Arislothl & Slothocles: Taking Things Philosophically

Arislothl & Slothocles: Taking Things Philosophically

GREAT excitement has followed my discovery, in an attic clean-out at Beachcomber Towers, of a manuscript believed lost for more than 2,000 years. Written by the ancient Greek philosopher Arislothl, it is nothing less than a complete version of his legendary masterpiece Lethargics outlining his highly influential views on the merits of nothingness. 

Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly when I say it was complete, as several pages were blank but for Arislothl’s characteristic apology: “text to follow when I get round to it”, but all the evidence suggests that he never did get around to it.

The pages of Lethargics that he completed, however, are enough to show that Arislothl’s philosophical views were a clear advance on the treatise Indolentia Totalis, written by his friend and colleague Slothocles.  Though the two men jointly ran the Inactivity School in Athens, there is no evidence that they ever met, despite apparent joint efforts to arrange an idleness symposium.

Arislothl’s profound conclusions follow from a simple argument: that errors of commission are far more numerous and generally more serious than errors of omission. In other words, more and greater ills are caused by things we do than by things we don’t do, so doing nothing is best. He argued that any action is preceded by a decision to act, and how to do it. Typically, any question has one right answer and many wrong answers, so there must be far more ways of doing something wrong than doing it right. He, therefore, extolled the virtues of indecisiveness.

Followers of Arislothl and Slothocles at the Inactivity School were also instructed in propitious modes of physical inactivity of which hanging upside down and doing nothing was considered to make the greatest contribution to mental health and general well-being. 

Arislothl’s wisdom seems particularly appropriate in current times. Climates wouldn’t change, he said, if people didn’t do anything; chaotic withdrawals of armed forces would be unnecessary if they didn’t go anywhere in the first place; wars would never happen. He even pointed out that pandemics could not spread if we all hung upside down on our own in trees.

If you are wondering why I had never found this manuscript before, I must confess that I bought it in Cambridge in the 1940s in a boot sale run by the late Bertrand Russell. At previous such sales, Russell had sold only boots. When I pointed out to him that he took the term ‘boot sale’ too literally, he added a crate of apparent junk and I, therefore, felt obliged to bid for it.  


 -William Hartston

Beachcomber column for 11 September 2021 / Daily Express