Monday, November 25, 2013

Suffering is a Necessary Evil

In order for a person to have the virtue of compassion, evil must exist.  Compassion is an
awareness of suffering,  and a desire to relieve it. Suffering is a type of evil because it deals
with pain. Someone who feels pain or anguish is said to be suffering, and indeed, the
definition of suffering is one who is enduring pain or evil. Without the existence of suffering,
while a person may have the concept of compassion, they would not actually have compassion.
   Compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering of another. In addition, it is also the desire
to relieve it.  Simply knowing that another is suffering is not sufficient; one must also
feel the desire to rid that person of their suffering. In this way compassion can be viewed as a
virtue because it is considered an act of moral goodness to desire someone be rid of their
suffering, (as opposed to indifference).
   Suffering is an evil. There are different kinds of evil, and there may be kinds of evil that do
not directly include suffering (such as lying and deception, which may lead to suffering but
typically in and of themselves not considered suffering).
   A distinction may be made between Moral evils, in which a conscience decision is made by
a person and that decision/action causes suffering, or, a Natural evil, where some phenomenon
causes suffering. But in either case, the cause here is not the issue, but the result,
which is suffering.
   Without suffering, one cannot have compassion. It may be possible for a person to understand
suffering without there actually being suffering, perhaps by forming a theory of what it would be
like to live in a universe where there was no suffering; however a person with such an
understanding would not actually have the virtue of compassion because there would be no
suffering to be aware of.  Furthermore, compassion entails not only understanding suffering but
also having a desire to rid someone of it. Therefore, if suffering only existed as a concept, not
an actual affliction, while one might understand what compassion would be like, they could
never actually have compassion because there would be no one suffering  they could wish to
be made free of that suffering.  It might also be argued that for a person to truly understand
suffering as more than a concept, they themselves would have to experience suffering at some
point or time.
   In order for a person to have the virtue of compassion, evil must exist. This is not to say that
all the different types of evil must exist, but of those evils, suffering must exist. Simply understanding
suffering is not sufficient, for in order to have the virtue of compassion, one must have not only
a deep understanding of a being's suffering, but also a desire to rid them of that suffering. If that
suffering did not exist, neither would the virtue of compassion.

Adapted from an essay by Damian J. Gick