Matt C. Abbott of Renew American has a short interview with Fr. Schall about the prolific Jesuit's new book, Reasonable Pleasures: The Strange Coherences of Catholicism, published recently by Ignatius Press:
Matt C. Abbott: Father, could you give my readers an overview of your latest book? What inspired you to write it?
Father Schall: This book was written during a semester that I was recovering from jaw cancer. I was given a semester sabbatical leave to recover. I was over the worst in a couple of months, so I had some time before the Spring Semester (2011) began. I had long wanted to take up the Aristotelian theme that all human activities have, by nature, connected with them a proper pleasure.
Obviously, a different kind of pleasure exists for every kind of activity. We forget that even thinking, or especially thinking, has its proper pleasure. Aristotle even says, speaking of politicians, that if they do now know or experience pleasure in the highest things, they will seek them in lower things. That is really the testimony of human experience.
The rightness or morality of a pleasure is not itself but the activity in which it ought to exist. Thus, if we separate the pleasure from the activity in which it should exist, we distort and abuse both the activity and the pleasure that belongs to it. Aristotle said that pleasure is one of the common definitions of happiness. But on examination, it cannot be its essence. Pleasure follows an activity. If the act is wrong, the pleasure remains, but it is distorted. If the act is good, the pleasure is proper and enhances the activity. This is what is rooted in our being.
The basic theme of the book is that pleasure as such is a good, a natural good that was intended to be consequent to or implicit in any act. Yet, it is clear that we have many possibilities to separate pleasure from its proper act. When we do this, we introduce disorder into our souls. Our lives should be full of delight and pleasure. But in a proper order. Putting order into our pleasures is the work of reason. It often takes understanding followed by discipline or practice. We are to order our lives. No one else will or can do it for us. Thus a principal part of education is simply to teach what sort of pleasure belongs to what act and why.
Our human lives have many levels. What this book strives to do is to spell out the levels and to point to the pleasures proper to human living. I do this in part to recall that many heresies or philosophic disorders want to make pleasure an evil. There can be evil connected with pleasure, but only when we separate it from its proper act.
Obviously, the title of the book assumes that there are "unreasonable" pleasures. Actually, the un-reason does not lie in the pleasure itself but in the activity from which it flows. It is always my position that to live well, we must think well. This is why this book is really an exercise in thinking about pleasures in their different modes. We do not forget that our end is seeing God, eternal life. But this "seeing" this beatific vision, is also a delight. But we do not "see" God for the delight of seeing but for God Himself. The delight follows the seeing. Once we understand this relationship, we can better order our lives to delight in them.
Read the entire interview at RenewAmerica.com.
Here is more about the book, which is also available in electronic book format:
The fact of pleasure is obvious to us, but its relation to reason is less understood. We are beings who laugh and run, sing and dance, but we too seldom reflect on why we do these things. Above all, we are beings who think and who want to know whether our lives make sense.
In this thought-provoking study of the relationship between our reason and our experience of pleasure, popular professor and author Fr. James Schall shows how reason, religion and pleasure are not in conflict with one another. Religion has to do with how man relates to God. Catholicism is not so much a religion as a revelation. It records and recalls how God relates to man.
The popular mood of our time is that neither religion nor revelation has much to do with real life. Yet when we look at things as having meaning and order, they fit together in surprising ways. This coherence should bring us joy, and teach us how reason, religion and pleasure can work together for our benefit. Schall shows us in this book why we have many reasons to think that our lives make sense, that our pleasures can be reasonable, and our reason itself is a pleasure.
James V. Schall, S. J., was a popular and highly regarded Professor of Political Philosophy for many years at Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. His previous books include Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, The Life of the Mind, At the Limits of Political Philosophy, and The Order of Things.
Praise for Reasonable Pleasures:
"A timely treatise when the sources of our being, and of our culture,
are challenged on a daily basis. Steeped in classical learning, Schall
shows the value of a Catholic mind filled with the wisdom of the past,
in addressing the relativism and skepticism of the present. Schall is
one of the foremost Catholic intellectuals of our day."
- Jude P. Dougherty, Dean, School of Philosophy, Catholic University of America
"With the inspiration of Plato and other great sages, it is indisputable
that the greatest contemporary guide of What Is is James V. Schall, as
this book so beautifully, cogently, and accessibly demonstrates on every
- Patrick J. Deneen, University of Notre Dame
"This is Schall at his best-learned, witty, and profound. He reminds us
that existence and our deepest selves have an underlying unity that can
be discovered with reason and grace."
- Gerald Russello, Editor, University Bookman
"The book's chapters on hell, eternal life, and dogma are worth the read in themselves."
- Raymond Dennehy, Professor of Philosophy, University of San Francisco
"A bracing antidote to the disorientation of modernism that casts Man as
an intruder in the universe . . . delivered in Fr. Schall's inimitable
style-serious matters wrapped in wit and wisdom."
- Mary Jo Anderson, Author, Male and Female He Made Them
"Schall brilliantly leads his readers to discover the ‘reasonable
pleasures' found in the mind's ability to know truth. The book is
suffused with the joy of learning and, above all, the joy of
contemplation and worship."
- Christopher Cullen, S.J., Fordham University
"Schall points towards real joy in a world going through gloomy times-Christian dogma as the soul of true wit."
- Joseph Wood, Institute of World Politics