Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.


Posted by Dr Samuel Douglas on January 21, 2005

Faced with this and such accounts as that put forward by our own Dr Hooker, it seems that in terms of what persons are, there is not much we can depend upon except awareness. That is capability to expereince pleasure/happiness (positive feedback) or pain/suffering (negative feedback). If we rejecect solipsim, and I do most days, the we agree that it is plausible to suggest that it is not just ourselves that expereince these states.
What I was wondering as I was at work last night, is this: Why should I care if someone else suffers? Why should it matter to me?
I tried, in our supposedly post-modern context, to come up with some answers.

1. Because it matters to them.
This does not really answer the question.

2. No one wants to suffer. The desire to avoid suffering does not need any justification.
This might well be the case. I certainly don’t feel the need to justify my desire to avoid suffering (though I may have to justify actual avoidance, like not going to the dentist often enough). But once again, this is not enough by itself to answer the question.
To say “It matters to me if I suffer, therefore it matters to me if someone else suffers” is a highly questionable piece of reasoning, and is not valid, as it stands. But it might come in handy later, I suspect.

3. It would matter to them if you suffered, so it should matter to you if they suffer.
This might not be the case. At least some people would not care either way if you suffered or did not.
Furthermore, for this to work, i’d actually have to care about what they thought, which is unlikely, since I don’t even care at this point about their suffering. In all seriousness, the implicit principle of reciprocity at work here does itself need justification of some sort.

4. From a differnt angle, I thought: It does effect me. Maybe witnessing or having knowledge of, suffering, causes me to suffer. Therefore I should care, and should act, in order to limit my suffering (not unlike the opinion expressed in a certain song being played on JJJ at the moment).
This idea has more problems than you can poke a stick at. What if you do witness suffering, but don’t care? Can it effect you at a sub-concious level, so that you’re miserable due to your inaction without knowing it? Is the gaining of something a good reason to be concerned with the suffering of others? This is a good question to ask, as the idea of reciprocity touched on above is predicated on a return of this kind. And an answer of sorts, can be gained from Cliff Hooker’s model, where all interaction with the environment (which includes other living things) ranging from breathing to delivering a lecture on the philsophy of mind, function to maintain some internal norm or norms (all of which are contined within our metabolism). Something goes out so we can get something back that we need/want. Charitble eh? You might be just maintaining your serotonin levels. Or setting things up so that people will help you if a disaster flattens your country.
Unfortunately (or not depending on how you look at it) this does not tell us why I should care(other than self-interest), only what happens if I do, why I did care, and basically that I either did or I didn’t due to the movement of particles governed by the laws of physics. Bloody determinism.

So far, so good. Or not….

If all that post-modern morality rests on is so called enlightened self-interest, then we might be in trouble.


No Responses Yet to “Suffering?”

  1. MH said

    Have you tried look at the problem of suffering from a ‘relative’ perspective. A and B exist in a relationship with each other, say as friends. This relationship has a certain power balance – not an equilibrium as such, becuase that can only exist between equals, but a balance. Now suffering, when entering into the field of relations, disturbs that balance; suddenly there is a disruption to the relationship (have not quiet figured out how it works on a force level) which requires a redress to return to, or establish a new, balance. If it is A who suffers, then B must do something to redress the imbalance. This act, of course, is one of self-creation, and so B has gained from A’s suffering.

    On a larger scale, this need not be the case. One way to (cynically?) view the copious relief donations is purely in terms of self-creation. Our donor has this view of themself as a charitable and good individual. They witness a ‘tragedy’ (I am yet to see the beauty in it, as all tragedy is beautiful), and feel that they need to act becuase they are charitable. They then witness others making contributions and decide that they should do so as well, and the amounts become determined by the ever growing contributions of others becuase they are charitable and they do not want to be seen as being miserly in the face of such need.

    Perhaps I have simply confused things.

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