I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the quantifying of suffering. Mostly about why you shouldn’t do it. Everyone’s worst day is, in fact, their worst day, regardless of whether it’s better than your best day and regardless of both the cumulative and individual pain in the world.
Yet, we recoil from a person who treats the loss of her iPod with the same despair as one who has lost her job or lost her spouse. It feels seems correct to tell the former than her suffering matters less.
Some level of quantifying suffering appears rational.
The thinking of all four [metaphysicists] occupied itself with suffering. Kierkegaard regarded it as the beginning of all spiritual insight; Dostoevsky saw it as the key to understanding others; Nietzsche felt it was an obstacle to be overcome; only Kafka let it be a cruel and senseless fact.–William Hubben, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Kafka
I’ve read all the above. While all focus on the value of suffering, none really examine systems for valuing suffering. Nietzsche definitely believed that some people, some emotions, some experiences were inherently better than others, but I don’t recall much explanations for the systems which legitimize the valuations.
Utilitarians, of course, go on at great lengths about maximizing happiness, in addition to maximizing the good; so I suppose there’s some necessary ordering of value in their works. I must admit, I never enjoyed the utilitarians, so I’ve forgotten most of what I learned about them.
It’s time to find some new resources, re-read some old ones, and organize my own thinking on how, why and when it’s appropriate or useful to quantify suffering and whether comparing pain can serve a moral end.