Maarten Maartensz:    Philosophical Dictionary | Filosofisch Woordenboek                      

 S - Suffering


Suffering: Feelings of misery, pain, harm, hurt, unhappiness, and an important part of any human life.

There is a lot of suffering in the lifes of most human beings. Here is Buddha on the topic:

"This, monks, is the Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha): Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; grief, lamentation, pain, affliction and despair are suffering; to be united with what is unloved, to be separated from what is loved is suffering; not to obtain what is longed for is suffering; in short, the Five Groups of Grasping are suffering." (p. 39, Schumann)

Indeed, it is difficult to say in general or in particular whether there is more suffering than satisfaction in any human life, in part because no one has the experiences of another, in part because what happens to a person is unique and depends on his or her own unique appreciation, in part because some are visited with great and unmerited harm or happiness, and in part because, in view of what was mentioned and other reasons, it is very difficult to set up standards of comparison that are both fair and objective.

But next to the fact that in almost anyone's life there will be far more suffering than one hoped or feels one merits, and far less satisfactions and happiness than one desired, it seems a sensible general principle, both with regard to the lifes of individuals and with regard to the improvement of human society, that it normally does more good and less harm to try to decrease human suffering than to increase human happiness.

One reason is that hell on earth seems to be located right next to promises of the Millenium; another that the greatest horrors have been committed in the name of the noblest sounding principles; another that by and large human beings will be quite capable of finding their own kinds of happiness if and when they have been liberated from suffering and misery; while practical reasons are that those who are miserable - in pain, hungry, ill etcetera - need help, and by and large, as human history has been so far, most men and women will be in some misery for at least part of their lifes.

For these reasons, ethical and moral systems that seek to lessen suffering and misery seem wiser and have done less harm than ethical and moral systems that insist on the bringing of happiness, for the happiness that can be brought about by political or religious systems of beliefs and practises tends to be either delusive or to consist of the personal satisfactions of political and religious leaders.


See also: Happiness, Harm, Misery


Laqueur Ed., Oksenberg-Rorty,

 Original: Jul 1, 2005                                                Last edited: 12 December 2011.   Top