Monday, March 23, 2015

On Leisure and the 5 Common Topics [Your Turn to Play]

On Leisure and the Common Topics @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 

I have been sharing about Aristotle’s 5 Common Topics of Invention this year. [When you see the word Invention, it might help to think about gathering an inventory of ideas, which is what we are doing when we ask questions!] I’ve given examples of what it might look like if one is using the common topics to discuss a classic piece of literature (albeit children’s literature) or even a picture book (which can also be literature, and certainly was in the example). But, you might be saying, I haven’t read those books! It is hard to participate in a discussion about a book if one hasn’t read it!

What if I told you that you could use the common topics to have a deep discussion about a single sentence?

Yes, you can. Some of you attended a Classical Conversations Parent Practicum last summer and had the chance to break into small groups to do just that. When I spoke, I used the above quote for our small group discussion material. The definition alone, as usual, could have taken up all of our discussion time.

In fact, one can have a deep discussion about a single word using only the topic of definition.

(See, for example, the second video imbedded in this post.)

Today, we are asking:

:: What is leisure? ::

I will ask a few questions using the five common topics. You are welcome to use them to contemplate the idea of leisure, to discuss the quote with family or friends, or to share thoughts in the comments here.

Below the questions are several quotes and links on the subject of leisure. You are welcome to read them before or after you contemplate the questions (or both!). Be aware that they may change your idea of leisure. [grin]

[Note: There is no answer guide. There are no “correct” answers. This is not a reading comprehension quiz. These “Socratic” questions are to be used in the service of open-ended dialogue.]

5 Common Topics


What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word leisure? [It’s okay to admit that leisure suit was your first thought. Grin.]

What is the definition of leisure?

Subjective definition? Objective definition?

Synonyms? Antonyms?

What broad category does leisure belong to?

What are other things/divisions under that category?

How is leisure the same as or different from the other things within the broad category?


Compare leisure and labor. Similarities? Differences?

Leisure and relaxation? Leisure and laziness or idleness? Leisure and pleasure?

Compare leisure and a river.

[One often needs to return to definition when new words and ideas are introduced into the conversation!]


How is leisure related to art?

How is leisure related to culture?

How is leisure related to slavery?

How is leisure related to the Sabbath?

Is leisure a luxury or a necessity?

What is necessary in order to have leisure?

How does one acquire leisure?

What effect does leisure have on a person? On a society?

[Some of these answers may sound like definition or comparison, and that’s okay!]


Who, historically, has had leisure? What kind of people? In which cultures?

How has the definition of leisure changed over time and in different cultures?

What is leisure and who has it in cultures with a caste system, slavery, or communism?

What was leisure in Ben Franklin’s world?


Who or what has something to say about leisure? Are they an authority, a witness, or are they giving their testimonial?

Are there maxims about leisure? Laws? Statistics?

Is Ben Franklin an authority?

What would your grandfather have said about leisure? A celebrity?

Which of these “authorities” are credible? Why or why not?


Did you know that thinking about the five common topics is practicing leisure?


The following are quotes, books, and articles about leisure that may be used to expand the conversation.

:: From The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin. You may be interested in the words Franklin wrote directly after the quote we are contemplating:

Employ thy time well if thou meanest to gain leisure; and, since thou art not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. Leisure is time for doing something useful; this leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; so that…[a] life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things.

:: From Thoreau on Hard Work, the Myth of Productivity, and the True Measure of Meaningful Labor @ Brain Pickings

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.

:: From Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott::

As we have seen, the “Liberal” Arts are precisely not “Servile” Arts that can be justified in terms of their immediate practical purpose. “The ‘liberality’ or ‘freedom’ of the Liberal Arts consist in their not being disposable for purposes, that they do not need to be legitimated by a social function, by being ‘work.’” …At the heart of any culture worthy of the name is not work but leisure, schole in Greek, a word that lies at the root of the English word “school.” At its highest, leisure is contemplation. It is an activity that is its own justification, the pure expression of what it is to be human. It is what we do. The “purpose” of the quadrivium was to prepare us to contemplate God in an ordered fashion, to take delight in the source of all truth, beauty, and goodness…"

:: From Artists: Don’t Just Work; Be At Leisure by Somer Salomon @ Transpositions

Instead, Pieper maintains that the arts are most definitely rooted in leisure. Pieper insists that we have forgotten the true meaning of leisure, from which springs richness, fullness of life, existential meaning, and happiness. Leisure is not idleness or even relaxation (both of which Pieper ironically says are other forms of work). Instead, leisure is the openness to the given world, an attitude of considering the things before us in a celebratory spirit.

:: From Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper

[p 34] St. Thomas speaks of contemplation and play in the same breath: “because of the leisure that goes with contemplation” the divine wisdom itself, Holy Scripture says, is “always at play, playing through the whole world.” (Prov 8:30f.).

[p 43] At the zenith of the Middle Ages, on the contrary, it was held that sloth and restlessness, “leisurelessness”, the incapacity to enjoy leisure, were all closely connected; sloth was held to be the source of restlessness, and the ultimate cause of “work for work’s sake.”

[p 46] For leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.

[p 53] Leisure…is not a Sunday afternoon idyll, but the preserve of freedom, of education and culture, and of that undiminished humanity which views the world as a whole.

[p 65] The soul of leisure, it can be said, lies in “celebration.” Celebration is the point at which the three elements of leisure come to a focus: relaxation, effortlessness, and a superiority of “active leisure” to all functions. But if celebration is the core of leisure, then leisure can only be made possible and justifiable on the same basis as the celebration of a festival. That basis is divine worship.

[p 69] The vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost.

:: From Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David Hicks:

[Aristotle] shares the popular view that a happy, well-adjusted individual is the true end of learning, and he does not shrink from giving a full account of what he means by happiness. “Happiness is believed to depend on leisure,” he writes, “for the aim of all our business is leisure just as the aim of war is peace.”

The life of virtue has nothing to do with one’s prospective pleasures, possessions, or practical affairs, but concerns the manner in which one is prepared to spend one’s leisure hours.

:: From the Bible (KJV)

Mark 6:31

And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

:: From Leisure, from the Dictionary of Bible themes at Bible Gateway

Time for rest and recreational activities. Economic conditions in biblical times did not allow ordinary people much free time for leisure. However Scripture does give principles which apply to leisure.


Danielle said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post! My CC book discussion group used it to guide our own practice discussion, and to teach ourselves about the 5 common topics. I took notes. :) We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and came away with a deeper understanding of leisure. So awesome! Miss you. :)

Heidi said...

Oh, I'm so glad you were able to use it! :) Yay! for CC book discussion groups. :) I'd have loved to listen in and hear what y'all had to say on the subject. Miss you, too!