on 5 July 2008
Of the three Josef Pieper books I have read (namely i) the anthology and ii) Faith, Hope and Charity and this present one), this has been the best for me. Pieper excels in crystalline clarity of thought; he exudes the wisdom of St Thomas. The brilliance of this book lies in Pieper's ability to see the depth of meaning in things, how we human being are configured towards right order and that when we damage and destroy this order, such as by committing an injustice, we not only damage others but counterintuitively harm ourselves more. Pieper examines Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, shows their ranking in the order of virtues and shows how they interrelate.
Pieper has shown me something I would simply never have come to know myself, namely that prudence (as classically understood, not the cunning of the tactician, as understood in modern times) is the pre-eminent virtue. But, not only that, he shows clearly the true nature of the virtues and distinguishes them from the counterfeit virtues which society labels by the same name. Pieper is particularly good at showing how counterfeits of these virtues are in fact manichaeistic in nature, often showing disdain of the body. Thus, he cites St Thomas as saying that in paradise the pleasure which man derived from the sexual act would have been greater rather than impaired by an over-spiritualism. He is also excellent on anger. The tendency towards an overly spiritualist attitude with disdain for the body has resurfaced in recent years (see, for example, the talks of Anthony de Mello SJ where he indicates that Christ's manifestation of the natual passions, such as anger, is indeed a short coming!). Referring to St Thomas, Pieper shows that "anger" at times may be in fact a manifestation of right reason and the lack thereof may show deep spiritual disorder.
In this book, one finds one continually surprised, almost taken aback by a train of thought. The real star of the book is the Great St Thomas, mediated by the great Josef Pieper!
on 20 January 2013
I know other reviewers bought this book for theology, but I bought for a course in virtue ethics from the philosophical perspective, and it was excellent for that. Pieper can be a very technical and highly detailed author but in this work and in the other works of his I have read he is never confusing or overly complicated unless he absolutely has to be. Like the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, this is a book I will come back to again and again in years to come.