Aquinas on the vice of sloth: Three interpretive issues

The Thomist 75 (1):43-64 (2011)
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Defining the capital vice of sloth (acedia) is a difficult business in Thomas Aquinas and in the Christian tradition of thought from which he draws his account. In this article, I will raise three problems for interpreting Aquinas's account of sloth. They are all related, as are the resolutions to them I will offer. The three problems can be framed as questions: How, on Aquinas's account, can sloth consistently be categorized as, first, a capital vice and, second, a spiritual vice? These two questions lead to a third, namely, how is the condition of sloth possible, given Aquinas's moral psychology and the nature of the will? The resolution of these interpretive issues can help do two things. It can help explain the apparent inconsistency between traditional (ancient and medieval) and contemporary conceptions of this vice, and —if Aquinas's account is right— it can help us diagnose contemporary moral and spiritual maladies that may either go unnoticed or be confused with distinctively modern "virtues" like diligence and industriousness.

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Rebecca DeYoung
Calvin University


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