Why Is Laziness A Vice?
Breaking Down the Vice of “Sloth”
“Lazy” is generally not something that people aspire to be. I, for one, would not want to be called a “lazy person”. However, why exactly is it such a bad thing to be lazy? Ancient philosophers categorized this idea as a vice, and they fittingly named it “sloth”. What does it mean to be a sloth, and why is it considered a vice?
I opened this article with the word “lazy,” as it directly relates to the vice of sloth. However, “lazy” doesn’t really give the full breadth of what sloth actually means. When we think of laziness, we think of lying on the couch and not doing anything. However, the vice of sloth can be more broadly defined as:
Sloth — being negligent of one’s duties
The implication is that one can be busy while still being a sloth. How can that be? It’s actually relatively simple: you can be working on tasks that aren’t useful or that aren’t required of you right now.
Consider your work tasks. There are likely some items you enjoy doing while others you’d rather chew off your arm than do. The tasks that you enjoy doing don’t require any coaxing, but the tasks that you do not enjoy do. It isn’t uncommon for people to busy themselves with the tasks that they enjoy while ignoring the tasks that they do not enjoy.
There isn’t inherently anything wrong with this if both tasks need to be done. What if, however, you are doing “enjoyable Task A” that is due in one week while conveniently not doing “annoying Task B” that is due today? This is a case of sloth because, even though you are doing work that needs to get done, it isn’t essential that you do it today and it is eating up time that you could use to complete the tasks that are due today.
Hence, being busy isn’t necessarily good; it depends on what you are busy doing, why you are doing it, and whether or not it’s the priority right now.
Is There Room to be Lazy?
Being lazy from time to time isn’t always a vice, given some conditions of course. Watching an hour of television after a 12-hour workday could hardly be considered vicious. But that is the key point: you can be lazy, but only after you’ve completed your work.
This is why it’s important to tell young people to complete their tasks before they play. Play before work is a vice; play after work is not. But why is that the case, exactly? Wouldn't it be grand if we could play first and then complete our work?
You can be lazy, but only after you’ve completed your work.
Why Sloth is a Vice
Sloth is a vice because it is neglecting your duties to the world, which will ultimately result in the collapse of society. Let’s not forget that the society that we have incredibly built around us requires a vast amount of work and maintenance. Together, we’ve built and maintained a society where you aren’t required to go out and hunt or gather your food, collect materials and construct your clothing, go underground and maintain the sewage piping systems, dig for oil and process it so that it’s useable… the list can quite literally fill a library.
No, if we all come together, we get to contribute in our own way and then we can all reap the benefits of society. Through experience, we’ve generally accepted that a 40-hour workweek is sufficient for you to “do your part”. However, this is just a guideline — some work well over 40 hours and some barely work at all (in terms of time). What is important is that we all work in a way that contributes to the world around us so that we can maintain our standard of living and, hopefully, make it better over time.
What is important is that we all work in a way that contributes to the world around us so that we can maintain our standard of living and, hopefully, make it better over time.
Consider what happens if we instead decide to be a sloth. Well, the work that each of us is required to do will not get done. The power lines will eventually fail. Your car will soon run out of gas, and the gas stations will have nothing in storage. Your dishes will pile up in the sink, but that won’t matter because the people delivering the food to the grocery stores aren’t working either so you’ll have nothing to eat or cook anyway.
The point is that the requirement to do work is a condition of life itself and not of any particular society or economical system. If you choose to neglect your duty, the standard of living will surely drop. Sure, you can choose to play video games instead of doing your laundry every now and then, but if you continue to do that, eventually, you will have no clean clothes. You’d be better off just doing your work first and then grabbing the controller.
Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to similar reflections on The Strong Stoic Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts.