Have you ever thought about the concepts of pain and suffering? Are they the same concept with different names, or two concepts—and if two concepts, how are they related? Lawyers use the expression “pain and suffering,” which implies that there are two concepts rather than one, but lawyers say lots of redundant things by way of covering their asses. This afternoon, in glorious sunshine, I read R. M. Hare‘s 1964 essay “Pain and Evil” in the meadow near my house, with Shelbie running around like a crazy dog nearby. The essay was fascinating. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the relation between these concepts (although I had given thought to the relation between pleasure and happiness). In case you’re wondering why I was reading this essay, I’m reading my way through Hare’s literary corpus, making an annotated bibliography as I go. Here is my annotation for this essay:
“Pain and Evil.” The Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 38 (1964): 91-106. Reprinted as chap. 6 of EMC. H admits to grinding an axe in this essay, the aim of which is to show that there is a “distinction between descriptive and evaluative judgements” (89). Some people have said that the distinction “breaks down” in the case of pain, for “I am in intense pain,” they say, is both descriptive and evaluative. H argues that it’s logically possible for someone to be in pain (in the sense of having a distinct sensation) but not to suffer (or to dislike it). That pain and suffering often or even always (in fact) coincide doesn’t prove that they must (logically) coincide. The essay is an analysis of the concept of pain.
I love reading Hare. He writes crisply and well; he’s brash; he’s interested in all philosophical aspects of morality, from metaethics to normative ethical theory to practical ethics; and, perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Many philosophers felt the sting of Hare’s prose over the years. Most of them, I dare say, deserved it.