The estimable Gary Shapiro of The New York Sun reported a day or two ago on another stupid academic conference, this one called “In Defense of Sloth“, which the organizers describe as ” the most philosophical” of vices. Gary asked me for a comment on this latest example of academic fatuousness, which I duly provided. His report quotes me, but since I said a bit more, I thought I would post my entire comment here:
In Kingsley Amis’s classic novel Lucky Jim, the protagonist reflects sourly on his own academic hack work and “the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems.” The sponsors of this conference would seem to have out Amised Amis. What is the appropriate response to such exercises in cynical pointlessness? I am torn between recommending ridicule and contemptuous neglect. It may, however, be worth noting that sloth is not “the most philosophical” but rather the most terrifying and soul-deadening of vices. It is not, despite common usage, synonymous with laziness. On the contrary, as St. Thomas noted, it is a state of “tristitia de bono spirituale”: sadness or despair in the face of the spiritual good that is creation. It is typical of the special idiocy of contemporary academia that it would frivolously pretend to celebrate something that, if pursued in earnest, would spread moral anesthesia and despair.