Not Yet Twilight

by Josef Pieper, St Augustine’s Press, £15.50

Interesting lives are generally not to be expected of philosophers. But Josef Pieper, who died 20 years ago this November, was an exception. He lived a life across four continents, among persons of great fame and those of none, that is as exciting and instructive as any of the academic books with which his name was made.

This second volume of Pieper’s autobiography begins with the moments immediately after World War II. Pieper is returning from his wartime captivity to his home in Germany, not yet knowing whether his house has survived. The years described – from 1945 to 1964 – contain nearly the whole of Pieper’s academic career, beginning with his efforts to finish a PhD in the ruins of his home city.

His colloquium lecture in front of the faculty was on the concept of truth in Heidegger, whose definition of truth – “the language of truth is freedom” – provoked in our author the response: “What kind of ‘definition’ is that, in which the definition is less known and clear than what is being defined?”

He spent the majority of his career in what his colleagues viewed as unimportant teaching roles, and seems to decline a new invitation to become chair of philosophy at this or that prestigious university on every other page. When Pieper was first invited to teach at Notre Dame in the United States, he attempted to explain that he had not yet reached his desired familiarity with the language – the young professor sent to interview him reported that he was “very nice”, but “knows no English”.

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