Tag Archives: suffering

Arthur Schopenhauer

Denn grenzenloses Mitleid mit allen lebenden Wesen ist der festeste und sicherste Bürge für das sittliche Wohlverhalten und bedarf keiner Kasuistik, Wer davon erfüllt ist, wird zuverlässig Keinen verletzen. Keinen beeinträchtigen, Keinem wehe thun, vielmehr mit Jedem Nachsicht haben. Jedem verzeihen. Jedem helfen, so viel er vermag, und alle seine Handlungen werden das Gepräge der Gerechtigkeit und Menschenliebe tragen. Der Geschmack ist verschieden; aber ich weiß mir kein schöneres Gebet, als Das, womit die Alt-Indischen Schauspiele (wie in früheren Zeiten die Englischen mit dem für den König) schließen. Es lautet: “Mögen alle lebende Wesen von Schmerzen frei bleiben.”

Arthur Schopenhauer, Über die Grundlage der Moral, 1840

Thomas Nagel

Generalization would lead to the recognition of value in possible future experiences, in the means to them, and in the lives of creatures other than ourselves. These values are not extra properties of goodness and badness, but just truths such as the following: If something I do will cause another creature to suffer, that counts against doing it. I can come to see that this is true by generalizing from the evident disvalue of my own suffering[.]

Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, Oxford, 2012, p. 77

Jamie Mayerfeld

A strong duty to relieve suffering that does not discriminate between species would require radical changes in the ways that we relate to other animals. It would, for example, require an end to the practice of factory farming, in which billions of animals are annually subjected to extreme suffering in order to supply humans with meat and other products at the lowest possible cost. It would also raise difficult questions about the practice of experimenting on animals to obtain medical benefits for humans. These cases, much discussed in the literature on animal ethics, involve suffering that is inflicted by human beings. But a species-blind duty to relieve suffering would also make it a prima facie requirement to save animals from suffering brought upon them by natural conditions and other animals. That seems right to me.

Jamie Mayerfeld, Suffering and Moral Responsibility, Oxford, 2002, p. 117

Thomas Nagel

There is a great deal of misery in the world, and many of us could easily spend our lives trying to eradicate it. […] [O]ne advantage of living in a world as bad as this one is that it offers the opportunity for many activities whose importance can’t be questioned. But how could the main point of human life be the elimination of evil? Misery, deprivation, and injustice prevent people from pursuing the positive goods which life is assumed to make possible. If all such goods were pointless and the only thing that really mattered was the elimination of misery, that really would be absurd.

Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere, Oxford, 1986, p. 217

Charles Darwin

Some writers indeed are so much impressed with the amount of suffering in the world, that they doubt, if we look to all sentient beings, whether there is more of misery or of happiness; whether the world as a whole is a good or bad one. According to my judgment happiness decidedly prevails, though this would be very difficult to prove. If the truth of this conclusion be granted, it harmonizes well with the effects which we might expect from natural selection. If all the individuals of any species were habitually to suffer to an extreme degree, they would neglect to propagate their kind; but we have no reason to believe that this has ever, or at least often occurred. Some other considerations, moreover, lead to the belief that all sentient beings have been formed so as to enjoy, as a general rule, happiness.

Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882: with the Original Omissions Restored, London, 1958, p. 88

Jeff McMahan

Suffering is bad primarily because of its intrinsic nature: it is bad in itself. Suffering of a certain intensity and duration is equally bad, or almost equally bad, wherever it occurs.

Jeff McMahan, ‘Animals’, in R. G. Frey and Christopher Heath Wellman (eds.), A Companion to Applied Ethics, Malden, Massachusetts, 2003, p. 529

R. G. Frey

[T]here is something odd about maintaining that pain and suffering are morally significant when felt by a human but not when felt by an animal. If a child burns a hamster alive, it seems quite incredibile to maintain that what is wrong with this act has nothing essentially to do with the pain and usffering the hamster feels. To maintain that the act was wrong because it might encourage the chid to burn other children or encourage anti-social behaviour, because the act failed to exhibit this or that virtue or violated some duty to be kind to animals—to hold these views seems almost perverse, if they are taken to imply that the hamster’s pain and suffering are no central data bearing upon the morality of what was done to it. For us, pain and suffering are moral-bearing characteristics, so that, whether one burns the child or the child burns the hamster, the moralità of what is done is determined at least in part by the pain and suffering the creature in question undergoes. Singer’s utilitarianism picks this feature up quite nicely, and it seems to me exactly right. Of course, there may be other moral-beraing characteristics that apply in the case, but the fact in no way enables us to ignore, morally, the hamster’s pains.

R. G. Frey, ‘Animals’, in Hugh LaFollette (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Practical Ethics, Oxford, 2003, p. 170

George Bernard Shaw

[D]o not be oppressed by the frightful sum of human suffering; there is no sum; two lean women are not twice as lean as one, and two fat women are not twice as fat as one. Poverty and pain are not cumulative; you must not let your spirit be crushed by the fancy that it is.

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, London, 1828, sect. 84

Michael Huemer

I have been a moral realist for as long as I can remember. I think the reason is roughly this: it seems to me that certain things, such as pain and suffering to take the clearest example, are bad. I don’t think I’m just making that up, and I don’t think that is just an arbitrary personal preference of mine. If I put my finger in a flame, I have a certain experience, and I can directly see something about it (about the experience) that is bad. Furthermore, if it is bad when I experience pain, it seems that it must also be bad when someone else experiences pain. Therefore, I should not inflict such pain on others, any more than they should inflict it on me. So there is at least one example of a rational moral principle.

Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2005, p. 250

Jeremy Bentham

Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religions, the interests of the rest of the animal creation seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not, universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. If the being eaten were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to eat such of them as we like to eat: we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have. The death they suffer in our ands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature. If the being killed were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to kill such as molest us; we should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead. But is there any reason why we should be suffered to torment them? Not any that I can see. Are there any why we should not be suffered to torment them? Yes, several. See B. I. tit (Cruelty to animals.) The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing, as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholen from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog, is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversible animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, Can they reason? Nor, Can they talk? But, Can they suffer?

Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, London, 1789, chap. 17, sect. 4, n. 1

Richard Dawkins

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

Richard Dawkins, ‘God’s Utility Function’, Scientific American, vol. 273, no. 5 (November, 1995), p. 85

Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng

With adequate safeguards and cautious preparation, genetic engineering could be used to relieve suffering and increase happiness by quantum leaps. Our short-term prospect here would be the eradication of many genetic handicaps. The medium-term prospect could be the reduction of the proportion of the neurotic and depressed personality. The longer-term prospect might be the dramatic enhancement of our capacity for enjoyment. All these have to be done with extreme caution. The reason we should be very cautious is not so much to avoid sacrificing our current welfare (which is relative small in comparison to that in the future with brain stimulation and genetic engineering) but to avoid destroying our future.

Yew-Kwang Ng and Siang Ng, The Road to Happiness, chap. 7, sect. 1

Jeremy Mayerfeld

There is no need to import superstition. We can begin with a mechanistic view of the world, one in which bits of energy and matter interact in various ways perhaps according to certain deterministic or probabilistic laws of causation; and in which people’s lives are determined by the interplay of their own desires, goals, commitments, urges, and impulses with those of other people, steered by different beliefs about the world, of varying degrees of falsehood and veracity, all within the limits imposed by nature; but a world that exhibits no transcendent purpose or meaning or design in any of its parts—no purpose, that is, outside the purely continent (and usually quite powerless) wills of individual people and animals. Nevertheless, surely it would be blindness to fail to see, at the very least, that some things in this purposeless world are objectively bad; that these things ought not to arise; that we are obliged by their very badness to prevent them from arising; and that certainly the experience of suffering in its many forms has this very property of objective badness that I have been describing, even if nothing else has it. It seems to me stranger to deny this than to affirm it.

Jeremy Mayerfeld, Suffering and Moral Responsibility, New York, 1999, p. 113

Leonard Katz

Nature, by whatever mixture of chance and natural necessity, of natural selection and other less predictable evolutionary processes, has given us capacities for theoretical understanding in fundamental physics and higher mathematics that were of no conceivable use (as such) in the adaptive environments in which our hominid line evolved. For similarly unknown reasons it has made us phenomenally conscious experiencers of affective happiness and suffering.

Leonard Katz, ‘Hedonic Reasons as Ultimately Justifying and the Relevance of Neuroscience’, in Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology, Vol. 3: The Neuroscience of Morality: Emotion, Brain Disorders, and Development, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2008, p. 416

Quentin Smith

Not long ago I was sleeping in a cabin in the woods and was awoken in the middle of the night by the sounds of a struggle between two animals. Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs. One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another. […] [I]it seems to me that the horror I experienced on that dark night in the woods was a veridical insight. What I experienced was a brief and terrifying glimpse into the ultimately evil dimension of a godless world.

Quentin Smith, ‘An Atheological Argument from Evil Natural Laws’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol. 29, no. 3 (June, 1991), pp. 159, 173

John Harris

[S]omeone who does not see that the remediable suffering of others creates obligations is simply not a moral agent.

John Harris, ‘Organ Procurement: Dead Interests, Living Needs’, Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 29, no. 3 (2003), p. 133

John Harris

Imagine that there is a button that, if pushed, will cause all sentient life to painlessly cease to suffer forever. […] Would there be no obligation to press the button?

John Harris, ‘Organ Procurement: Dead Interests, Living Needs’, Journal of Medical Ethics, vol. 29, no. 3 (2003), p. 134

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: 1872-1914, London, 1967, p. 13