Apathy (also called impassivity or perfunctoriness) is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation and passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest or concern to emotional, social, or physical life. They may also exhibit an insensibility or sluggishness.
Often, apathy has been felt after witnessing horrific acts, such as the killing or maiming of people during a war. It is also known to be associated with many conditions, some of which are: depression, Alzheimer's disease, Chagas' disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, dementia, Korsakoff's Syndrome, excessive vitamin D, Hypothyroidism, general fatigue, Huntington's disease, Pick's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), schizophrenia, Schizoid Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and others. Some medications and the heavy use of drugs such as heroin may bring apathy as a side effect.
The word "apathy" derives from the Greek ἀπάθεια (apatheia). Also meaning "absence of passion", "apathy" or "insensibility" in Greek, the term apatheia was used by the Stoics to signify a (desirable) state of indifference towards events and things which lie outside one's control (that is, according to their philosophy, all things exterior, one being only responsible of his representations and judgments). Another way of characterizing the way that the Stoics saw apathy is as "the extinction of the passions (negative feelings) by the ascendency of reason".
Many Christians believe that the concept was then reappropriated by early Christians, who adopted the term to express a contempt of all earthly concerns, a state of mortification, as the gospel prescribes. The word has been used since then among more devout writers. Clemens Alexandrinus, in particular, brought the term exceedingly in vogue, thinking hereby to draw the philosophers to Christianity, who aspired after such a sublime pitch of virtue. Macaulay referred to "The apathy of despair." Prescott described "A certain apathy or sluggishness in his nature which led him . . . to leave events to take their own course."
The modern concept of apathy became more well-known after World War I, when it was called "shell shock". Soldiers who lived in the trenches amidst the bombing and machine gun fire, and who saw the battlefields strewn with dead and maimed comrades developed a sense of disconnected numbness and indifference to normal social interaction.
In 1950, US novelist John Dos Passos wrote that "Apathy is one of the characteristic responses of any living organism when it is subjected to stimuli too intense or too complicated to cope with. The cure for apathy is comprehension." US educational philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins summarized the concerns about political indifference when he claimed that the "death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."
John McManamy argues that although psychiatrists do not explicitly deal with the condition of apathy, it is a psychological problem for some depressed people, in which they get a sense that "nothing matters", the "lack of will to go on and the inability to care about the consequences". He describes depressed people who "...cannot seem to make [themselves] do anything", who "can't complete anything", and who do not "feel any excitement about seeing loved ones". He acknowledges that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not discuss apathy. In a Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences article from 1991, Dr Robert Marin MD claimed that apathy occurs due to brain damage or neuropsychiatric illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson's, or Huntington’s, or else an event such as a stroke. Marin argues that apathy should be regarded as a syndrome or illness. A review article by Robert van Reekum MD et al. from the University of Toronto in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry (2005) claimed that "depression and apathy were a package deal" in some populations which may help illustrate what people mean when they say that "The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy."
This page is for quotes on the subject of Apathy.
Organized alphabetically by author.
Come down the road and do not speak.
You cannot know how strange it is
To walk upon a grey firm road again,
To feel the noiseless waves of air break on one's flesh.
You do not speak, you do not look at me;
Just walk in silence on the grey firm road
Guessing my mood by instinct, not by thought—
For there is no weapon of tongue or glance
So keen that it can stir my apathy,
Can stab that bitterness to hope,
Can pierce the humour to despair.
Silence fits the mood then—silence and you.
The trees beside the road—can you interpret
These fragments of leaf music,
Here a phrase, here a sort of melody
That dies to silence or is broken
By a full rustling that is discord?
Can you interpret such a simple thing?
Can I interpret this blank apathy,
This humourous bitterness?
Lean on the bridge now—do not speak—
And watch the coloured water slipping past,
While I struggle with myself,
Confront half-impulses, half-desires,
Grapple with lusterless definitions,
Grin at my inarticulate impotence
And so fall back on—apathy!
The bridge has three curved spans,
Is made of weathered stones,
And rests upon two diamond-pointed piers—
(I have not lost all touch and taste for life,
See beauty just as keenly, relish things.)
The water here is black and specked with white;
Under that tree the shallows grow to brown,
Light amber where the sunlight straggles through—
But yet, what colour is it if you watch the reeds
Or if you only see the trees' reflection?
Flat on the surface rest the lily leaves
(Some curled up inwards, though, like boats)
And yellow heads thrust up on fine green throats.
Two—three—a dozen—watch now—demoiselle flies
Flicker and flutter and dip and rest
Their beryl-green or blue, dark Prussian blue, frail wings
On spits and threads of water-plant.
Notice all carefully, be precise, welcome the world.
Do I miss these things? Overlook beauty?
Not even the shadow of a bird
Passing across that white reflected cloud.
And yet there's always something else—
The way one corpse held its stiff yellow fingers
And pointed, pointed to the huge dark hole
Gouged between ear and jaw right to the skull …
Did I startle you? What was the matter?
Just a joke they told me yesterday,
Really, really, not for ladies ears.
Forgive me; I'll not laugh so suddenly again.