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Is it better to suffer than to do wrong? 
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Post Is it better to suffer than to do wrong?
At the beginning of "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship", Arendt talks about how writing "Eichmann in Jerusalem" upended some of her central notions of political action and morality.

Hannah Arendt wrote:
I had somehow taken it for granted that we all still believe with Socrates that it is better to suffer than to do wrong. This belief turned out to be a mistake.


What do you think? Is it better to suffer than to do wrong? Or is a little immoral behavior justifed if it spares you some personal suffering in the long run?


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Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:48 pm
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Post degrees of immorality
...well when you put it that way... ;-)

A "little immorality" goes a long way.

I would choose the suffering over the wrongdoing in most if not all cases. Even to the extreme that if I were diagnosed with a certainly fatal illness that could perhaps be cured by heroic means (transplant, extended drug regimen, excision, etc) I would choose to pass. Of course to say that and to actually take that path in the face of death...I may just be kidding myself. Who knows. I am not one to choose my own comfort over another's suffering though, that much I do know about myself. But, I wouldn't give someone my kidney and I wouldn't choose to execute someone if I were called upon to make that decision.



Sun Nov 11, 2007 3:00 pm
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Post Re: Is it better to suffer than to do wrong?
MadArchitect wrote:
At the beginning of "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship", Arendt talks about how writing "Eichmann in Jerusalem" upended some of her central notions of political action and morality.

Hannah Arendt wrote:
I had somehow taken it for granted that we all still believe with Socrates that it is better to suffer than to do wrong. This belief turned out to be a mistake.


What do you think? Is it better to suffer than to do wrong? Or is a little immoral behavior justifed if it spares you some personal suffering in the long run?


Not to pester with semantics again...but who defines the 'wrong'?

Mr. P.


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Sun Nov 11, 2007 7:15 pm
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For the sake of argument, let's just go with whatever you'd call wrong. Take, for example, any particular form of theft that you'd consider unambiguously wrong. Is it better to suffer than to engage in that particular kind of theft?



Mon Nov 12, 2007 4:51 am
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MadArchitect wrote:
For the sake of argument, let's just go with whatever you'd call wrong. Take, for example, any particular form of theft that you'd consider unambiguously wrong. Is it better to suffer than to engage in that particular kind of theft?


If my family were starving and no effort to procure work was proving fruitful...your damn right I would resort to theft. I, uh, guess that answers the question.

Is it different if we phrase the question: "Is it better to let others suffer than to do wrong? I mean, we kill in times of war, self defense and all that...but yet we consider killing wrong. Is it still wrong in the contexts mentioned or does it become not wrong?

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Mon Nov 12, 2007 9:42 am
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Yeah, I would say that's a different question -- letting others suffer versus suffering yourself. That definitely changes the moral dynamic of the question.



Mon Nov 12, 2007 1:06 pm
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MadArchitect wrote:
Yeah, I would say that's a different question -- letting others suffer versus suffering yourself. That definitely changes the moral dynamic of the question.


Which is very interesting to me. We seem to have this need to make the individual suffer...and that if an individual tries to assuage the suffering, it is somehow wrong. I wonder how much this is derived from the human need to form societies/civilizations...or is it a sympton of the formation of society/civilization?

Hmm...sorry, this may be getting off topic. I have the book btw, but have not cracked it yet...

Mr. P.


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Mon Nov 12, 2007 1:16 pm
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misterpessimistic wrote:
We seem to have this need to make the individual suffer...and that if an individual tries to assuage the suffering, it is somehow wrong.


I'm not really sure what you mean by that. Can you elaborate, or maybe give a concrete example?

Incidentally, it might be relevent to note something said by Arendt later on in the same essay.

Quote:
Thus the Talmud holds, as I was told during a recent discussion of these matters: if they ask you to sacrifice one man for the sake of the community, don't surrender him; if they ask you to give one woman to be ravished for the sake of all women, don't let her be ravished.


What does everyone think of that? It seems like a principle that a lot of people would object to. If you could avoid some likely threat to everyone in your neighborhood by offering up one unwilling victim as a scapegoat, would you do it? Better yet: Would you feel morally justified in having done so?


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Mon Nov 12, 2007 6:28 pm
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MadArchitect wrote:
misterpessimistic wrote:
We seem to have this need to make the individual suffer...and that if an individual tries to assuage the suffering, it is somehow wrong.


I'm not really sure what you mean by that. Can you elaborate, or maybe give a concrete example?


No concrete examples...just a general feeling/observation. I mean, the fact that this thread is named for the question that it is points to what I said...and then when I rephrased the question to not benefit the individual, but a group, you even admitted it changed the dynamic. Why?

Take the issue of suicide. If a person commits suicide to escape pain only to the self, they are considered (for the most part) as cowards and charged with a crime in our society (specifically America). Yet if that person, and you will have to accept my poor example at face value, by killing themselves would save a group, they would be called heroes.

Again, I cannot point to any concrete examples that would help here except for stating that I have seen this theme in my life and it made enough of an impression in my mind that this thread brought it out. Maybe it is because I was raised Catholic. The character of Jesus and all the martyrs are poster boys for self sacrifice for a group, as opposed to the self.

As for the quote you posted:

Quote:
Thus the Talmud holds, as I was told during a recent discussion of these matters: if they ask you to sacrifice one man for the sake of the community, don't surrender him; if they ask you to give one woman to be ravished for the sake of all women, don't let her be ravished.


I think this is slightly different from what I am talking about, although I agree with Arendt on this. This thought speaks to others causing the surrender of a person for the good of the group...not the person choosing surrender themself for the good of the group. We should not be in the practice of offering sacrificial lambs for our own self preservation. Of course this, as with everything like this, can become muddled with situational variation.

Mr. P.


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Mon Nov 12, 2007 8:09 pm
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misterpessimistic wrote:
... and then when I rephrased the question to not benefit the individual, but a group, you even admitted it changed the dynamic. Why?


Because so long as you're only talking about your own suffering or benefit, your choice is still a voluntary matter. But once you start making decisions for other people, then you draw in a slew of complications to the basic dynamic of whether or not it's better to suffer. For one thing, if you're deciding something on their behalf, their moral culpability is questionable, to say the least.

Quote:
We should not be in the practice of offering sacrificial lambs for our own self preservation.


I don't think Arendt is talking specifically about self-preservation on this one. Take her second example, offering up one woman to be ravished in order to prevent others from suffering the same fate. Now imagine that the person making the choice is male, and doesn't have anything in particular to gain from the decision one way or the other. He simply thinks that it would be moral to have one woman suffer than to expose all other women to the threat of suffering.

These are, of course, hypothetical extremes. You can make the principle a lot more specific if you apply it to the idea of the draft. If you assume that our country has, at times at least, fought wars in order to protect American citizens from the threat of worse violence, then the process of drafting non-volunteer armies is equivalent to the notion of sacrificing the few for the security of the many.


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Mon Nov 12, 2007 9:28 pm
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MadArchitect wrote:
misterpessimistic wrote:
... and then when I rephrased the question to not benefit the individual, but a group, you even admitted it changed the dynamic. Why?


Because so long as you're only talking about your own suffering or benefit, your choice is still a voluntary matter. But once you start making decisions for other people, then you draw in a slew of complications to the basic dynamic of whether or not it's better to suffer. For one thing, if you're deciding something on their behalf, their moral culpability is questionable, to say the least.



Just to make sure we are on the same page...I did not mean to imply that one person would make a decision for another to sacrifice. I meant that I a person, me for instance, would do something immoral to protect the group. That would seem to be more noble, since I would be the only one to suffer and others would benefit without breaking any moral code themselves. So is it better to let a group suffer, rather than to do a wrong.

Say I had a chance to murder Hitler and this would have prevented millions from being annihilated. Would people say that I should not have done that because it was immoral or wrong to kill another human being?

Mr. P.


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Mon Nov 12, 2007 9:54 pm
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misterpessimistic wrote:
I meant that I a person, me for instance, would do something immoral to protect the group.


Even that would involve taking moral responsibility for others. Which, in itself, changes the dynamic. Before we get around to the question of whether or not it is moral to deprive others of the opportunity to act immorally, I think we should deal with the much simpler questions that arise from a personal responsibility divorced from the question of how our behavior effects the morality of others.

Quote:
Say I had a chance to murder Hitler and this would have prevented millions from being annihilated.


I'm not sure how that situation would differ from the first Talmudic situation. Hitler, in that instance, would be the scapegoat. But the Talmud, according to Arendt, would advise against sacrificing Hitler in order to preserve the community. Or am I interpreting that passage incorrectly?

Either way, the rest of the essay makes me think that making a scapegoat of Hitler would not necessarily save the millions killed during the holocaust. Hitler bears a certain amount of guilt, yes, but there's no way he could have annihilated millions on his own. He required the complicity of an entire nation to carry out the Final Solution, and as Arendt argues, the citizens of that nation still carry the guilt for having enacted plans laid down by the law of the land.

Quote:
Would people say that I should not have done that because it was immoral or wrong to kill another human being?


Would it matter what people said? Would majority opinion make it any less moral or immoral? If you participated in the annihilation of an entire people, and no one said anything about it, would that effect the morality of your action?


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Tue Nov 13, 2007 2:04 am
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MadArchitect wrote:
Quote:
What does everyone think of that? It seems like a principle that a lot of people would object to. If you could avoid some likely threat to everyone in your neighborhood by offering up one unwilling victim as a scapegoat, would you do it? Better yet: Would you feel morally justified in having done so?


The only way I could morally justify giving up one to save all is if I were offering to be the one being sacrificed - otherwise, I would not be making a moral decision, but a self-serving one.

However, would I jump up and say 'yeah, take me'? In all honesty, I think I'd be quivering at the back of the pack!



Wed Nov 14, 2007 12:24 am
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H. Arendt: I had somehow taken it for granted that we all still believe with Socrates that it is better to suffer than to do wrong. This belief turned out to be a mistake.


I find it hard to believe that Arendt, after witnessing two world wars, the NAZI holocaust, and atomic devastation in Japan...would take anything for granted. It seems such depravity could diminish any sense of for granted in the human arena...save the possibility, probability, of further and worse depravity. It seems the granted course of events is: it's better to dominate than be dominated; not, its better to suffer than do wrong. Better be the hammer than the anvil. Being wrong would involve...well, what would it involve? In the world of might equals right, where does wrong fit in?

This Socratic alternative, as well as the Talmudic (see above), is similar to the Gospel notion of turning the other cheek, handing over one's cloak, going the extra mile, loving one's enemies and praying for them, as well as risking your found 99 sheep in order to return the one sheep that is lost. All of this is radically opposed to the world of power and dominance where suffering is rarely freely accepted and often brutally administered. 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.

Unless to do wrong here will be met with a greater suffering there , in the world where the Socratic/Talmudic/Gospel alternative operates? In other words, accepting suffering in this world only really makes sense if there is another world that threatens even greater suffering- as well as promising even greater reward- by avoiding what is wrong in this world.



Wed Nov 14, 2007 5:01 pm
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DH wrote:
In other words, accepting suffering in this world only really makes sense if there is another world that threatens even greater suffering- as well as promising even greater reward- by avoiding what is wrong in this world.


I don't think that's so. 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.


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Wed Nov 14, 2007 6:39 pm
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