apathy – something we may need more of

Maybe it is just this time of the quarter, but students (and some staff I suppose) have become concerned that there is a state of apathy on campus in regard to spirituality. Granted, the use of ‘apathy’ as an phenomenological descriptor is etymologically derived from the Greek απάθεια (apatheia), a term used originally in Stoic philosophy to signify ‘indifference’ for what one is not responsible for namely things objective to the self (according to Stoic philosophy, given the divide between the material and immaterial world – a person is only responsible for their representations and judgments, not the material realm). This ‘indifference’ is rooted in ‘pathos’ (Greek: πάθος) which is tied to emotions or feelings – in short, apathy is a lack of feeling or emotional tie to an issue, person or event. In Aristotle’s understanding of rhetoric, pathos is one of the three modes of persuasion in rhetoric (along with ethos and logos) and often considered the most powerful since appealing to the audience’s emotions. Granted, there is a place for feeling and emotion in the human condition – especially in line with what Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley termed ‘affections.’ As noted in an article by Gregory Clapper, the notion of ‘affections’ for Edwards and Wesley were to be firmly grounded and framed by a mindfulness and attentiveness born out of reasonable reflection, not merely impluse. The “affections of the mind” according to Edwards are “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the will.” In drawing this out, Edwards goes on to say that God has imbued the soul with two faculties: the understanding which is capable of perception and speculation, and the inclination or will which either is pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting the things perceived. The mind with regard to the exercises of the will is called the heart. The crucial point here is that the affections are not exercised apart from the understanding. While pathos attempts to circumvent the mind and will in order to ‘cut to the heart’ (one can think of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent Vega (John Travolta) gives Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) an adrenaline shot to the heart in the midst of panic and confusion) regardless of the means or the enduring ramifications), true affections are framed and deepened by the mind and will and discerned in community.

My question then: is apathy really such a bad thing after all? Perhaps getting whipped up into a frenzy under the guise of passions that circumvent the mind and will need to be discussed. Perhaps a little more apathy would be a good thing from time to time… just a thought, dear reader… just a thought.


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  1. great to see that you are a devotee of Zizek – just gave a paper at the regional AAR on Zizek (mainly looking at Parallex View and Fright of Real Tears) – would love to hear more about your work.

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