In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philosophy of Boredom

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works, Overviews, and Anthologies
  • Boredom in Ancient Times
  • Acedia in the Middle Ages
  • Melancholy in the Renaissance
  • Langeweile in Modern German Thought
  • Ennui as the Mal du Siècle
  • Psychoanalytical, Phenomenological, and Existentialist Approaches to Boredom
  • Boredom in 20th-Century European Thought
  • Boredom in Contemporary Anglo-American Philosophy
  • Early Empirical Research on Boredom
  • Recent Empirical and Empirically Informed Work on Boredom
  • Relevant Work in Cultural Studies
  • The Question of Animal Boredom

Philosophy Philosophy of Boredom
Andreas Elpidorou, Josefa Ros Velasco
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0419


Even the most cursory of glances at the history of boredom reveals that boredom has been a topic of immense discussion. That same glance also reveals that there is not just one kind of boredom. There is the fastidium of Seneca, the horror loci of Lucretius, and the religious boredom of acedia. There is the sadness and listlessness of tristesse and melancholy, the void of Pascal, and the emptiness of La Rochefoucauld and of 18th-century Versailles. There is the ennui of Mme Du Deffand, of Chateubriand’s René, and of Goethe’s Werther. There is the despair of Schopenhauer, the monotony of factory workers, the empty time of leisure, the existential meaninglessness of Sartre’s Roquentin, and the profound attunement of Heidegger. And, of course, there is the simple and democratic boredom of the rest of us—that ubiquitous affective state that permeates and colors our everyday existence. The aim of this entry is to provide the reader with a philosophical map of the progression of the concept and experience of boredom throughout the Western tradition—from antiquity to current work in Anglo-American philosophy. By focusing primarily on key philosophical works on boredom, but also often discussing important literary and scientific texts, the entry exposes the reader to the rich history of boredom and illustrates how the different manifestations of boredom—idleness, horror loci, acedia, sloth, mal du siècle, melancholy, ennui, monotony, and emptiness—are grounded in the historical context in which they arise.

Introductory Works, Overviews, and Anthologies

Where should one begin if one is interested in the philosophy of boredom? A natural place to start is with overviews of the history of boredom. Kuhn 1976, Goodstein 2005, Spacks 1995, and Svendsen 2005 offer the reader surveys of the rich history of boredom and an appreciation of how historical and social factors have shaped the experience and understanding of boredom. For examinations of how boredom interacts with sociological and cultural forces, the reader should consider Healy 1984, the essays in Dalle Pezze and Salzani 2009, and Svendsen 2005—the latter meant to offer a philosophical introduction to the topic of boredom. The religious importance of boredom is discussed in detail in Raposa 1999. Finally, brief and accessible overviews of the history of boredom can be found in O’Brien 2018, Ros Velasco 2017, and Toohey 2011.

  • Dalle Pezze, Barbara, and Carlo Salzani, eds. Essays on Boredom and Modernity. New York: Rodopi, 2009.

    A major theme of this edited volume is that boredom and modernity are inextricably connected. In this manner, the book contributes to the idea that boredom has a relatively recent cultural origin and is indicative of a crisis in meaning. The introduction to the volume offers a very helpful historical presentation of the phenomenon of boredom and lists many texts that deal with the topic of boredom.

  • Goodstein, Elizabeth. Experience without Qualities: Boredom and Modernity. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.

    A landmark work in boredom studies. The book traces the emergence and evolution of the discourse on boredom within French and German philosophical, literary, and sociological texts. It argues that such a discourse is symptomatic of a type of modern experience that reflects a crisis of meaning.

  • Healy, Sean D. Boredom, Self, and Culture. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984.

    Healy discriminates between different kinds of boredom experienced throughout history: temporary impatience, spirit of ennui, and “hyperboredom.” The last one is a state akin to depression or l’ennui moderne and arises from the inability to perceive or formulate goals due to the manner in which people have structured their daily experiences.

  • Kuhn, Reinhard C. The Demon of Noontide: Ennui in Western Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400886340

    In one of the most ambitious works on boredom, Kuhn attempts to trace the development of ennui throughout almost the entirety of Western literature. For Kuhn, ennui is an idée-force—a creative force that helps to “mold the human mind and shape reality.” Kuhn painstakingly discusses and analyzes in chronological order texts that deal with the theme of ennui.

  • O’Brien, Wendell. “Boredom: A History of Western Philosophical Perspectives.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, 2018.

    In this online encyclopedic entry, O’Brien surveys how boredom has been understood by a number of Western philosophers. It is a very helpful introduction to the history of the philosophy of boredom.

  • Raposa, Michael L. Boredom and the Religious Imagination. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999.

    A detailed investigation of the religious significance of boredom. Raposa argues that boredom stands as a threat to spiritual life because it signifies a failure of meaning (specifically, a failure to interpret and understand life as religiously meaningful).

  • Ros Velasco, Josefa. “Boredom: A Comprehensive Study of the State of Affairs.” Thémata 56 (2017): 171–198.

    DOI: 10.12795/themata.2017.i56.08

    In an attempt to demonstrate that boredom is a topic addressed by philosophers of all times, Ros Velasco presents some of the major philosophical studies on boredom throughout Western history.

  • Spacks, Patricia Meyer. Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

    Spacks traces the genesis and evolution of modern boredom. The book makes a case for the social construction of boredom and ultimately locates its origin in the wake of modernity’s development of leisure.

  • Svendsen, Lars. A Philosophy of Boredom. London: Reaktion Books, 2005.

    Svendsen provides the reader with an informed and detailed summary of how boredom has been treated in the history of philosophy, literature, and popular culture. He focuses almost exclusively on what he calls “existential boredom.”

  • Toohey, Peter. Boredom: A Lively History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.

    The book offers a summary of how boredom has been historically understood, presents a characterization of boredom that is in line with a psychoevolutionary theory of emotions, and explores boredom’s role in art and culture.

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