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Although it is the particular enemy of teachers and sports coaches, apathy often gets a good philosophical press, especially in ethical systems that regard desire and worldly interest as low and unworthy. Plato recognizes the need for passion or eros even in the advanced contemplative state of the philosopher, but Hindu, Buddhist, Stoical and some Christian traditions have all looked askance at desire, equating the summum bonum with a kind of torpid vacuity. Hobbes shrewdly points out that while we live we have desires and Alexander Pope sides with the energetic: ‘In lazy Apathy let Stoics boast, Their Virtue fix'd; ‘tis fix'd as in a frost’ (An Essay on Man, ii). However, like Stoics and Buddhists, Kant found apathy to be particularly excellent: bliss is a state of ‘complete independence from inclinations and desires’ and this freedom is both itself a virtue and presupposed by other virtues. Aquinas, however, recognizes the desolation involved in turning away from what is good, and classifies it as a leading or capital sin. See accidie, ataraxia, autonomy/heteronomy, love.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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