The topic of evil brought us to the topic of pain. Herewith, some distinctions and theses for your examination. With regard to physical pain, at least, we ought to distinguish among:
a) The physical substratum of the pain. The cause of the pain. In the case of lower back pain, for example, a pinched nerve. But not just the salient cause, e.g. the pinched nerve, but the totality of causal conditions in the body that 'underpin' the experience of pain. All that makes up the physical substratum of a physical pain.
b) The pain-as-felt, the felt pain. This is the pain one experiences or lives through. Pain as Er-lebnis. The phenomenal pain to which the subject of pain alone has access. (Access to the physical substratum is public; access to the felt pain is private.) With respect to felt pain, esse est percipi, to be is to be perceived. So for a felt pain, appearance and reality coincide. Its being as a mental datum is exhausted by its appearing. This is not the case with the physical substratum of the pain.
The felt pain factors into two aspects:
c) The sensory quale of the felt pain, its raw feel to use an old expression of Herbert Feigl. This is the qualitative content, the Nagelian what-it-is-like of the felt pain. Each pain feels like something to the one who has it, though he would be hard pressed to put this feeling into words.
d) The painfulness of the felt pain. The felt pain has a quality, but this quality is not the same as its painfulness. Thus I factor the felt pain into the sensory quale (raw feel) and the painfulness of it. Suppose I am outside in the cold and I feel a stinging sensation in my bare hands. It seems that the painfulness of this sensation depends, at least in part, on my attitude toward it, my aversion. Or consider any olfactory sensation you take to be unpleasant, the smell of cooking broccoli, say. One can learn to overcome such aversions, which is not to say that one overcomes the sensation itself. Or perhaps you are in a public restroom. You focus on the stench and remind yourself that it is only a sensation and one that betokens nothing harmful to the body. As a result of this reflection, the unpleasantness diminishes while the sensation itself remains constant. A reasonable inference from phenomena such as these is that the sensory quale of a pain and its painfulness are distinct, and not just conceptually, but in reality. In some cases it is the attitude of aversion that makes a sensory quale into a pain sensation, but I don't claim that this is true for all cases.
T1. Felt pain is mental, a conscious phenomenon. This is true of both physical and psychological pain. Physical pain, toothache, headache, backache and the like are called 'physical' because of their physical substrata -- see (a) above -- even though in themselves they are mental. Felt pain cannot be identified with any physical process. Correlated, but not identified.
T2. Felt physical pain is a conscious state with no intentional object. Pains are non-intentional experiences. They are not of or about anything in the way that believing and desiring are object-directed. But here I need an argument since some maintain that pains exhibit intentionality or object-directedness.
Suppose we compare a visual perceiving of my foot, and a feeling of pain 'in' my foot. The perceiving of my foot is an intentional experience: the act of perceiving 'takes an accusative,' is directed to an object. The perceiving presents the foot as having such and such properties. But what does the pain present? It doesn't present damage to the foot, although there presumably is damage to the foot, a torn Achilles tendon, perhaps. The torn tendon is the cause of the pain sensation, but it is not the intentional object of the pain sensation. The torn tendon is hidden from the pain experience in the way the foot is not hidden from the visual experience. So what is the intentional object of the pain sensation? I say there is none. There is a pain sensation and its cause, but no intentional object. The cause is not presented to me by the pain sensation.
The relation of intentional experience to intentional object is nothing like the relation of pain to its cause. If X is caused by Y, then both X and Y must exist. But if X is an awareness-of Y, if X is intentionally related to Y, then Y need not exist.
Some pains, though bad in themselves, are instrumentally good. You go for broke on your mountain bike. At the top of a long upgrade your calves are burning from the lactic acid build-up. But it's a 'good' pain. It is instrumentally good despite its intrinsic badness. You are satisfied with having 'flattened' that hill one more time. The net result of the workout is hedonically positive. But surely not all pains are classifiable as instrumentally good. Think of someone who suffers from severe chronic joint pain so bad that he can barely walk let alone pedal a bike. In alleviation thereof he daily ingests a cocktail of drugs with nasty side effects that make it impossible for him to think straight or accomplish anything. Surely the person's condition is evil. (But don't get hung up on the word 'evil' and don't assume that every evil is the responsibility of a finite agent. The evil of pain is a natural or physical, not a moral, evil.) Is this not a counterexample to the thesis that every evil is a privation or absence of good?
Now pains are counterexamples to the thesis that evils are privationes boni only if they are both evil and objectively real. Therefore:
A. One might argue that pains are evil but not objectively real in that they exist only 'in the mind.' I developed this suggestion in Part One and found reason to reject it.
B. Or one might argue that pains are objectively real, but not evil. One might point to the fact that pains are often very useful warning signals that indicate that something is going wrong in the body or that some damage is being done to the body: the pains in my knees inform me that I am running too long and hard and am in danger of an overuse injury. On this suggestion, then, pains are real but not evil. Consequently, pains are not counterexamples to the thesis that evils are privationes boni.
But this response is not very convincing. There are several considerations.
1. If pains are warning signals, then they are instrumentally good. But what is instrumentally good may also be intrinsically evil. The searing pain in a burnt hand, though instrumentally good, is intrinsically evil. Its positive 'entity' (entitas in scholastic jargon) is apparently not well accommodated on the classical doctrine that evils are privationes boni. Again, the pain is not the mere absence of the good of pleasure, but something positively bad. After all, the hand is not numb or as if aenesthetized; there is a positive sensation 'in' it, and this positive sensation is bad. So even if every pain served to warn us of bodily damage, that would not detract from the positive badness of the pain sensation. One cannot discount the intrinsic positive badness by pointing to the fact that the pain is instrumentally good.
2. If pains are warning signals, it seems that many of them could perform this function without being so excruciating. The intensity of many pains seems out of all proportion to the good that they do in warning us of bodily damage. This excruciatingness is part of the evil of pain.
3. It is a fact that the pain in my hand that warns me to remove it from the hot stove typically does not subside when the hand is removed. It continues to hurt. But what good purpose does this serve given that the warning has been heeded and the hand removed from the hot stove? The argument that pain is good, not evil, because it warns us about bodily damage fails to account for the pain that persists after the warning has been heeded. The pain in my burnt hand continues, of course, because the hand has been damaged; but then that pain is intrinsically and positively evil and the evil cannot be discounted in the way the pain at the time of the contact of hand with stove can be discounted.
4. There is no necessity that a warning system be painful. A robotic arm could have a sensor that causes the arm to retract from a furnace when the furnace temperature becomes damagingly high. The robot would feel nothing. We might have had that sort of painless warning system.
My interim conclusion may be set forth as follows:
Pains are natural evils
The evil of pain is not a mere absence of good
Not all evils are privationes boni.
REFERENCE: Jorge J. E. Gracia, "Evil and the Transcendentality of Goodness: Suarez's Solution to the Problem of Positive Evils" in Scott MacDonald, ed., Being and Goodness (Cornell UP, 1991), pp. 151-176.
A reader recalled my posts on evil as privatio boni from the old blog and wants me to upload them to the new, which I will gladly do. So far I managed to scare up two. Here is the first.
The goddess of blogging sent me Peter Lupu whose comments are a welcome stimulant. Peter displays the virtues of a good commenter and indeed co-worker: he is 'up to speed,' 'in there' with the terminology, and he knows how to oppose without becoming churlish. He tells me that theists, confronted with the logical argument from evil should not reject the premise that objective evil exists. I agree. But a good philosopher examines every aspect of a problem, no matter how bizarre it appears at first, and every premise and every inferential joint of every argument pertaining to the problem. So we need to consider whether perhaps evil has no positive entitative status and is only as a privation. In classical jargon, this is the view of evil as privatio boni. Thus Augustine, Enchiridion XI:
For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present --namely, the diseases and wounds -- go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance, -- the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils -- that is, privations of the good which we call health -- are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.
If evil is a privation or absence then the ancient problem -- dating back beyond Hume to Epicurus -- of reconciling the existence of God (as standardly defined) with the existence of evil seems either to dissolve or else become rather more tractable. Indeed, if the evil-as-privation thesis is coupled with the Platonic notion alive in both Augustine and Aquinas that Goodness is itself good as the Primary Good, the unique exemplar of goodness whence all good things receive their goodness, then one can argue from the existence of evils-as-privations to the existence of that of which they are privations. But that is a separate and very difficult topic.
Without going that far, let us first note that the evil-as-privation doctrine does seem to accommodate an intuition that many of us have, namely, that good and evil, though opposed, are not mutually independent. Thus in one clear sense good and evil are opposites: what is good is not evil and what is evil is not good. And yet one hesitates to say that they are on an ontological par, that they are equally real. They are not opposed as two positivities. The evil of ignorance is not something positive in its own right: the evil of ignorance consists in its being an absence of something good, knowledge. Good is an ontological prius; evil has a merely derivative status as an absence of good.
The Problem of Pain
But then how are we to think of animal and human pain, whether physical or mental? Pains are standardly cited as examples of natural or physical evils. Suppose you have just slammed your knee against the leg of a table. Phenomenologically, the pain is something all-too-positive. The Nagelian what-it-is-like is something quite distinctive. It is not a mere absence of well-being, but the presence of ill-being. Compare an absence of sensation in the knee with intense pain in the knee. An absence of sensation, as in a numb knee, is a mere lack; but a pain is not a mere lack, but something positive in its own right. This seems to show that not all evils can be privations.
The argument in nuce is that not all evils can be privations of good because a felt pain is a positive evil sensation that is not an absence, lack, or privation of something good.
The same seems to hold for mental pains such as an intense sadness. It is not merely an absence of happiness, but something positive in its own right. Hence, the evil of sadness is not merely a privation of the good of happiness. Examples are easily multiplied: Angst, terror, etc.
Two Possible Responses. Pains are counterexamples to the thesis that evils are privationes boni only if they are both evil and objectively real. Therefore:
A. One might argue that pains are evil but not objectively real in that they exist only 'in the mind.' One might flesh this out as follows. There is a certain sensory quale that I experience when my knee slams into the leg of the table. Call this the experiential substratum of the pain. But the painfulness of this substratum is a matter of projection or interpretation or 'attitude': it is something supplied by the subject. The substratum, the sensory quale, exists in objective reality despite the fact that its esse est percipi. But the painfulness, and thus the evil or badness of the sensory quale is an interpretation from the side of the sufferer.
What's more, this interpretation or projection can be altered or withdrawn entirely. Thus, with practice, one can learn to focus one's attention on a painful sensory quale and in so doing lessen its painfulness. If you try this, it works to some extent. After a long day of hiking over rocky trails, my feet hurt. But I say to myself, "It's only a sensation, and your aversion to it is your doing." Focusing on the sensation in this way, and noting that one's attitude towards it plays a role in the painfulness, one can reduce the painfulness. If you try it, you will see that it works to some extent. This suggests that the painfulness is merely subjective.
Unfortunately, this response is not convincing as a general response to the problem of pain. Imagine the physical and mental suffering of one who is being tortured to death. And then try to convince yourself that the pain in a situation like this is just a matter of 'attitude' or aversion. "Conquer desire and aversion" is a good Buddhist maxim. But I find it hard to swallow the notion that the painfulness of every painful sensation derives from the second-order stance of aversion.
B. One might argue that pains are objectively real, but not evil. But I'll leave the elaboration of this response for another time.
The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a FLANEUR, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility. (Emphasis added.)
Compare the words Plato puts in the mouth of Socrates in the Phaedo:
. . . every pleasure and pain has a kind of nail, and nails and pins her [the soul] to the body, and gives her a bodily nature, making her think that whatever the body says is true. (tr. F. J. Church St. 83)
"If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how. Man does not strive for pleasure; only the Englishman does." (Twilight of the Idols, "Maxims and Arrows," #12.)
The art of the aphorism at its best.
In all fairness to the English I should point out that it was an Englishman who provided what is perhaps the best refutation of hedonism we have, namely, F. H. Bradley in his "Pleasure For Pleasure's Sake" in Ethical Studies.
Animal life is “poor, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.” But this gloomy Hobbesian description must be balanced by the recognition that a suffering animal is not a man suffering as an animal. We must discipline our tendency to project and imagine. To imagine that a cat dying of cancer suffers as a man dying of cancer suffers is to engage in anthropomorphic projection. “Nature red in tooth and claw” is perhaps less horrible than we imagine it to be. This is not to deny that animals suffer, let alone to embrace the Cartesian absurdity that animals are machines. The point is to not make things worse than they are through inept mental moves.
We suffer pain, but we also suffer pleasure. Fundamentally, to suffer is to be passive, to be acted upon, to be at the mercy of what is not oneself. Excessive pleasure and pain should both be avoided as one avoids heteronomy, the heteronomy of the not-self. Compare Plato, Timaeus 86c:
. . . excessive pains and pleasures are justly to be regarded as the greatest diseases to which the soul is liable. For a man who is in great joy or in great pain, in his unseasonable eagerness to attain the one and to avoid the other, is not able to see or hear anything rightly, but he is mad and is at the same time utterly incapable of any participation in reason.
It is useful to practice distancing oneself from one’s sensations in order to study them objectively. To sensations good and bad, say: “You are only a sensation, an external occurrence whose effect on me, for good or ill, is partly due to my cooperation and is therefore partly under my control.” The worldling seeks pleasure (‘excitement,’ ‘thrills’) and shuns pain. The sage accepts both as byproducts of worthwhile activities. Tha mastery of desire and aversion is not easy, and it is a good bet that one won't advance far in it; but any advance is better than none.