From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- Suffering may be said physical or mental, depending whether it refers to a feeling or emotion that is linked primarily to the body or to the mind. Examples of physical suffering are pain, nausea, breathlessness, and itching. Examples of mental suffering are anxiety, grief, hatred, and boredom.
- There is much ambiguity in the use of the words pain and suffering. Sometimes they are synonyms and interchangeable. Sometimes they mean different things, or they may even be used in contradistinction to one another: e.g. "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional", "pain is physical, suffering is mental". Sometimes yet, like in the previous paragraph, they are defined in another way.
- The intensity of suffering comes in all degrees, from the triflingly mild to the unspeakably insufferable. Other factors often considered along with intensity are duration and frequency of occurrence.
- People's attitudes toward a suffering may vary hugely according to how much they deem it is light or severe, avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, of little or of great consequence, deserved or undeserved, chosen or unwanted, acceptable or unacceptable.
All sentient beings admittedly suffer during their lives, in various manners, and much often dramatically. Therefore, suffering is an important topic in many fields of human activity. Those fields are concerned with, for instance, the personal or social or cultural behaviors related to suffering, the nature or causes of suffering, its meaning or significance, its remedies or management or uses.
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.
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 came to the same conclusion 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.
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. (...) [Humanitarianism] 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.
Examples of mental suffering
More examples of mental suffering: grief, depression or sadness, disgust, irritation, anger, rage, hate, contempt, jealousy, envy, craving or yearning, frustration, heartbreak, anguish, anxiety, angst, fear, panic, horror, sense of injustice or righteous indignation, shame, guilt, remorse, regret, resentment, repentance, embarrassment, humiliation, boredom, apathy, confusion, disappointment, despair or hopelessness, doubt, emptiness, homesickness, loneliness, rejection, pity, and self-pity...
Philosopher Leonard Katz wrote: "But Nature, as we now know, regards ultimately only fitness and not our happiness (...), and does not scruple to use hate, fear, punishment and even war alongside affection in ordering social groups and selecting among them, just as she uses pain as well as pleasure to get us to feed, water and protect our bodies and also in forging our social bonds."
People make use of suffering for specific social or personal purposes in many areas of human life, as can be seen in the following instances:
- In arts, literature, or entertainment, people may use suffering for creation, for performance, or for enjoyment. Entertainment particularly makes use of suffering in blood sports and violence in the media, including violent video games depiction of suffering. A more or less great amount of suffering is involved in body art. The most common forms of body art include tattooing, body piercing, scarification, human branding. Another form of body art is a sub-category of performance art, in which for instance the body is mutilated or pushed to its physical limits.
- In business and various organizations, suffering may be used for constraining humans or animals into required behaviors.
- In a criminal context, people may use suffering for coercion, revenge, or pleasure.
- In interpersonal relationships, especially in places like families, schools, or workplaces, suffering is used for various motives, particularly under the form of abuse and punishment. In another fashion related to interpersonal relationships, the sick, or victims, or malingerers, may use suffering more or less voluntarily to get primary, secondary, or tertiary gain.
- In law, suffering is used for punishment (see penal law ); victims may refer to what legal texts call "pain and suffering" to get compensation; lawyers may use a victim's suffering as an argument against the accused; an accused's or defendant's suffering may be an argument in their favor; authorities at times use light or heavy torture in order to get information or a confession.
- In the news media, suffering is often the raw material.
- In personal conduct, people may use suffering for themselves, in a positive way. Personal suffering may lead, if bitterness, depression, or spitefulness is avoided, to character-building, spiritual growth, or moral achievement; realizing the extent or gravity of suffering in the world may motivate one to relieve it and may give an inspiring direction to one's life. Alternatively, people may make self-detrimental use of suffering. Some may be caught in compulsive reenactment of painful feelings in order to protect them from seeing that those feelings have their origin in unmentionable past experiences; some may addictively indulge in disagreeable emotions like fear, anger, or jealousy, in order to enjoy pleasant feelings of arousal or release that often accompany these emotions; some may engage in acts of self-harm aimed at relieving otherwise unbearable states of mind.
- In politics, there is purposeful infliction of suffering in war, torture, and terrorism; people may use nonphysical suffering against competitors in nonviolent power struggles; people who argue for a policy may put forward the need to relieve, prevent or avenge suffering; individuals or groups may use past suffering as a political lever in their favor.
- In religion, suffering is used especially to grow spiritually, to expiate, to inspire compassion and help, to frighten, to punish.
- In rites of passage (see also hazing, ragging), rituals that make use of suffering are frequent.
- In science, humans and animals are subjected on purpose to aversive experiences for the study of suffering or other phenomena.
- In sex, especially in a context of sadism and masochism or BDSM, individuals may use a certain amount of physical or mental suffering (e.g. pain, humiliation).
- In sports, suffering may be used to outperform competitors or oneself; see sports injury, and no pain, no gain; see also blood sport and violence in sport as instances of pain-based entertainment.
- On the Suffering of the World by Schopenhauer