Pointless suffering cant be justified

Martin asks:

A question about suffering.

A person is enduring extreme suffering. During that suffering they die. Did the suffering happen or matter?

Alternately, death ‘wipes the slate clean’ and is a release so you don’t have to worry about peoples last moments

I’ve witnessed traumatic things and I don’t know how to rationalise other’s suffering.

Answer by Craig Skinner

I saw a fair bit of suffering in 40 years as a medical doctor.

We’re not talking about voluntary suffering for good ends, like visits to the dentist, but pointless suffering.

Yes, it happens. The world is full of it. Probably suffering outweighs joy. But even if it doesnt, there is too much of it. The alternative is no world at all or one without sentient beings. And the case for that is convincingly made by Benatar in Better never to have been (OUP 2009).

And suffering matters. Yes, death ends a creature’s sufferings, but this doesnt mean it didnt happen. It will forever be the case that it did, and was bad.

I dont think you can justify or rationalize it. And this is the case whether you are religious or not. If you are, you might hold that an ordered world containing free beings, a world with both necessity and free will in it, inevitably includes innocent suffering, and at least some of it is deserved, and also that God is a fellow-sufferer (incarnate as Jesus). But even if all this were true, and also that those who suffered got a cushy afterlife, this still wouldnt justify it. Some say it helps us grow. And no doubt struggling with adversity can sometimes do this, but most suffering mars or even ruins a life.

So the best we can do is to try to prevent it, to relieve it if we can, and to comfort if we can do neither. Those who deal with it daily in a professional capacity can only cope if the have a degree of detachment from it, but this need not, and should not, amount to lack of fellow feeling.

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