-containment of Huizinga's play than its rule-boundedness, is what these theorists take up. They locate experiences similar to reports of "discovering something new", "exploring a strange place", or "solving a problem". These activities have no external payoffs, but people pursue them anyway. The activities are "autotelic", they contain their own goals. Thus far their objectivity.

In parsing out what makes these activities autotelic, he finds that there is a definite sense of control within them. The activities are ones whose challenges are suited to the participant's capabilities, whose procedures are not ambiguous but are spelled out in rules, and whose feedback is clear and quick enough for the participant to know how well he or she has succeeded. These make up "flow" experiences. Joining in these activities brings satisfaction, which he distinguishes from pleasure; pleasure is attached to fulfilling basic needs, to consumption, to consumer substitutes for autotelic activities.

Each person has one's own level of capability; and so the opportunities which each decides to challenge those skills against, and the rules upon which feedback will occur, differ for each. That is to say, it is not the activities which are autotelic, but the agents. They seek each his or her own idiosyncratic end. No comprehensive norms stand by to check the uprightness of this leisure. Only its being autotelic is its norm; and that is different for each.

Csicszentmihalyi tries to save his doctrine from this psychological subjectivity by stressing that social construction of reality is always at work. But this sits as mere moralizing atop what is fundamentally a scientific solipsism. [Small matter that, verbally, Csiczentmihalyi opposes flow experience to leisure; this is only because of his taking leisure in the sense of consumer activity, freetime from work, time free to use up for one's own pleasures.]

Has Aristotle anything to help out with here? First, it is clear that what is autotelic for him is the activity, not the agent. Leisure is what is an end in itself; the agent does not seek differently than leisure or the state of happiness for his end.

Next, pleasure is not simply set apart from the satisfaction of leisure; pleasure accompanies it, although pleasure is not its goal (if ever it can be a goal). The pleasure is a sign that taking leisure is as natural as consuming for the political animal. For leisure he need construct no abstruse postkantian satisfaction uncorrupted by pleasure.

Finally, "the pleasure of the best person is the best, and comes from the best sources" (1138a9). Does this reduce the subjectivity of satisfactions, or reinforce it? The best person is the most virtuous; virtues are attuned by mediating the circumstances each person meets, "the right thing at the right time ..."; the circumstances each meets and their meaning which each mediates are peculiar to each one's culture and society; so being the best man is relative to these local meanings. Does this only replace individual relativity with social relativity? That will be discussed next; but, here, the point is that it appears do at least that.

A third contemporary refererence point upon leisure philosophy is the communitarian. While not as visibly represented in leisure monographs (see Mason), it coordinates leisure studies to the eighties' political philosophy of communitarianism, and its cultural precipitate in political correctness. [Correspondences could be perceived, if one wished, between intellectualist or metaphysical leisure, and the resurgent liberalism of the forties; between freetime leisure, and the scientistic economism in service to the industrial ethos of the fifties; between "flow" leisure, and the sixties' and seventies' refusal of consumerism by the negativities in critical theory. In the libertarian nineties, thinking about leisure-through-downsizing is made invisible by such devices as Canada's renaming unemployment insurance as "employment insurance".]

The communitarian insight is that people's relationships form their identity equally as much as do their individualities. At an extreme, relation completely forms their reality. The liberal error was to think that relata precede relations; the communitarian correction is to say that relations precede relata. While the former makes it impossible to ascribe significance to relations, communitarian thought makes it difficult to describe how any new relations could ever be formed, muchless how a person could form them by him or herself.

The application of communitarian philosophy to leisure emerges in the insistence that any leisurely activity be in the service of community. Therapeutic recreation, adaptive sports, remedial reading, interventionist travel, music-studio-drama therapy: these become the sole upright manners to perform leisure; for "when one is [deprived], all are [deprived]", using the form but not the content of rights theory. Leisure is set toward an extrinsic end, the betterment of others; but in the communitarian framework, this is not external since the others are identified with me.

The moral claustrophobia this imposes upon the _________ who is Aristotle's man-at-leisure can be remedied by returning to the "best man" once again, to finish the description of his or her pleasures. It is not only in view of the virtues peculiar to one's own society that someone's pleasures are best; for that society itself may be judged as more or as less a reservoir of virtue. Aristotle, in fact, never ceases judging his and others' societies severely; nor is his judgment nothing but ethnocentric (although it is surely that, too). For the virtues he demands are not those which perfect being hellene, but which perfect being human. In his eye, hellenic society (often) succeeds best at that; but other societies are contemptible not because they are not human, but because they fail humans. Their societies have degraded, "vulgarized", some feature or another of what it is to be human — body, or mind; courage, or articulateness, etc.

The paragon of leisure is connected; but he or she is also autotelic. This person is articulate, but in play as well as in science, craft, work and politics. This paragon, therefore, is not beyond the reach of any person. While the details of the paideia towards it remain to be fleshed out, as they did for Aristotle, nonetheless preserving these insights from one revealer of our humanness should block a few of the blind alleys in designing the paideia for leisure.

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Csikszentmihalyi, Mikail. Beyond Boredome and Anxiety; The Experience of Play in Work and Games. San Francisco CA: Jossey Bass, 1975.

———  and Robert Kubey. Television and the Quality of Life; How Viewing

Shapes Everyday Experience. Lawrence KS: Erlbaum, 1990.

Green, Thomas F. Work, Leisure and the American Schools. New York NY: Random House, 1970.

Huizinga, Johann. Home Ludens; A Study of the Play Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon, 1950.

Mason, Sheila, and Randy B. Swedburg. "Education for Leisure: Moving Toward Community." Denver CO: 2d Int. Symp. on Leisure & Ethics, 11 Apr. 1994.

Pieper, Josef. Leisure; The Basis of Culture. New York NY: Random House, 1970.

Suits, Bernard. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. U.Toronto, 1978.

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