Boredom and the Divided Mind

Res Philosophica 92 (4):937-957 (2015)
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On one predominant conception of virtue, the virtuous agent is, among other things, wholehearted in doing what she believes best. I challenge this condition of wholeheartedness by making explicit the connections between the emotion of boredom and the states of continence and akrasia. An easily bored person is more susceptible to these forms of disharmony because of two familiar characteristics of boredom. First, that we can be – and often are – bored by what it is that we know would be best to do, and second, that occurrent states of boredom tend to give rise to positive interest in performing actions that we know are bad to perform. Moreover, while a person’s susceptibility to boredom can indicate a lack of attentiveness or acuity, or be evidence of a vice such as ingratitude or shallowness, it can in others indicate positive qualities of character, such as perspicacity, liveliness, and certain forms of intelligence. Upon imagining certain bored akratics without the psychological qualities that give rise to their boredom, we will either imagine them without these positive qualities, or with others that – though perhaps psychologically possible – are not clearly better. This yields the result that a person who is continent or even akratic because of her susceptibility to boredom may have a character no less excellent than that of the wholehearted agent.

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Vida Yao
Rice University


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