Why Wasting Your Own Time is Amoral

If you’re parents and teachers aren’t enough to get you to stop wasting your own time, maybe the moral theories of three separate philosophical schools of thought might.

The Aristotelian Approach

The first one I will discuss is the Aristotelian approach, created by Aristotle. One if its foundations is the concept of a telos. While there isn’t a perfect English translation, it roughly means end, goal, perfection, or purpose. For example, a pen’s telos would be to write. If it achieves its telos, it’s a “good” pen. If it doesn’t, it’s a “bad” pen. Aristotle said when you achieve your telos, you’re “flourishing.” He also said it’s wrong to prevent others from flourishing as well (that’s a contradiction in some situations, but I won’t get into that here) But a telos can also be rather controversial when applied to living organisms because only a human can create and apply a telos. So, what’s stopping someone from saying a cow’s telos is only to become milk and beef for consumption (we already have). Or, even worse, decide that their own telos is to control or abuse other people. When used reasonably, however, a self-applied telos can be extremely helpful.

Now, ask yourself: “What’s my own telos.” I’m sure most of you are high-aiming individuals, as you should be. So, for example, your telos (your goal, essentially) might be to get into a prestigious university or to become a doctor (I know, very generic examples). Then, whatever your telos may be, ask yourself: “Am I doing what I need to in order to achieve my telos, and flourish?” Also ask yourself: “Are my actions preventing others from achieving their telos?” If you answered yes to both (and please don’t cheat by saying your telos is to be happy, and watching television 12 hours a day makes me happy), you’re doing fine.  If not, maybe it’s time to change your habits to help yourself, and others. Laziness could prevent your parents’ from achieving their telos of creating a successful and happy family. It could also help prevent society from achieving its own telos of functioning properly. So, according to Aristotle, wasting your own time is a detriment to yourself and those surrounding you.

The Kantian Approach

German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, said that a “good” action come from its good will, not its consequence. From this only, you could very easily justify laziness. But, of course, there is much more to the Kantian approach. Kant also said that you must respect the rationality of others and he laid out four rules that, if followed, ensure that you will, but in this case we need only two.  The first, called the Formula of Humanity, says that we have a moral obligation to treat “rational agents [all humans, including yourself] as ends in themselves and never as mere means.” In other words, we can’t take advantage or abuse other people (ex: slavery is wrong). We also can’t waste the rationality within ourselves. So, according to Kant and his Formula of Humanity, suicide and laziness are both wrong. In both cases we are eliminating any chance of helping society, and ourselves.

Kant’s other rule is called the Formula of Universal Law. Simply, it says that if everyone on Earth did exactly what you’re doing and it turns out to be unsustainable, whatever you’re doing is morally unjustified. For example, imagine what would happen if everyone lied, murdered, and stole? It would be unsustainable; everyone would be paranoid or dead and there would be nothing left to steal. Or if everyone committed suicide… (Obviously the opposite is true as well; being honest, helpful and kind are all very sustainable) Also ask yourself what would happen if everyone was lazy? Food and water will be scarce within weeks and society will collapse afterwards. Billions could die. So, according to the Kantian approach, laziness is extremely wrong.


Utilitarianism is a rather basic concept, but it was developed into a philosophical theory by Jeremy Bentham. Its concept is that the best action is the action that makes the most people the most happy. It’s a nice idea, but Bentham tried to quantify it (he actually created a point system). We all know happiness and numbers don’t mix well. So I’d like to skip over Bentham and move on to John Stuart Mills. The primary reason I mentioned Bentham is because he, and John’s father, both raised John to be the “perfect philosopher.” Obviously Bentham had a huge influence on John, but fortunately John did away with the point system. He also expanded upon the original idea of Utilitarianism. He defined two types of pleasures, high and low. High pleasures (long-term) are feelings of satisfaction after you pass a test, complete a diet, or finishing an article for Learn By Cam. Low pleasures (short-term) are the feelings of satisfaction after eating candy, playing video games, or procrastinating on work. We need a balance of both to be happy, but Mills says that attaining higher pleasures will create much more happiness. It should be clear where I’m going with this, so I’ll keep it short. Just two points: One, doing meaningful and hard work will make you happier in the long run than being lazy. And two, being lazy is selfish as others need to bear the extra burden caused by your laziness; only you’re happy, but everyone else is not as happy as they could be, this is wrong in the Utilitarian approach.

So, it looks like laziness is wrong… Need I say anymore?

P.S. – Taken word for word, all three of these philosophical theories are completely impractical. Understanding and applying the best of each, however, can be extremely helpful. They also don’t take non-humans into account (or when they do it’s to justify their inferiority). Fortunately, many modern philosophers have found clever ways to reinterpret these theories to actually justify fair treatment of non-humans.

P.S.S. – I’d like to thank my professor Zack Knorr for teaching me pretty much all I know about philosophy.

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