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Is it better to suffer than to do wrong? 
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MA: There is, at least, the alternative offered by Boethius, to the effect that moral action is justiable in terms of what it makes of you as a person. Suffering, in that sense, may not be a goal to strive for, but if the options presented force a choice between suffering or being an immoral person, suffering would still be a viable choice for the sheer fact that, in doing do, you would avoid having made something worse of yourself.


The world of might equals right would argue that being dead is worse still: better break a few rules than be completely broken because of a few rules.

I think there is some similarity in how you describe Boethius' response with Gandhi's notion of Satyagraha, and in Dr. King's notion of non-violent resistance. Responding violently to the violent attack of another may help you survive another day, but you will be a lesser person as a result. The wrong thing may protect your life, but it will debilitate who you are: working against your nature, contrary to how you are meant to live and thrive as a human being. Avoiding suffering by doing wrong actually increases suffering: both your own and the suffering of others. In actuality, it extends energy towards an enslaving "spiral of hate" as Dr. King called retaliation to violence with violence.



Thu Nov 15, 2007 6:37 pm
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Dissident Heart wrote:
Avoiding suffering by doing wrong actually increases suffering: both your own and the suffering of others.


Looking for this sort of loophole weakens the force of what Boethius argues. Maybe doing wrong, even to avoid suffering, does increase suffering -- maybe it doesn't. It's immaterial when the real issue is that of what worth you make of your own life.


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Thu Nov 15, 2007 6:54 pm
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ME: Avoiding suffering by doing wrong actually increases suffering: both your own and the suffering of others.

MA: Looking for this sort of loophole weakens the force of what Boethius argues. Maybe doing wrong, even to avoid suffering, does increase suffering -- maybe it doesn't. It's immaterial when the real issue is that of what worth you make of your own life.


I think this is a good point. Suffering is irrelevant in the calculation between what is right and what is wrong. I think another way to put this is: Suffering is inescapable, whether you do the right or the wrong thing. Therefore, you are deluding yourself if you think you can avoid suffering by avoiding what is right. Likewise, doing what is right will not protect you from suffering either.

The beautiful, good, noble, true, affirming, authentic (choose your term) Self cannot avoid suffering, but can choose between right and wrong behavior: and by choosing will determine her quality of Self.

Still, saying suffering is irrelevant in choosing between right and wrong seems to fly directly in the face of, well, human fragility: pain hurts and it does wonders in shaping choices...perhaps far more than ideals and values or notions of human nature.



Fri Nov 16, 2007 12:41 pm
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Hello again. I hope to join you in this discussion of Arendt if I find time, as I enjoyed reading her books during my MA on ethics in Heidegger's ontology. Eichmann in Jerusalem carries echoes of Christ in Jerusalem, except that "Hitler as messiah" was a perverse inversion. The legitimacy of the suffering of Christ came from his connection to the whole, understood as representation of God. Jesus had a vision of truth as love, which was worth dying for in order to transform our planet. DH is therefore quite wrong to imply that legitimacy is conferred by 'practical systems'. (Dissident Heart: "This notion that a principle or value or vision or hope or (?) carries more legitimacy and demands more allegience than practical systems of greed and punishment...is peculiar beyond meaning. It's absurd.") On that basis, Eichmann was 'legitimate' against the 'practical system' of Nazi law. Real legitimacy is something deeper, grounded in sustainable human values based in evidence. Suffering for a truly noble cause is honorable. However, today we see another perversion of this doctrine in the terrorist ideal of martyrdom. The problem is that the terrorist vision is not honorable or based in evidence.



Mon Nov 19, 2007 7:30 am
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R. Tulip2: DH is therefore quite wrong to imply that legitimacy is conferred by 'practical systems'. (Dissident Heart: "This notion that a principle or value or vision or hope or (?) carries more legitimacy and demands more allegience than practical systems of greed and punishment...is peculiar beyond meaning. It's absurd.") On that basis, Eichmann was 'legitimate' against the 'practical system' of Nazi law.


Welcome back Robert Tulip 2. To clarify, my point was to describe how might equals right understands suffering: which is always, in that context, better to give than to receive. Against that framework (which seems to be the norm in world and interpersonal affairs), willingly accepting suffering for something that cannot be expressed as force or dominance, is ridiculous: i.e., why suffer for another (or a principle and ideal) if suffering won't lend itself to greater power and more dominance? If might equals right, then what equals wrong?

In the context of sheer power, its increase and expansion, legitimacy is determined by what best increases and expands power. Furthermore, this legitimacy is hardly a topic for Socratic discussion or seminar debate: it is imposed and forced. Counter-points and objections are sometimes entertained, but only as tools to highlight weaknesses and faultlines in the greater press for dominance. But there is little room for objections that play upon moral sensitivities or deeper, sustainable human values: these stings of conscience are simply ploys by the weaker to strike back and demoralize the stronger with guilt and shame. And upon closer inspection, these deeper, sustainable human values are actually yet another attempt to force behavior and dominate persons into submission. There simply is no pure moral ground from which one is above the fray of dominance and submission: in reality, morality is the rules one imposes upon oneself to maintain a little self-respect and dignity along the way.

But choosing the suffer, as though suffering is a solution in itself, a kind of magic or medicine: is ludicrous. Suffering is inavoidable and omnipresent.

Eichmann was hardly the first and certainly not the last spoke in the wheel of power that has smashed its way through history since (to utilize a mythic phrase) the expulsion from Eden. Those who offer an alternative to this wheel are pushing against enormous evidence and odds. Those who push hardest get crushed. Actually, all get crushed.



Mon Nov 19, 2007 11:59 am
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Dissident Heart wrote:
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Welcome back Robert Tulip 2. To clarify, my point was to describe how might equals right understands suffering: which is always, in that context, better to give than to receive. Against that framework (which seems to be the norm in world and interpersonal affairs), willingly accepting suffering for something that cannot be expressed as force or dominance, is ridiculous: i.e., why suffer for another (or a principle and ideal) if suffering won't lend itself to greater power and more dominance? If might equals right, then what equals wrong? In the context of sheer power, its increase and expansion, legitimacy is determined by what best increases and expands power. Furthermore, this legitimacy is hardly a topic for Socratic discussion or seminar debate: it is imposed and forced. Counter-points and objections are sometimes entertained, but only as tools to highlight weaknesses and faultlines in the greater press for dominance. But there is little room for objections that play upon moral sensitivities or deeper, sustainable human values: these stings of conscience are simply ploys by the weaker to strike back and demoralize the stronger with guilt and shame. And upon closer inspection, these deeper, sustainable human values are actually yet another attempt to force behavior and dominate persons into submission. There simply is no pure moral ground from which one is above the fray of dominance and submission: in reality, morality is the rules one imposes upon oneself to maintain a little self-respect and dignity along the way. But choosing the suffer, as though suffering is a solution in itself, a kind of magic or medicine: is ludicrous. Suffering is inavoidable and omnipresent. Eichmann was hardly the first and certainly not the last spoke in the wheel of power that has smashed its way through history since (to utilize a mythic phrase) the expulsion from Eden. Those who offer an alternative to this wheel are pushing against enormous evidence and odds. Those who push hardest get crushed. Actually, all get crushed.

There is a distinction here between legal and moral legitimacy. The doctrine of "might is right" is emblazoned on the Coat of Arms of the British Empire in the twin Latin mottos "Dieu et mon droit" (God and my right arm) and "Honi Soit que mal y pense" (It's only evil in the eye of the beholder: ie



Mon Dec 24, 2007 7:27 pm
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Is it better to suffer than to do wrong? In this form the options are far too broad, and are not directly comparable. Arendt sees rejection of complicity with Nazism as the prime example of when people suffer by refusal to do wrong, but this example is not sufficient to justify the general principle. Suffering can be meaningful or meaningless. Meaningless suffering such as natural evil (disaster, disease, etc) and suffering inflicted for no reason are not relevant alternatives to wrongdoing. Meaningful suffering includes the path of the cross, where the sufferer has a moral vision which they take to be more important than the harm they will suffer in promoting it. In this category Jesus is of course the exemplar, but national liberation movements, where a people suffer rather than submit, can also be in this category. George Orwell commented that losing a war is an easy way to bring peace, indicating that suffering through sacrifice is preferable to dishonor. There is also a grey area, especially with terrorism, where a person thinks wrongly that their suffering is meaningful, and so both suffers and does wrong. Suffering as just punishment for crime is another distinct example, which seems bad for a prisoner but good for society in terms of protection and example. Even here the alternative is not clear, as society would say it were better the evil deed were never done. A further ambiguity rests in the meaning of 'better'. It seemed 'better' for the Roman Empire that they plundered the possessions of conquered nations to live in selfish opulence, but clearly, the long term consequences for the planet were worse



Sat Dec 29, 2007 8:46 pm
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