Term Paper: Philosophy of Leisure Philosophy Can Be Thought

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Philosophy of Leisure

Philosophy can be thought of as a systematically-defined set of values, beliefs and preferences." --Edginton, et. al 1997

miles. "I can't believe you chose to do that to yourself," shouted one spectator at a recent marathon, as the man watched people stagger over the finish line, exhausted and sweaty. When it was pointed that this disdainful individual had run equally far in basic training, when the man was in the army many years ago, and under even more brutal conditions, the elderly man laughed and said: "but I had to, they don't, they could be having fun." To endure pain when challenging one's self under self-compulsion was inconceivable to the man. It was not that the feat was impossible for an ordinary individual, but what was the point? If someone did not have to run so far, why not loaf instead, during what we call leisure time?

For the spectator, avoiding pain was the highest value, and he had no preference to push himself to run all of those miles. He believed that the runners were crazy. The virtue-based ethics of the runner placed self-improvement above all other values, and the runners presumably believed that physically challenging the body, and submitting themselves to the controlled stress of the activity, was the highest good. These contrasting reactions and actions to running a marathon raise the question: what is leisure and why does it manifest itself in so many diverse guises?

Some people consider leisure sitting in a sofa, watching television, and eating a bag full of potato chips. Other people consider leisure to be taking a long, strenuous hike, followed by a handful of raisins. Some say spending time with friends is their leisure; others prefer a solitary afternoon of gardening. The only connecting thread between these types of leisure, one might observe, is that they are done not under compulsion, but by choice, and one often pays to do them, rather than is paid to engage in the pursuit.

A philosopher such as Aristotle might find the more mentally industrious forms of leisure more beneficial. Watching television and eating foods that please the palate but do not nourish the body may provide pleasure, but do not facilitate happiness. For Aristotle, "the happiest life, the greatest human good, is the fulfillment of the philosopher" is a philosophical life of seeking happiness, but not necessarily a life of seeking or enjoying pleasure (Ziniewicz, 1996). Happiness is achieved through contemplation, but not a contemplation done out of compulsion. "Leisure, not work, is the basis of culture" said Aristotle (Ziniewicz, 1996).

The worker, even the ruler of a city, is denied leisure although he may create a community of leisure for philosophers, but work of the ruler does not lead to the highest wisdom humanity can aspire to, thus although a ruler may have the greatest power possible, because he or she does not have full access to leisure, the ruler does not lead a perfectly happy life. Nor does an irresponsible person, for the highest end of man is contemplation. This seems almost a Taoist philosophy, that opting out of politics and life is superior to involvement, although Aristotle appreciates the benefits rulers can bring to philosophers, by providing a stable community. Leisure is necessary to be fully human, but it is an ideal that is impossible for most, as industry from slaves to rulers is required to support the highest forms of leisure, leisure directed towards the pursuit of pleasure not happiness.

In contrast to Aristotle, the utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham would assert that pleasure and happiness are the same, and what we do for leisure should make us happy. "Bentham has a way of making life seem simpler than it is. He asserts that the only thing good in itself is pleasure, and the only thing bad in itself is pain" (Nussbaum, 2004) a strict consequentialist ethicist like Betham asserts that only the consequence, or result of the action, should be taken into consideration, and one must not be slavish to a certain set of ethical ideals like Aristotle. Leisure should produce pleasure and provide a respite for all persons engaged in the necessary, functional tasks of society. There should not be a rigid ethical divide between individuals who labor without pleasure and act, and those who support the philosophers who seek happiness in contemplation. Also, everyone should be able to seek pleasure, for the greatest number for the greatest good is the highest societal value.

In Bentham's view, if a long hike, a night in front of the television or a leisurely afternoon of gardening makes the individual happier and more productive, all well and good. The person who seeks out edifying reading material vs. A comic book is not necessarily better, if the book is painful to the person who prefers comics; the only consideration is what the individual desire to achieve. If the comic book reading person only goofs off, does not work, and becomes penniless and miserable, this is not utilitarian and therefore bad. However, if both individuals are equally happy and productive, pay their bills, and function, Bentham would see no superiority in the person who pursues the arts rather than surfs Internet shopping websites during his or her leisure hours. If the marathon runner found pleasure and enjoyment in good health when training, good for him, but if health is not a priority and a person prefers watching television, that is fine too.

A consequentialist with a different philosophical orientation than Bentham might suggest that leisure should serve a consequential purpose, and therefore physical fitness was a better pursuit, not because of happiness, but because of the physical and social benefits of exercise. This would still be a utilitarian point-of-view. Bentham and other utilitarians stand in direct contrast to virtue ethicists such as Aristotle and his precursor Plato, who were driven to ask what makes a good person, not what makes a good action with a positive result. This is why internal contemplation and morally uplifting activities are seen as superior, in leisure, than any leisure activity designed to create physical or social benefits with an external aim. Yes, one might be able to argue that running, and the energy it provides brings social and spiritual as well as physical benefits, or volunteering for a community organization is more improving than leisure devoted to a symposium of philosophical speculation -- one could argue that these activities promote philosophical appreciation of life. But Aristotle would likely be suspicious of such a claim, and see more true philosophical advancement in leisure solely devoted to the intellect, not to work.

In contrast to all of these philosophers, Kantian or rule-based ethics stresses that since we cannot know what the results of our actions we should act as though we are setting a principle for everyone, for all time. "What rule theorists do claim is that to determine the legitimacy of such actions, a referee must analyze them with the tools of the respective ethical systems" ("A Defense of Rule-Based Ethics," 2007, NYU Philosophy Homepage).

My philosophy of leisure is one of self-improvement, although ideally a more balanced self-improving philosophy than Aristotle's philosophy. The virtue of good leisure lies in making me a better person, but my leisure, through sport, service, and intellectual striving should not be confined either to the abstract achievement of wisdom or pursuing pure pleasure like Bentham. I admit I enjoy reading a good book more than a trashy novel, and I enjoy working out more than simply sleeping the day away, so in that sense my philosophy is utilitarian. But to enjoy this self-improvement and to take true pleasure in my surroundings, sometimes I must feel a bit of pain. Sometimes I must get up early in the morning to work out, to honor a commitment to go to a social obligation with a friend, for example. But this is still leisure and happiness, because I know that I will receive both self-improvement and great enjoyment if I work through the small amount of discomfort.

A stand apart from the rigidity of Kant in my flexibility with what I do with my leisure time. Kant asks me act as if my single action sets a precedent for all time -- if my leisure is to run five miles on Saturday and spend the rest of the day visiting my grandmother, I have broken 'the rule' if I sleep in one weekend. But I may feel sore, and sick, and my adherence to this self-imposed rule of leisure makes me a less agreeable and thus less useful (Bentham) and less intellectually striving (Aristotle) person the next day. Likewise, if I seek my leisure in another land, I may have to curtail my customs, eating habits, and my pleasures to take in the enjoyment of the new nation, and do without hot water and Starbucks for a week to see what life is like in a rural area of China. But this… [END OF PREVIEW]

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