When Bad Things Happen to Other People
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Although many of us deny it, it is not uncommon to feel pleasure over the suffering of others, particularly when we feel that suffering has been deserved. The German word for this concept-Schadenfreude-has become universal in its expression of this feeling. Drawing on the teachings of history's most prominent philosophers, John Portmann explores the concept of Schadenfreude in this rigorous, comprehensive, and absorbing study.
that he considers Schadenfreude an aberrant or epiphenomenal vice. It seems more likely that he regards Schadenfreude as all too common to be diabolical in a literal sense. This must be what he means when he calls Schadenfreude “teuflisch” or diabolical in the Lectures on Ethics. When Kant disapproves of Schadenfreude as “teuflisch,” then, he rejects it as a vice on a par with envy, sloth, and greed. Kant’s relatively mild disapproval of Schadenfreude finds its most vehement opponent in
revenge: “[T]o insist on one’s own right beyond what is necessary for its defence is to become revengeful . . . such desire for vengeance is vicious” (MM, p. 214). If it is true that Kant is a retributivist, it must also be true that he favors the putative justice of punishment and does not revel in any pleasure that might come from seeing a wrongdoer suffer. Schopenhauer does not give Kant enough credit on this score; perhaps Schopenhauer focused too closely on a few passages from the section on
great theological rationalists of the Middle Ages explains: It is likewise one of the fundamental principles of the Law of Moses our Master that it is in no way possible that He, may He be exalted, should be unjust, and that all the calamities that befall men and the good things that come to men, be it a single individual or a group, are all of them determined according to the deserts of the men concerned through equitable judgment in which there is no injustice whatever. Thus if some individual
that of being well-off by having things good (Nietzsche). For Nietzsche, who remained horrified at the ostensible purposelessness and inexorableness of human suffering, the intrinsically good state of affairs responsible for his rejection of Aquinas is a world as free of suffering as possible. For Häring, good consists in part of a world in which “proud enemies of God” are brought to a proper understanding and appreciation of God. Häring’s is a consequentialist view of suffering: the rightness or
a careful articulation of charges against his father. Recounting his father’s sins, Kafka strives more to define experience than to embellish it. Of course, Schadenfreude could be a subset of malice, in which case Kafka’s avowal would be somewhat tautologous, in the way that the 8 When Bad Things Happen to Other People statement “Elisabeth is a woman and a mother” is. Because all mothers are by definition women, it is unnecessary to specify the sex of a mother, which is built into its