Acedia as Despair of Prideless Man

Maciej Sławomir Kostyra

This study investigated acedia in existential and moral contexts, using its descriptions from antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, modern and postmodern times. I have chosen to work with six definitions of acedia. Th ese are: carelessness of heart (the Bible), narcissism (Evagrius of Ponticus), contradiction in will (St. Augustine), sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good (St. Th omas, Summa Theologica, II.2.q 35.1), demonic despair of will to be oneself (Søren Kierkegaard), and self-contempt (Jean-Luc Marion). My approach is inspired by philosophical investigations of Evagrius, St. Augustine, St. Th omas, Kierkegaard, and Marion. As we shall see, it is impossible to draw a clear line between carnal and spiritual issues of acedia. Contrary to common opinion, interconnections between acedia and sloth are multilayered and complex, yet the nature and signifi cance of this relationship is incomprehensible for contemporary psychologists who try to turn the attention away from acedia’s dialectical nature. Hence I emphasize that acedia always concerns both carnal and spiritual (not only mental) disorders. If we look at this from the point of view of St. Th omas, we will see that acedia is contrasted to love, not to accuracy. Sloth is evil because it denotes blameworthy sorrow for spiritual good. Seven capital vices relate to the consequences of improper human activity but acedia refers to the condition of people who are unable to perform their social duties, want to do nothing and avoid undertaking moral challenges in the world because of their laziness, passivity, weakness of will, indecision, cowardice. A certain weariness in working, shortage of esteem, contempt for virtuous people are main symptoms of acedia. Oppressive acedia’s sorrow is an inner consequence of being saddened about the good things. Acedia is associated with long-standing frustration of desire. Th e paper discusses some philosophical and educational strategies for helping to overcome acedia as an evil in appetitive movements.


Keywords: charity · fortitude · nostalgia · placidity · sloth · sorrow · virtue · wrath

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