June 2020 Philosophy Walk: Leisure & Loafing

How nice it was to be outside in the elements after being cooped up for several months (for obvious pandemic-related reasons)! With the sunshine on our backs (coupled with a few bouts of rain), we explored Mount Helena by way of the Daisy Hill, Bitterroot Way, and Prairie Trails and talked about leisure & loafing with philosopher David Nowakowski.

Introductory Material

Our society has a complicated relationship with leisure, idleness, and rest.  We’re encouraged to “work hard, play hard.”  We wonder about “work-life balance.”  We take pride in how busy we are, how much we get done, how we “just don’t have time for that.”

A century ago, social critics had a completely different concern: What would human life be like in the year 2000, when new technology had freed us from the drudgery of manual labor, and we only had to work for ten hours per week?  What would we do with all of our new-found free time?

In 2019, the average American worker worked more hours per year, had less days off, and kept a smaller percentage of what he produced, than your average peasant in medieval Europe.  Seriously.

Over the last few months, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have forced millions of people into a slower, less productive mode of living, whether they wanted it or not.  What has that been like?  What lessons has this taught us about the value of idleness?


Some of the Questions We Explored

  • Is there a difference between leisure and idleness?
  • What do idleness and loafing get such a bad rap?
  • Why are leisure, rest, and relaxation important?  It is only for the sake of being able to do more “real work” later, or do they have some intrinsic value of their own?
  • How did we get here?  What cultural contexts, philosophical and religious ideas, and historical circumstances have shaped our values around work and leisure?  Are they still relevant today?
  • What is the value of leisure for individuals?  For communities?  For society as a whole?
  • How, if we’re so inclined, can we cultivate leisure in our own lives?


Leisure, Loafing & Idleness vs. Work (David Nowakowski)


Different Kinds of Leisure & Value (David Nowakowski)


Ways of Cultivating & Practicing Leisure (David Nowakowski)


Leisure & Loafing Book List

As we discussed during the walk, these are some resources that are “good to think with,” to help us reflect on leisure, idleness, and the activities that have intrinsic value in human life and culture.  The authors would not all agree with each other on every point, and many of them bring assumptions that will be challenging and uncomfortable.  That’s part of the point: by wrestling with challenging arguments, and evaluating the ways that they fit together, we can come to a deeper, more robust understanding of these issues.

  • Josef Pieper, Leisure, the Basis of Culture.
  • Tom Hodgkinson, The Freedom Manifesto.
  • David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs.
  • Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America.
  • Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence.
  • Jacques Le Goff, Time, Work, and Culture in the Middle Ages, and Your Money or Your Life: Economy and Religion in the Middle Ages.
  • Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

About Our Philosophy Walk Guide

David is as a philosopher and educator whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives.  A lover of philosophy and the great outdoors, David is currently building his own consulting practice and serves as a Philosophical Advisor and Consultant for Merlin CCC & Senior Mentor for scholars in the Merlin Fellowship Program.

David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since.  

Read More About David...

A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014.  His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & WestAsian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy; as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere. 

A hermit by nature and by committed choice, he balances contemplative solitude with his active work in teaching, counseling, and the healing arts. We are elated to be collaborating with David on our philosophy in the community activities, fellowships, and other Merlin projects.

Thank You’s

Thank you to P.L.A.T.O. (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), Humanities Montana, and BWP Helena Great Northern Hotel for helping support our philosophy in the community programs and making events like this possible!  Thank you to our philosophy walk guide David Nowakowski…to community member Daniel Gardener for inspiring the topic for this fun meandering, and to our walk participants who helped to make the day so special with your thoughtful comments, questions, stories, and insights!

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