11. Ethical laziness

Lesson powerpoint here


  • To understand incontinence/ethical laziness: when people know what is good but fail to do it.
  • To examine case studies of disasters where ethical laziness has played a part (Hillsborough and Grenfell Tower) and to appreciate the importance of being ethically active.

1. Ethical laziness.

  • Show pupils the different components of ethical laziness on the slides.
  • Ask pupils to read Julia Annas’ definition of ethical laziness:

‘The ethically lazy person merely takes on the pattern of action of her parents or other role models, without trying to understand what their basis is, or thinking about it for herself. Such a person will tend to develop rigid dispositions which will be ill-suited to coping with the world (since even in traditional societies one generation’s circumstances will be different in many ways from the previous generation). The ethically lazy person may come to learn that her reactions are inadequate the painful way, in encounters with the world which may end up driving her to aspire, if only to avoid the ethical disasters which come from the routine mimicking of role models.’

  • Show pupils the different components of being ethically active.
  • …and the quote from Matthew Arnold about becoming cultured:

‘Culture is a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically …’

  • Ask pupils to identify examples of ethical laziness that they have observed in the world around them and also identify what problems ethical laziness causes.

2. Ethical laziness and disaster.

  • Show pupils the slide with the two front pages of The Sun newspaper claiming to report ‘The Truth’ about the Hillsborough stadium disaster and the later front page admitting the publication of falsehoods. (There are still places on Merseyside where The Sun cannot be bought and Sun reporters are banned from Anfield). The Sun printed false allegations about Liverpool supporters on its front page in the days after the disaster, because they accepted what they were told by senior South Yorkshire Police officers and Conservative MP Irvine Patnick: namely that drunken Liverpool fans arrived late to the stadium, without tickets and forced entry to the ground, crushing the 96 victims. They were also influenced by the prevailing stereotype of football fans as hooligans. The lies published by The Sun have now been shown to be completely untrue (largely by the heroic work of Professor Phil Scraton who features in the clip below). The 2016 inquests showed that all of the victims had been unlawfully killed and that Liverpool fans played no part in causing the tragedy. 
  • Play pupils the clip from the documentary about the Hillsborough stadium disaster. Please warn them that it contains some distressing scenes. 
  • Ask the pupils to identify where the various people mentioned and interviewed showed ethical laziness or being ethically active as the disaster unfolded.