The World According to Suffering

In Michael S. Brady, David Bain & Jennifer Corns (eds.), The Philosophy of Suffering. London: Routledge (forthcoming)
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On the face of it, suffering from the loss of a loved one and suffering from intense pain are very different things. What makes them both experiences of suffering? I argue it’s neither their unpleasantness nor the fact that we desire not to have such experiences. Rather, what we suffer from negatively transforms the way our situation as a whole appears to us. To cash this out, I introduce the notion of negative affective construal, which involves practically perceiving our situation as calling for change, registering this perception with a felt desire for change, and believing that the change is not within our power. We (attitudinally) suffer when negative affective construal is pervasive, either because it colours a large swath of possibilities, as in the case of anxiety, or because it narrows our attention to what hurts, as in the case of grief. On this view, sensory or bodily suffering is a special case of attitudinal suffering: the unpleasantness of pain causes pervasive negative affective construal. Pain that doesn’t negatively transform our world doesn’t make for suffering.
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