Josef Pieper
Born(1904-05-04)4 May 1904
Died6 November 1997(1997-11-06) (aged 93)
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Christian philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of religion

Josef Pieper (German: [ˈpiːpɐ]; 4 May 1904 – 6 November 1997)[1] was a German Catholic philosopher and an important figure in the resurgence of interest in the thought of Thomas Aquinas in early-to-mid 20th-century philosophy. Among his most notable works are The Four Cardinal Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance; Leisure, the Basis of Culture; and Guide to Thomas Aquinas (published in England as Introduction to Thomas Aquinas).

Life and career

Pieper studied philosophy, law and sociology at the universities of Berlin and Münster. After working as a sociologist and freelance writer, he became ordinary professor of philosophical anthropology at the University of Münster, and taught there from 1950 to 1976. As professor emeritus, he continued to provide lectures until 1996.[2] With his wife Hildegard, he translated C.S. Lewis's The Problem of Pain into German (Über den Schmerz, 1954) with an afterword, "On Simplicity of Language in Philosophy". A symposium to celebrate his 90th birthday was held in Münster in May 1994, with the papers read there published as Aufklärung durch Tradition ("Enlightenment through Tradition") in 1995. In 2010, a symposium was held in Paderborn on "Josef Pieper's and C. S. Lewis's View of Man", with papers published in Wahrheit und Selbstüberschreitung ("Truth and Self-Transcendence").[3]


His views are rooted primarily in the Scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and in the teachings of Plato. In 60 years of creative work as a philosopher and writer, Pieper explicated the wisdom tradition of the West in clear language, and identified its enduring relevance.


Recent champions of Pieper's philosophy in the English-speaking world include James V. Schall, S.J., professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University, Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., professor of theology at Fordham University, Steven Cortright at St. Mary's College of California, Francis Grabowski, professor of English at Rogers State University, and from within the Muslim community, Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College, Berkeley, California.[4][citation needed]

The philosopher Kurt Flasch sees Pieper's 1934 writing as support for National Socialist social policy. However, Flasch qualifies that Pieper's attempts to act as a "bridge builder" between Catholicism and the Nazi state are visible "only in his world of thought of the years 1933 and 1934".[5] In the early phase of the Nazi regime, Pieper "[clarified] the ethically correct intention of National Socialism and [...] explained to hesitant Catholics the parallel social teaching of the encyclical Quadragesimo of 1929" and thus at his place of work in Münster in community with the aforementioned scholars served to "talk the Münster Catholics out of their distance from National Socialism". Pieper agreed with Schmaus and Lortz that "Hitler and the Pope [...] had the same main enemies", namely "liberalism on the right, this hereditary evil of modernity which underlies the current crisis, and Bolshevism on the left, before Hitler saved us". "He, Pieper, proves to the Catholic Christians that Hitler's and the Pope's goals are identical." Pieper's book, Das Arbeitsrecht des Neuen Reiches und die Enzyklika Quadragesimo anno ("The Labor Law of the New Reich and the Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno") (1934), says: "The very far-reaching, in individual points astonishing correspondences between the model of the encyclical and the socio-political goals and realizations of the National Socialist state should be clarified so emphatically, so that the Catholic Christians outside the bridge that connects the ideas of Christian social teaching with National Socialist social policy, the core of the domestic policy of the Third Reich.”[6] Hans Maier wrote in a review that Flasch, in his writing on Pieper, refutes the assumption that Pieper was a "pioneer of National Socialism". Pieper gave the Third Reich "no impetus, no suggestions", but was initially deceived by Nazi attempts to hide the criminal character of that state.[7]

However, immediately after the publication of the book Das Arbeitsrecht des Neuen Reiches und die Enzyklika Quadragesimo, Pieper recognized his mistake and asked the publisher on 21 July 1934 and again on 22 September 22, to refrain from a new edition.[8] According to Hans Maier, Pieper quickly distanced himself from Das Arbeitsrecht and his positive assessment of Nazi social policy.[9] In his work on the cardinal virtue of bravery, also published in 1934, Pieper, referring to the situation in Germany, was already warning of a “destructive counterattack of […] irrationalism” that “declares war on the primacy of […] the Spirit itself.”[10] Pieper also criticized the "conversion of society into a community" operated by the Nazis. Because of the increasingly visible rejection of Nazism in his writings, Pieper was eventually banned from publishing. The philosopher Fernando Inciarte therefore classifies Pieper as an opponent of National Socialism, who, however, did not cross the line into open resistance and therefore "never claimed the honor of being considered an opposition member". However, Pieper's writings have been shown to have influenced members of the opposition such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[11]


In 1981 Pieper received the Balzan Prize in Philosophy; in 1987 he was awarded the State Prize of the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. In 1990, he received the Ehrenring of the Görres-Gesellschaft.

Select publications in English

See also


  1. ^ "Josef Pieper, Philosopher of Virtue" Retrieved 2011-07-20.
  2. ^ Short bio, Josef Pieper Stiftung at Akademie Franz Hitze Haus (in German). Retrieved 2011-07-20.
  3. ^ ed. Thomas Möllenbeck & Berthold Wald; published by Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn etc. 2011. ISBN 978-3-506-77157-5
  4. ^ "Hamza Yusuf interviewing Anna Bonta Moreland".
  5. ^ Flasch, Kurt, Catholic Pioneers of National Socialism, Frankfurt a. M. 2021, p. 15.
  6. ^ Pieper, Josef, Das Arbeitsrecht des Neuen Reiches und die Enzyklika Quadragesimo anno, Münster 1934, p. 3.
  7. ^ Maier, Hans, Ordnung, Führung, Bindung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 15, 2021, p. 9.
  8. ^ Die Tagespost: Lehrstühle im Wind des Zeitgeistes. June 6, 2022, retrieved June 22, 2022.
  9. ^ Maier, Hans, Ordnung, Führung, Bindung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 15, 2021, p. 9.
  10. ^ Pieper, Joseph, Vom Sinn der Tapferkeit, Leipzig 1934, p. 17.
  11. ^ Inciarte, Fernando: About Josef Pieper, in: Hans M. Baumgartner, Klaus Jacobi, Henning Ottmann (eds.): Philosophisches Jahrbuch, Volume 105, Volume 1, Baden-Baden 1998. p. 238-240, here: p. 239.
  12. ^ Reviewed by Christopher Derrick in the TLS Jan. 22, 1970, together with Hope and History.