Suffering - Philosophy


Part of a series on
Thinkers Jeremy Bentham · Julien Offray de La Mettrie · Aristippus of Cyrene · Epicurus · Theodorus the Atheist · Michel Onfray · Aristippus the Younger · Hermarchus · Lucretius · Pierre Gassendi · Metrodorus of Lampsacus · Zeno of Sidon · Yang Zhu
Schools of hedonism Cārvāka · Cyrenaics · Epicureanism
Christian hedonism · Utilitarianism · Abolitionism · Yangism
Key concepts Aponia · Ataraxia · Eudaimonia · Happiness · Hedone · Pain · Pleasure · Sensation · Suffering · Tetrapharmakos

Hedonism, as an ethical theory, claims that good and bad consist ultimately in pleasure and pain. Many hedonists, in accordance with Epicurus and contrarily to popular perception of his doctrine, advocate that we should first seek to avoid suffering and that the greatest pleasure lies in a robust state of profound tranquility (ataraxia) that is free from the worrisome pursuit or the unwelcome consequences of ephemeral pleasures.

For Stoicism, the greatest good lies in reason and virtue, but the soul best reaches it through a kind of indifference (apatheia) to pleasure and pain: as a consequence, this doctrine has become identified with stern self-control in regard to suffering.

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Predecessors Epicurus
David Hume
Claude Adrien Helvétius
William Godwin
Francis Hutcheson
Key people Jeremy Bentham
John Stuart Mill
Henry Sidgwick
Richard Mervyn Hare
Peter Singer
Types of utilitarianism Preference · Rule · Act
Two-level · Total · Average
Negative · Hedonism
Enlightened self-interest
Key concepts Pain · Suffering · Pleasure
Utility · Happiness · Eudaimonia
Consequentialism · Felicific calculus
Problems Mere addition paradox
Paradox of hedonism
Utility monster
Related topics Rational choice theory
Game theory
Social choice
Neoclassical economics
Politics portal

Jeremy Bentham developed hedonistic utilitarianism, a popular doctrine in ethics, politics, and economics. Bentham argued that the right act or policy was that which would cause "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". He suggested a procedure called hedonic or felicific calculus, for determining how much pleasure and pain would result from any action. John Stuart Mill improved and promoted the doctrine of hedonistic utilitarianism. Karl Popper, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, proposed a negative utilitarianism, which prioritizes the reduction of suffering over the enhancement of happiness when speaking of utility: "I believe that there is, from the ethical point of view, no symmetry between suffering and happiness, or between pain and pleasure. (…) human suffering makes a direct moral appeal for help, while there is no similar call to increase the happiness of a man who is doing well anyway." David Pearce, for his part, advocates a utilitarianism that aims straightforwardly at the abolition of suffering through the use of biotechnology (see more details below in section Biology, neurology, psychology). Another aspect worthy of mention here is that many utilitarians since Bentham hold that the moral status of a being comes from its ability to feel pleasure and pain: therefore, moral agents should consider not only the interests of human beings but also those of (other) animals. Richard Ryder developed such a view in his concepts of 'speciesism' and 'painism'. Peter Singer's writings, especially the book Animal Liberation, represent the leading edge of this kind of utilitarianism for animals as well as for people.

Attitudes toward animal suffering is not limited to utilitarianism. Jenia Meng, in a recent study based on an international survey, examines human attitudes that give rise to such appoaches as animal welfarism, animal rights, and reverence for animals.

Another doctrine related to the relief of suffering is humanitarianism (see also humanitarian principles, humanitarian aid, and humane society). "Where humanitarian efforts seek a positive addition to the happiness of sentient beings, it is to make the unhappy happy rather than the happy happier. (...) is an ingredient in many social attitudes; in the modern world it has so penetrated into diverse movements (...) that it can hardly be said to exist in itself."

Pessimists hold this world to be mainly bad, or even the worst possible, plagued with, among other things, unbearable and unstoppable suffering. Some identify suffering as the nature of the world, and conclude that it would be better if life did not exist at all. Arthur Schopenhauer recommends us to take refuge in things like art, philosophy, loss of the will to live, and tolerance toward 'fellow-sufferers'.

Friedrich Nietzsche, first influenced by Schopenhauer, developed afterward quite another attitude, arguing that the suffering of life is productive, exalting the will to power, despising weak compassion or pity, and recommending us to embrace willfully the 'eternal return' of the greatest sufferings.

Philosophy of pain is a philosophical specialty that focuses on physical pain and is, through that, relevant to suffering in general.

Read more about this topic:  Suffering

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