The Relativity of Misery

An Argument Against the “Problem of Suffering”

Since the first tick of the universal bang, the existence of a clockmaker has been aggressively, passionately, and carefully explored. In fact, it seems as if the only thing humankind can agree upon is the need for a conversation about a higher power. Whether you are adamantly against, seemingly disinterested, or fully in agreement with the conception of God, it seems like the discussion itself is all around. Therefore, if due only to its extreme prevalence, the existence of God is a philosophical mountain for literature to climb one plateau at a time. Today’s excursion will focus on the scenic route of Hume’s “Problem of Suffering.” Tie your boots, take a sip of water, and watch out for falling rocks- here we go.

The Problem of Suffering Argument follows a modus ponens style and goes as follows:

  1. If unnecessary suffering exists, then a perfectly good, all powerful, and all-knowing God does not exist.
  2. Unnecessary suffering exists.
  3. (Therefore) A perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God does not exist.

Before this argument is artfully debunked, it is necessary to fully comprehend the historical and intricate aspects of this “logical” supposition.

Hume, a Scottish empiricist is most known for his text, “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion,” a dialogical inquiry into the nature of God. There are three characters present in this work: Philo, Cleanthes, and Demea. Philo represents the mouthpiece; Cleanthes is the “modern theist,” who thinks that God is good and we can, to some degree, understand him; Demea symbolizes the “orthodox theist,” believing that God is incomprehensible to humans. The discussions between these three individuals serves the purpose of positing a scenario of suffering that is inherently unnecessary and therefore incompatible with the existence of a higher power like God. Each of Hume’s premises are expounded upon in his text and require some intellectual exertion to delineate.

The first premise, and probably the most encompassing, follows deductive reasoning based on the assumption that unnecessary suffering is antagonistic from a perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God. In order to make this claim, Hume employs the assumption that a wholly good God would create happiness for all dwelling on his earth and dismantle wickedness before its foundation could be laid. In part ten of his dialogues, Hume, speaking as Philo, notes, “we grant that his power is infinite: whatever he wills to happen does happen. But neither man nor any other animal is happy; therefore God doesn’t will their happiness.” Through this, Hume shows that if God did exist, in his conception, he would not be perfectly good, as he does not “will” happiness to humans.

The second premise, “unnecessary suffering exists,” asserts that the ailment of human misfortune is needless and altogether worthless to create the most prosperous existence for the individual and society as a whole. Hume adamantly believes that a God would not allow, with his total power, this nature of hardship, but would instead permit a somehow “reasonable” amount that would not lead to widespread unhappiness. This postulation breeds the conclusion, “Therefore, a perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God does not exist.” As proclaimed above, Hume is rejecting the idea that a God filled only with goodness would openly smite the lives of men for futile reasons. Furthermore he is claiming that an all-powerful and all-knowing good God would be unmatched in battle, a complete winner, incapable of being bamboozled.

Yet, Hume’s premise two is wrought with cracks. First off, the verbiage, “unnecessary,” is utterly subjective. In a world as vast as ours, implying a purely objective level of suffering negates the idiosyncratic life courses around the globe. Meaning, the ailments of a wall street mogul are the wildest dreams of a refugee. If Hume were truly correct, the former would be technically classified as “unnecessary suffering,” even if it was something as simple as skim milk in their tall decaffeinated cappuccino. This is not to suggest that the very real and valid pain felt by man and womankind is somehow permissible. Rather, this opposition to Hume stems from a rational rejection of the absolutist mentality deployed in his second premise. Such a mentality ignores a hierarchical view of suffering.

The following argument, which, as mentioned earlier, will artfully debunk Hume’s premised assertion ,explores this subjective scale of affliction. To better understand the subsequent claims, view the graph to the right. The argument, like the one it ridicules, follows a modus ponens style.

An Argument Against the “Problem of Suffering”

  1. If, when the lowest level of the pyramid is taken away, a new “Ultimate Suffering” is posited, then objective “Unnecessary Suffering” does not exist.
  2. When the lowest level of the pyramid is taken away, a new “Ultimate Suffering” is posited.
  3. (Therefore) Objective “Unnecessary Suffering” does not exist.

pyramidSpeculate, if you will, an existence which only consists of anguish and ultimate suffering, with anguish being the lesser of the two evils. For the sake of imagination, although still innately subjective, please apply your own definitions to these two categories. Moreover, would it not be true that, in this concocted scenario, anguish would become a positive alternative? Could it not be ascertained that anguish would be a form of happiness, if only comparable to ultimate suffering? On a similar accord, imagine another existence made up of solely supreme happiness and satisfaction, with satisfaction being less acclaimed. This too would create a subjective hierarchy of suffering. Meaning, satisfaction, being less desired, would become the worst level of pain imaginable for the individual.

Forasmuch as the aforementioned circumstances are plausible, as can be deduced through real life occurrences of privilege (like the latte incidence above), an objective “Unnecessary Suffering” cannot be assumed, due to the explained intrinsic subjectivity of torture.



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