Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

The Vice of Sloth

Sloth is something very different than laziness.

Though I've had the book in a stack of books that I plan on reading for quite a while, I've finally gotten into Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies, by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung (Brazos Press, 2009). As any reader of this blog will know, I'm very interested in the moral and intellectual virtues. Given that, I thought I should give some attention to the nature and impact of the vices as well, and this book is a good place to start. While it engages with one specific tradition's view of the vices and their remedies--the Christian tradition--there is food for thought here for those who do not identify with this particular religious faith. And for those who do, there is plenty to consider.  Other traditions have things to say on the virtues and vices as well, and in future posts I'll consider some of those.

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Here, I'll focus on the treatment of the vice of sloth given in the book. We tend to think of it as mere inactivity, or mere laziness. What's really wrong, after all, with camping out on the couch on a Sunday afternoon and watching hours of sporting events or movies? Perhaps nothing. This may be slothful, but it may not be. This is because sloth is not equivalent to laziness. Konyndyk DeYoung states that sloth "can show itself in the total inertia of the couch potato or the restless distractions of endless activity" (p. 95). But why think this?

The primary reason has to do with the true nature of sloth, which is defined in this book as resistance to the transformative demands of God's love. (For those not in this religious tradition, it could be the demands of love for one's spouse, children, and community, though these are related of course to the demands of God's love for the theist). Now we are in a position to see why sloth can be shown via inertia or endless activity. When we avoid fulfilling the demands of love, this can occur via laziness. It can also occur by keeping ourselves busy, distracted, going from activity to activity as as way of avoiding the hard work of loving others.

This is why sloth is a moral vice.  Sloth prevents us from fully engaging in relationships of love and sacrifice with other people. And it is in these sorts of relationships that we can find deep fulfillment.

Check out my other blog, dealing with other topics in philosophy and religion.

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Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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