Date of Award
Open Access Dissertation
School of Arts and Humanities
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member
© 2020 Samuel Welbaum
Acedia, Boredom, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Modernity, Secularism
Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion
A case can be made that the greatest fear of our time is the fear of boredom. We live in an age in which things change daily. New technologies are developed, old inventions are reconceived, the entertainment industry churns out movies, shows, and music constantly, and yet, people still experience boredom. Some have even said that it's the defining experience of our day. Where does this boredom come from? Why has it become prominent? What is causing it to gain power so rapidly? And how might it be stopped? Those questions are the driving force behind his work. This dissertation presents to problem of profound boredom as a secular problem with spiritual roots. The argument is structured to first consider the concept of acedia in the works of Evagrius of Pontus, and Thomas Aquinas; establishing it as sorrow at the divine good, which leads to a rejection of the divine, or the transcendent. This rejection serves as the spiritual root for the epidemic of profound boredom. This root took hold of the western world as an unintended consequence of the work of Rene Descartes. Descartes’ reframing of philosophy entailed shifting the central philosophic discipline from metaphysics to epistemology. This shift resulted in a never ending quest for certitude, and a disenchanting, or secularizing of the world, inherent to modernity. It is not until after the start of modernity that the word “boredom” appears in any meaningful way. Within modernity however, what we see is an expansive use of the term, which gains prominence and depth the further into modernity one goes. This matter is explored throughout this dissertation by means of three thinkers, each positioned at a different point within modernity. The argument begins by looking at Descartes’ contemporary, Blaise Pascal, who rejects Descartes’ entire philosophical framework, and makes initial arguments against the rise of boredom, particularly seeing it as connected to identity and distraction. The argument then moves forward 200 years to modernity as an established framework in the critique of Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard understands boredom to be deeply connected to the sickness unto death and to the despair/emptiness that comes from living a life that is empty of both faith and love, and therefore, devoid of meaning. People are fearful of boredom, and approach it either by seeking diversion, or enduring it, because the actual cure is untenable. The argument then proceeds to the end of modernity in the 20 th century, in the work of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger presents boredom as a fundamental mood that initially a person, late an epoch, has toward the world. In boredom we find a way to learn more about ourselves as that which we use to form our identity begins to melt away. Heidegger presents three depths of boredom, all of which are inherently temporal, revealing that at least part of what is empty in boredom is time. In the most profound form of boredom, the one experiencing it sees the entirety of time, space, and existence as empty, and lacking meaning. Heidegger sees this as a way for a person to attune themselves to the world in a more authentic fashion; however, this dissertation argues that Heidegger’s way forward can only truly be successful when put in conversation with Pascal, and Kierkegaard, to understand profound boredom as a secular problem that is only cured by returning to Aquinas’ understanding of acedia, and combating that sin with faith and love, and therefore, filling the emptiness of modernity with profound meaning.
Welbaum, Samuel. (2020). The Pervasive Emptiness: Acedia, Modernity, and the Boredom of Secularity. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 709. https://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/709.