Josef Pieper

1981 Balzan Prize for Philosophy

For opening new horizons by reviving the eternal themes of Christian philosophy in a framework linking the wisdom of Ancient Greek thought with the Gospel message, in a language capable of arousing a new philosophical awareness of fundamental existential problems in a vast audience throughout the world.

Emeritus Professor of Münster University in Westphalia, Joseph Pieper (1904 – 1997) is considered to be one of the greatest modern-day Catholic philosophers. He has not only developed his work in the university world but, with his writings and conferences, has also succeeded in arousing a philosophical conscience in a much wider audience than that of specialized scientists.
His technical expertise in various fields of philosophical anthropology, the history of thought, sociology, and even in the specific field of theology is outstanding. But what has made him into an author known and read throughout the world is his extraordinary sensitivity in terms of the metaphysical revelation of human attitudes, i.e. feelings, qualities, situations, and hopes.

Even although his work has no direct links with Scheler’s thinking on phenomenology, Pieper can nevertheless be compared with Scheler as regards his ability to create a moral philosophy consisting of significant notations, as opposed to prescriptions and abstractions.
Pieper’s thinking is strictly Catholic in its orientation, but he has succeeded in developing this viewpoint into a universal vision of the human phenomenon, studied in all its existential and spiritual aspects. Even a nonbeliever can identify himself with Pieper’s analysis, finding stimulation and food for his own thought, thus throwing hidden aspirations into relief and achieving concrete certainties, far-removed from dusty dogmatism.

He has always remained rather on the outskirts of German academic life, not only because of his refusal of the many invitations received from universities, but also — and perhaps above all — because of the rather unacademic nature of his output, which has mainly taken the form of essays. However, this feature in no way lessens the intellectual strength of Pieper’s culture which, together with his exceptional literary skill, have given him an invaluable asset, making him into an author who is destined to remain in the forefront of public attention.

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