Disclaimer one: I am not a Christian, nor do I have any religious agendas with this post.

Disclaimer two: This is a quite lengthy post, with a considerable amount of preliminary stuff, and also a few related digressions.

With this post, I want to discuss the scope of what Sloth means, as I find the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins highly intriguing. I also want to write a book about it. But to do that, I must know what all the sins really mean, and "sloth" has been the most perplexing one of them. I hope this is the right place to ask, as I fear I might get some biased answers on a religious site, no offense intended.

So, the obvious first. Indolence. The avoidance of physical exertion and work. The opposite virtue of sloth is diligence, which supports this. But the opposing virtues aren't always the exact opposites, as they all usually have some more unrelated implications - look at Wrath vs Patience. So, understanding the countering virtue isn't enough to fully understand the sin.

Reading on it a little, I saw that sloth is really just inaction when action is morally required. Now, I have thought about this interpretation of sloth a lot. "What if sloth is really just immoral inaction"? Now, this seems to coincide with something else I read about sloth, that "it can be borne by the other sins", like e.g. wroth; "A son fails to fulfill his duties on the farm, because he is angry at his father".

This then makes sloth the odd one out in the lethal septet, as all the other sins are at least made out to be "independent". There are probably many psychologists, sociologists and philosophers that would disagree with that. I mean, what if you kill your neighbor (wrath) because you're envious (envy) of their marriage, children, house and general life? That is an example of a sin being borne by another. Wrath being born out of envy. Though, there are a myriad of different interpretations of that. Some would say it's a mix. A wroth action, with envious motivations, or conversely, wrath, fueled by envy. Envy, enacted by wroth. Others would say it is the motivation that matters, and the actions are irrelevant. This has been my understand for a long time. Let me define it more clearly:

All the sins have "younger brothers". Many would say greed has ambition. Now, many would also say, me included, that ambition is a good thing. Yet, it has led to so many terrible things. So, my understanding is, when the direct, conscious result of ambition is bad, when the very enaction of it is bad, then it becomes greed. So, lets say you work your ass off in a company, because you have the ambition of becoming the CEO. Maybe you even have good motivations behind that ambition, wanting to provide for your family. Or maybe it is just a drive you have, good ole diligence. But then, you come to a crossroad, where to continue on your trajectory towards the position of CEO, you have to screw over someone. The specifics are irrelevant, for now. If you chose to do this, all for that sweet CEO position, then the ambition becomes greed.

Now, for the specifics. Let's say, the "screwing over" is actually killing someone. Killing your competitor. Well, murder sounds pretty wroth, right? But, in my understanding, killing your competitor for the purposes of becoming CEO isn't wrath, it is greed. Murder is a sin, but not a specific one. It is simply a bad action, and the reason for it is what determines the Deadly Sin. Sorry if I spent too much time on this preliminary stuff, but I just wanted to make my understanding, a understanding, crystal clear, so that we can more easily decode sloth together. You might not agree with my understanding, but at least now, you hopefully understand it, and therefore understand my question.

So because of this understanding, sloth is quite unique. As I said with the example above, sloth is more of an action or habit, but it is fueled by other things. Usually, that is. But sloth can be borne out of itself. I mean, you can laze on the sofa all day. And that in itself isn't a sin, at least to me. Laziness is the "younger brother". But it is when that laziness has bad ramifications it becomes sloth. Like for example, a parent spending all their time on the couch, instead of being with their children and spouse. Negligence, caused by sloth.

But some say this type of sloth is a bit excused. I mean, what can you do if you're low on energy? It's like blaming a computer for shutting down if it hasn't been charged for an entire day? Some people are simply born with bad, bodily energy management. Well, I totally agree with that argument, but if you use it, you have to also understand how it applies to all the other sins. Because all the other sins are also products of things outside of the individual's control, whether those things are biological or of nurture.

Wrath is simply a tendency towards violence, which is very much a neurological thing. Some are born like this, some become like this through life. Of course, a wroth person can chose to change, to try their best. But so can a sloth person. They can chose to eat better, to get enough sleep and to even see a doctor if they need energy supplements. But, they don't, because they're slothful. And then it really comes down to a fundamental philosophical question that has spawned many of my debates with people. Can you blame someone for their nature? Some will say, even though it isn't someone's fault that they are a certain way, it is their fault that they don't chose to change. But I think that is a bit short-sighted, because whether they chose to change or not, is also a part of their nature, their nature being the thing they didn't chose in the first place. That is why I have no hate for psychopaths or murderous fanatics - the two being two sides of the same coin: psychopaths doing bad things because they were born to, and fanatics doing bad things because they were indoctrinated in that way. To me, those two are basically the same, morally.

But this is a bit of digression, yet relevant in understanding the moral differences between sloth and the rest of the sins.

Sloth is also described as "apathy". Yet again, I just view apathy as a force of inaction, the inaction being mistook for sloth. Though, it seems that whatever people made and sculpted the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins created a huge scope for sloth. In the religious sense, sloth is apathy, low energy and any other "protests" to work, for whatever reason. Though there is one last question. Cowardice. Fear is often the reason for inaction. Yet, how is "fear" and "laziness" anything alike? Note I said "laziness", as the full scope of sloth is ambiguous, hence this very post. Well, I wouldn't say "fear" and "laziness" are in any way the same thing, or on being within the category of the other.

And if we look at the composition of sloth, there are also contradictions. "Apathy" and "fear" are actually opposing each other. "A lack of feeling of self and other" was mention when describing sloth. "Fear" is the compulsion to save oneself, or someone else than one cares about. One might not even personally know this "other", but the fact that they are a human being can put fear into us as we see them do something dangerous. That's the empathetic side of fear, I guess. As the other side is the mainly instinctive one, the standard reaction of flight, fight or freeze whenever danger rears its head. Is said "mainly", since you're life might be going well, and you're happy for that, and you don't want to lose those things that make you happy.

Anyways, digression aside, is "inaction due to fear" a part of "sloth"? Or, to merge that with the large question at hand. "What is the full scope of Sloth?" I'm open for all discussion relating to what I've said in this post, though try to steer it towards "sloth". I understand I've said and claimed many things, and I'd understand if you'd want to touch on any of those claims.

  • Fear is not the compulsion to save oneself or others, it is untrustfulness to save oneself or others. Then resistance or surrender may takes place. Examples of justified sloth are: 1-The Hunter. 2-The Sniper.
    – salah
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 0:36
  • 1
    Hi, welcome to Phil.SE. Please shorten your question, you cannot expect people reading such a lengthy question. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 11:41
  • 1
    On my iPad, this question ends with the words, “many things, and “. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 19:48

1 Answer 1


Ok, first point... The seven deadly sins do not relate to actions or behaviors specifically, but to the moral contexts surrounding actions and behaviors. They are not mutually exclusive; they are more like aspects of a single problematic. The point of this isn't to say: "This action represents wrath; that action represents greed." The goal is to be able to say: "This attitude is sloth, that attitude is greed, and un-moral actions can arise from both".

Second... A moral context is always a choice context. It always relates to a moment of decision in which one can presumably choose right or choose wrong. Saying that some behavior is "part of a person's nature" is a moral cop-out. It denies the moment of moral choice, and thus denies the moral context and collapses behavior into ambivalence and moral relativism. If it is the case that some person (because of a biological or psychological dysfunction) is incapable of 'choosing otherwise,' then that person has effectively lost an aspect of their humanity and reduced themselves in some measure to an animal. They are no longer moral agents, because they lack agency.

With this in mind, one can think of the seven deadly sins as a kind of blueprint of attitudes that deny one's own agency and reduce one to an animalistic level. Notice that discussions of the seven deadly sins always use adjectives like 'insatiable,' 'uncontrollable,' 'reactive,' etc. Wrath, thus, is different from mere anger, because it represents a state in which one is constantly fuming, plotting, primed for a fight and willing to act with prejudice. People like George Zimmerman (who shot Trayvon Martin) or Michael Drejka (who killed Markeis McGlockton over a parking dispute in Florida) were in a state of wrath. They were walking around, lethally armed, looking for people to confront because of some persistent, generalized sense of anger at the state of the world, and the lethal consequences spun out almost as an unconscious afterthought to that internal attitude.

In this sense, engaging one of the seven deadly sins means putting yourself in a mindset where you don't have to think or make moral choices, but can simply do what you want as though what you want is necessarily morally sound. You convince yourself that 'doing what comes naturally' is correct, inevitable, necessary, or etc; you make the choice to thoughtlessly refuse to choose, and create situations in which it is ostensibly ok to merely react according to your inclinations. That's why murderers always claim they had a right or a need to kill; why adulterers always say they couldn't help themselves; why greedy people always assert that everyone in inherently greedy. They are making contexts in which their behavior is morally normalized, so that they can avoid the mental work of evaluating their own choices.

Sloth, finally, is that particular attitude in which one simply doesn't spare a thought for others. It's moral laziness, not laziness proper. For instance, there is a tremendous amount of the attitude of sloth in the climate change dispute and environmentalism more broadly. Some people are wasteful polluters because they want to stick it to the f—king tree-huggers, sure (that's wrath). Some people are wasteful polluters because being more responsible would affect their bottom line (that's greed). But a lot of people are wasteful polluters because being more responsible is tiresome and inconvenient (that's sloth). They would have to go out of their way to reduce their carbon footprint; they would have to think about what they buy, and eat, and do; they would have to make commitments to principles that are headache-inducing, and they just don't wanna.

To use a folksy analogy, oftentimes in life the quickest and most direct route to town is through your neighbor's cornfield. The moral choice is to drive around the long way, obviously, but sometimes people decide to drive through their neighbor's cornfield anyway, and the question is why... Are they fuming at their neighbor? Are they envious of their neighbor's good fortune? Do they want to drive up the price of their own crops by damaging their neighbor's yield? Are they in a hurry to meet a lover, or to be first in line at the county fair? Or are they merely taking the most direct route without thinking about their neighbor at all? The attitude behind the choice to drive through the neighbor's cornfield is what the seven deadly sins are trying to get at.

  • I don't quite understand why you answered with this. I don't think my post made it seem like I believe the sins can be summed up to actions. Actually, I think my post touches on the concept of the motivations/attitudes behind the actions actually determining the specific sin being committed. Instead, my post is asking what motivations/attitudes/impulses/instincts are actually a part of Sloth. Not to be rude, but did you read the post fully? (I understand not wanting to, it was very long)
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 21:05
  • Yes, I read your post fully. Yes, I think I answered your question completely. Did you have a specific question about what I said? Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 1:51
  • Yes, how does the concept you described relate to exactly what is within the attitude of Sloth? You simply explained that the sins are not actions, as actions can be motivated by many things, but that the sins exist in the attitudes and motivations behind the actions. I feel like my post showed I knew this, and still, my question wasn't about that to begin with.
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 6:19
  • To be more specific. Your answers starts out with describing the general philosophy of the cardinal vices, which I think was well written by you, and I can get behind it being preliminary to your answer. But when you do eventually get to the sin in question, you continue explaining this concept of moral context, and simply give an example of sloth in the today's world (the climate change dispute), yet you don't really touch on all that is within Sloth's umbrella. And giving examples can be very helpful for explaining Sloth, but just using examples won't enlighten the essence amply.
    – A. Kvåle
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 6:24
  • I defined sloth as moral laziness: an unwillingness to do the moral calculus because it is difficult, taxing, or otherwise unpleasant. That is the attitude of sloth, and I'm not certain how much more clear or specific I can be. I gave the longer preliminary discussion because I saw a pervasive tendency in your post to equate sins with actions: e.g. associating sloth with inaction and wrath with a tendency towards violence. I needed to explain that sloth was not 'unique': that all the SDS can overlap in terms of outcomes, but are independent in terms of causation. Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 11:55

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