Misery Loves Company

In Mark Timmons (ed.), Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics. Oxford University Press (2021)
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When one is going through a personal hardship, it is often comforting, or emotionally helpful, to hear from someone else who has gone through something similar. This is a common, familiar human phenomenon, but this chapter argues that it is philosophically puzzling. Unless one is in some sort of moment of vice, one would not want the other person to have suffered the hardship, and one should be pained to hear that they have. And yet the phenomenon is that hearing about their similar hardship makes one feel better, rather than worse. Why is that? The chapter considers a range of intuitive replies. It argues that while each might be part of the story, none resolves the puzzle. There remains a question as to why the phenomenon does not reflect a vice of insufficient care or concern for others. It then considers two possible answers, drawing on ideas from Adams and Bommarito, but argues that neither are satisfactory. The aim of the chapter is to bring out the puzzle and show that it is difficult to resolve. But it ends with a suggestion for a resolution.

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Julia Nefsky
University of Toronto at Scarborough


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