Quality of life



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QUALITY OF LIFE


This section deals with issues such as Happiness, Pleasure, and Suffering. For a contrasting view on some of these concepts, see the sections on Good and Life.



Happiness is the supreme good


The right to pursue happiness is the primary natural right

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research; member, board of editors, Encyclopedia Britannica), The Common Sense of Politics, 1971, p. 26

“The fact that all men have the same natural rights stems from the fact that all men have the same natural needs. Therefore, what is really good for any many is really good for all men. Let me spend a moment more on the significance of this. My natural needs make certain things really good for me. The things that are really good for me impose moral obligations on me in the conduct of my private life. These, in turn, give me certain moral or natural rights, and my having such rights imposes moral obligations on other individuals and on the organized community with respect to me. Hence, as my primary moral obligation is to make a really good life for myself, so my primary natural right is my right to the pursuit of happiness.”
The happiness of others is sacrosanct

William James (1842-1910; American philosopher and psychologist; prof. of philosophy and psychology at Harvard), Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students about Some of Life’s Ideals, 1900, pp. 265-266

“The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is non-interference with their own peculiar ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours. No one has insight to all the ideals. No one should presume to judge them off-hand. The pretension to dogmatize about them in each other is the root of most human injustices and cruelties, and the trait in human character most likely to make the angels weep.”
Happiness is an absolute, intrinsic, and ultimate value

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 131-132

“Everyone, whether they make the aforementioned mistake or not, concurs in acknowledging that happiness is always an end, never a mere means. More than that, it is an ultimate or final end, sought for the sake of nothing else. For any other good, or object of desire, we can always say that we desire it for the sake of something else. We want wealth, health, freedom, and knowledge because they are means to some good beyond themselves. But it is impossible to complete the sentence beginning with the words ‘We want to be happy or want happiness because...’” [Ellipsis in original text]
Aristotle points out happiness as the goal of human life

Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins (both professors of philosophy, Univ. of Texas at Austin), A Short History of Philosophy, 1996, p. 64

“Aristotle’s ethics is, again, strictly teleological. It is defined in terms of ‘the ends of being human.’ People have purposes. They have not only immediate purposes — to catch that bus, to earn a promotion on the job, to get to the top of the mountain — but an ultimate natural purpose, a purpose which, Aristotle tells us, is generally agreed to be ‘happiness,’ or, more accurately, ‘doing well.’”
Happiness is the only value which is always absolute, never instrumental

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, 384-322 BC.), in Ethics in America: Source Reader, ed. by Lisa H. Newton, 1989, p. 46

“Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honor, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves..., but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general, for anything other than itself.” (ellipsis in original text)
Happiness is the one universal end all rational beings seek

Immanuel Kant (European philosopher, 1724-1804), in Ethics in America: Source Reader, ed. by Lisa H. Newton, 1989, p. 132

“There is one end, however, which we may presuppose as actual in all rational beings so far as imperatives apply to them, i.e., so far as they are dependent beings; there is one purpose not only which they can have but which we can presuppose that they all do have by a necessity of nature. This purpose is happiness. The hypothetical imperative which represents the practical necessity of action as means to the promotion of happiness is an assertorical imperative. We may not expound it as merely necessary to an uncertain and merely possible purpose, but as necessary to a purpose which we can a priori and with assurance assume for everyone because it belongs to his essence.”
Happy countries tend to be richer countries

Eric A. Posner (Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago), Human Welfare Not Human Rights, The University of Chicago Public Law and Legal Theory working paper series #207, March 2008. Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://ssrn.com/abstract_id=1105209, accessed April 15, 2009. p. 26

“As a generalization, happier countries tend to be wealthier, but exceptions abound. Nigeria (6.87), for example, is very poor but has an average happiness greater than that of Greece (6.78), Poland (6.17), and Portugal (5.97) — all relatively wealthy countries. Uganda (5.62) is happier than Ukraine (4.56), Russia (4.88), and Turkey (5.59), which are middle-income countries.”
Happiness is the totality of all good

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 132

“Any other good that we can name is something that, obtained, leaves other goods to be sought. Each is one good among others but happiness is not one good among others. It is the complete good, the sum of all goods, leaving nothing more to be desired. Thus conceived, happiness is not the highest good, but the total good.”
Happiness is more than contentment

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 133

“If happiness is nothing but the contentment that results from satisfied wants, then the miser who has what he wants must be called happy, though by moral standards he should be regarded as a miserable creature, lacking most of the real goods that human beings need. Happiness as contentment is equally achievable by individuals who are morally good and morally bad.”
Fulfilling your moral duties is the key to happiness

Lisa H. Newton (professor of philosophy and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Fairfield University), Ethics in America: Source Reader, 1989, p. 193

“All philosophers worth our attention recognize the conceptual or formal distinction between ‘pursuing your own advantage’ and ‘fulfilling your moral obligations’; they did not imagine that the two were the same by definition. But there is a surprising agreement on the empirical fact of convergence of these two courses of action. If you live your life as you ought to live it, fulfilling your duties to others and serving your community, you will be, in fact, and possibly to your surprise, happy.”
Happiness is the lifetime accumulation of all real goods

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 134-135

“Happiness can then be defined as a whole life enriched by the cumulative possession of all the real goods that every human being needs and by the satisfaction of those individual wants that result in obtaining apparent goods that are innocuous. The pursuit of happiness, thus conceived, consists in the effort to discharge our moral obligation to seek whatever is really good for us and nothing else unless it is something, such as an innocuous apparent good, that does not interfere with obtaining all the real goods we need.”
Happiness is attainable only at the end of life

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 135-136

“Another difficulty lies in the understanding of happiness as a final end or an ultimate goal. This carries with it, both for philosophers and people in general, the notion that a final end or ultimate goal is something which, striven for, can be reached and rested in. When happiness is conceived as contentment, it is not only something we can enjoy but also something we can cease to strive for and come to rest in — at least for a time. Not so when happiness is conceived as a whole life well lived. It may be the final end or ultimate goal of all our striving, but it is not something we can ever cease to strive for as long as we are alive, or something we can come to rest in when achieved, for then we are no longer alive.”
Measurement of happiness is now possible

Eric A. Posner (Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago), Human Welfare Not Human Rights, The University of Chicago Public Law and Legal Theory working paper series #207, March 2008. Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://ssrn.com/abstract_id=1105209, accessed April 15, 2009. p. 24

“A second approach to drafting a welfarist treaty would exploit recent social science research on the measurement of subjective well-being. Economists and psychologists have discovered that people answer happiness surveys in a consistent manner that satisfies tests of external validity. A group of scholars argues that the results of these surveys provide a useful measure of subjective happiness. A typical survey question asks the respondent how happy she is on a scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10. A random sample of the population of a country can be given the survey, and the average response provides a rough measure of the welfare level of the country as a whole.”

Happiness is not the supreme good


It’s not possible to develop a meaningful calculation for pleasure or happiness

James Q. Wilson (professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, professor emeritus at UCLA), The Moral Sense, 1993, p. 233

“Utilitarianism reminded us of the truism that men choose pleasure over pain, but its founder, Jeremy Bentham, added the dubious corollary that the pleasures they choose are equal in value if they are equal in their intensity, duration, certainty, and propinquity. His wary disciple, John Stuart Mill, struggled to correct this by discussing the pleasures that were better than others, but of course saying one pleasure is better than another implies the existence of some standard other than pleasure by which to judge things. This is obvious to anyone who has sought pleasure in the reckless satisfaction of the bodily appetites only to discover that differences in the quality of pleasures affect our chances of finding true happiness.”
Happiness surveys cannot be considered reliable

Eric A. Posner (Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, University of Chicago), Human Welfare Not Human Rights, The University of Chicago Public Law and Legal Theory working paper series #207, March 2008. Available online through the Social Science Research Network Electronic Paper Collection: http://ssrn.com/abstract_id=1105209, accessed April 15, 2009. p. 26

“Happiness studies are controversial and raise numerous questions. Some critics argue that self-reported happiness is not the same as real happiness; people’s survey responses might reflect cultural norms rather than subjective well-being. There is also a great deal of controversy about the moral status of happiness or life satisfaction.”
Happiness needs to be measured in a number of different ways

Alan Wolfe (staff contributing editor), “Hedonic Man,” The New Republic, July 9, 2008, p. 49

“[I]t is no more likely that our minds possess something called H, a constant measure of happiness applicable to all forms of experience, than that they possess something called G, general intelligence that can be measured through testing. The proper question, therefore, is not whether happiness is better measured objectively or subjectively. It is, rather, the question of which of the many imperfect measures of happiness we ought to rely upon.”
Happiness is an abnormal condition for people

Maggie Scarf (Writer in Residence at Jonathan Edwards College, Yale University; Senior Fellow at the Bush Center in Child Development and Social Policy at Yale), “The Happiness Syndrome,” The New Republic, December 5, 1994, p. 28

“In a Journal of Medical Ethics article titled, ‘A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder,’ Liverpool University psychologist Richard P. Bentall argues that the so-called syndrome of happiness is a diagnosable mood disturbance and should be included in standard taxonomies of mental illness such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Happiness, as Bentall says in his abstract, is ‘statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system.’ (In this regard, as Bentall later notes, happiness resembles other psychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia).”
Happiness can be denied by circumstances beyond the control of the virtuous person

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 143

“There are many real goods, most of them external goods, such as wealth, a healthy environment, political liberty, and so on, that are not wholly within the power of the most virtuous individual to obtain for himself or herself. Obtaining these goods in the pursuit of happiness depends on fortunate circumstances that are beyond the individual’s power to control. Deprived of these goods of fortune, a human life can be ruined for even the most morally virtuous individual. He or she may be a morally good person and still be deprived of the happiness of a life well lived by such misfortunes as enslavement, grinding poverty, crippling illness, the loss of friends and loved ones. Being a morally good human being does not automatically result in the achievement of a morally good life.”
Happiness is distinctly different from well-being

Marvin Kohl (prof. of philosophy, State Univ. of New York College at Fredonia), “Promethean Altrustic Humanism,” Free Inquiry, vol. 14 #4 (Fall 1994), p. 44

“Happiness and well-being are not necessarily synonymous. Whether a person is happy or not depends, in part, upon his or her attitude toward the circumstances of life, especially to interests, whether they be idiosyncratic or not, that his or her life its central meaning. Whether a person is doing well or is in a state of well-being depends, in part, upon his or her success in satisfying biogenic, sociogenic, and spiritual needs. Except perhaps when we come to face death, well-being also seems to require having unsatisfied desires and challenging goals.”
The ‘paradox of hedonism’ suggests that seeking happiness is futile

Peter Singer (prof. of philosophy, Monash Univ., Australia), The Expanding Circle: Ethics and Sociobiology, 1981, p. 145

“Since ancient times, philosophers have maintained that to strive too hard for one’s own happiness is self-defeating. The ‘paradox of hedonism,’ as philosophers have called it, is that those who seek their own pleasure do not find it, and those who do not seek it find it anyway. The pleasures of a self-centered life eventually pall and the drive for still higher levels of luxury and delight bring no lasting satisfaction. Real fulfillment is more likely to be found in working for some other end. Hence, these philosophers claim, if we want to lead a happy life, we should not seek happiness directly, but should find a larger purpose in life, outside ourselves.”
Schopenhauer found that our desires are never satisfied

Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins (both professors of philosophy, Univ. of Texas at Austin), A Short History of Philosophy, 1996, p. 224

“Our lives, we suppose, have meaning. We fancy that by our actions, our desires will be satisfied in a rational way. In fact, they never are. When any particular desire is satisfied, we move on to the next one, or become bored (and therefore dissatisfied) until we do. Our fundamental nature is willful. No change of situation, no temporary satisfaction will quench our endless thirst. Schopenhauer thus sees the willful nature of reality, a reality that has no point and cannot be satisfied, as the grounds for his well-known pessimism.”

[Reference is to Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788-1860)]



Pleasure (and avoidance of pain) is the supreme good


Pleasure is universally desired, and thus is the paramount good

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, circa 384-322 B.C.), “Pleasure and Happiness,” (trans. J.E.C. Welldon, 1892) in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 423

“Eudoxus held that pleasure was the good, because he saw that all things, whether rational or irrational, make pleasure their aim. He argued that in all case that which is desirable is good, and that which is the most desirable is most good; hence the fact of all things being drawn to the same object is an indication that that object is the best for all, as everything discovers what is good for itself in the same way as it discovers food; but that which is good for all, and is the aim of all, is the good.”
Pleasure is essential to a fully human life

Randy Cohen (syndicated ethics columnist, New York Times Magazine), The Good, The Bad, & The Difference, 2002, p. 267

“Nearly every pleasure in life is voluntary. Were one to forsake them, life would be bleak indeed, if it would be life at all. In this sense, pleasure is not as optional as it may at first appear.”
Pleasure is needed as an anodyne to the pain of life

Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341-270 BC.), in Ethics in America: Source Reader, ed. by Lisa H. Newton, 1989, p. 157

“We must consider that of desires some are natural, others vain, and of the natural some are necessary and others merely natural; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for repose of the body, and others for very life. The right understanding of these facts enables us to refer all choice and avoidance to the health of the body and the soul’s freedom from disturbance, since this is the aim of the life of blessedness. For it is to obtain this end that we always act, namely, to avoid pain and fear. And when this is once secured for us, all the tempest of the soul is dispersed, since the living creature has not to wander as though in search of something that is missing, and to look for some other thing by which he can fulfill the good of the soul and the good of the body. For it then that we have need of pleasure, when we feel pain owing to the absence of pleasure; but when we do not feel pain, we no longer need pleasure.”
Any theory of values must put pleasure and pain in a key position

Thomas Nagel (Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University), “The Limits of Objectivity,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Brasenose College, Oxford University, May 4, 11, and 18, 1979, p. 108; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/nagel80.pdf, accessed May 7, 2008

“It seems to me that the least plausible hypothesis is the zero position, that pleasure and pain have no value of any kind that can be objectively recognized. That would mean that looking at it from outside, you couldn’t even say that someone had a reason not to put his hand on a hot stove. Try looking at it from the outside and see whether you can manage to withhold that judgment.”
There is no philosophical grounding for considering pain anything other than evil

Thomas Nagel (Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University), “The Limits of Objectivity,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Brasenose College, Oxford University, May 4, 11, and 18, 1979, p. 111-112; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/nagel80.pdf, accessed May 7, 2008

“What could possibly show us that acute physical pain, which everyone finds horrible, is in reality not impersonally bad at all, so that except from the point of view of the sufferer it doesn’t in itself matter? Only a very remarkable and farfetched picture of the value of a cosmic order beyond our immediate grasp, in which pain played an essential part which made it good or at least neutral — or else a demonstration that there can be no agent-neutral values. But I take it that neither of these is available: the first because the Problem of Evil has not been solved, the second because the absence of a logical demonstration that there are agent-neutral values is not a demonstration that there are not agent-neutral

values.”


Pleasure (and avoidance of pain) is not the supreme good


Pleasure is not the greatest value

Moritz Schlick (German logical empiricist philosopher, 1882-1936), “Are There Absolute Values?” (1939) in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 18

“Pleasure, to be sure, is a value, but only one among the many, and obviously not the highest.”
Pleasure cannot be the ultimate good, because it can be improved

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, circa 384-322 B.C.), “Pleasure and Happiness,” (trans. J.E.C. Welldon, 1892) in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 424

“It is by a precisely similar argument that Plato tries to prove that pleasure is not the good. Pleasure (he says) is not the chief good, for the pleasant life is more desirable with the addition of prudence than without it; but if the combination is better, pleasure is not the good, as the good itself cannot be made more desirable by any addition.”
Pain only gains control over us because we resist it

Christine M. Korsgaard (Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University), “The Sources of Normativity,” from The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Delivered at Cambridge University, November 16 and 17, 1992, p. 103-104; Online: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/documents/korsgaard94.pdf, accessed May 1, 2008

“Now I am not denying that when we are in pain part of what is going on is that we are having sensations of a certain character. I am however denying that the painfulness of pain consists entirely in the character of those sensations. The painfulness of pain consists in the fact that these are sensations that we are inclined to fight. You may want to ask: why are we inclined to fight them if they are not horrible in themselves? Well, in some cases we are biologically wired this way; pain could not do its biological job if we were not inclined to fight it. When nature equipped us with pain she was giving us a way of taking care of ourselves, not a reason to take care of ourselves. Why do you thrash? Is it as if you were trying to hurl your body away from itself? Why do you say ‘as if’? Pain really is less horrible if you can curb your inclination to fight it. This is why it helps, in dealing with pain, to take a tranquilizer or to lie down. Ask yourself how, if the painfulness of pain rested just in the character of the sensations, it could help to lie down? The sensations do not change. Pain wouldn’t hurt if you could just relax and enjoy it.”
Nietzsche concludes that pain is a necessary path to all success

Alain de Botton (research fellow in philosophy, London Univ.; TV documentarian and best-selling nonfiction author), The Consolations of Philosophy, 2000, p. 210

“[B]ecause fulfillment is an illusion, the wise must devote themselves to avoiding pain rather than seeking pleasure, living quietly, as Schopenhauer counselled, ‘in a small fireproof room’ — advice that now struck Nietzsche as both timid and untrue, a perverse attempt to dwell, as he was to put it pejoratively several years later, ‘hidden in forests like shy deer.’ Fulfillment was not to be reached by avoiding pain, but by recognizing its role as a natural, inevitable step on the way to reaching anything good.”

[Reference is to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher, poet, and classical philologist]



Suffering can be alleviated


Recognizing suffering is not enough, but it’s a necessary first step

Susan Sontag (American literary theorist, novelist, filmmaker, and political activist, 1933-2004), Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003, p. 114

“To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell’s flames. Still, it seems a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged, one’s sense of how much suffering is caused by human wickedness there is in the world we share with others. Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood. No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence, of superficiality, to this degree of ignorance, or amnesia.”
Relieving suffering is the ultimate moral imperative

Strachan Donnelley (past president of the Hastings Center and director of its Humans and Nature Program; later founder and President of the Center for Humans and Nature), “Animals in science: the justification issue,” The Hastings Center Report, May-June 1990, p. S8+

“Beyond the values of personal and professional gain to individual scientists and profits to corporations, a fundamental pragmatic value of biomedical inquiry to both humans and other animals exists: the relief of human and animal suffering and the enhancement of opportunities for individual activity and well-being. The relief of suffering particularly strikes us as an ultimate ethical imperative, underived from any more primary obligation. Despite the essential and positive role of pain in animal, including human life, taken by itself the relief of suffering is an intrinsic or inherent good, a fundamental response to our mortal and finite estate. ‘If possible, relieve suffering.’”
Harming the innocent is universally recognized as evil

James Q. Wilson (professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, professor emeritus at UCLA), The Moral Sense, 1993, p. 39-40

“Yet a moment’s reflection should remind us that the most common way in which sympathy guides our actions is by restraining us from inflicting harm. We often say, when confronted with an opportunity to benefit ourselves without running any risk, ‘That would be like taking candy from a baby.’ We repeat the familiar phrase to remind ourselves that taking candy from babies is wrong, however enjoyable the candy and defenseless the babies. Not only do we not take candy from them, we don’t, ordinarily, disturb their sleep, inflict great pain, or tease them unmercifully. We also forbear to take advantage of adults under many circumstances when it would be easy and costless to do so. In fact, we are particularly unlikely to take advantage of them if they are particularly vulnerable to being taken advantage of; if, for example, they are blind, disabled, or elderly. We praise people for genuine acts of charity or altruism but, being sensible and realistic folk, we don’t expect them to be charitable or altruistic all the time, or even much of the time. But we always expect people to avoid inflicting unnecessary harm on innocent others. Someone who does not rush to the scene of every accident is not thought to be hard-hearted; someone who inflicts pain without reason, and seems to enjoy doing it, is thought monstrous.”
Modern morality generally requires equal opportunity for the good things in life

Ralph Barton Perry (1879-1957; American neo-realist philosopher and prof. at Harvard), in Morals and Values, ed. by Marcus G. Singer, 1977, p. 313-314

“There was a time when the European conscience would not have been disturbed by the thought that a single favored individual, or a small caste of the elite, should enjoy happiness through the misery of thousands of lost souls. The new conscience not only requires that the majority shall be admitted to happiness, but that no man should be excluded from it. It is as though one were to feel that the feast cannot begin until every one is seated at the table, and that joy cannot be unalloyed without a sense of universal participation.”

Suffering is inevitable


Buddhism contends that suffering is a product of human desire

Bart Kosko (philosopher; prof., Univ. of Southern Calif.), Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic, 1993, p. 77

“So what does Buddhism say? What were the secular teachings of the Buddha? The Buddha reduced his world view to four points: (1) life is suffering (dukha); (2) suffering arises from desire (tanha); (3) eliminate desire and you eliminate the suffering; and (4) live a decent life and meditate to help eliminate desire. Want not, hurt not. This is less religion and more an intellectual pain pill.”
It is possible, even likely, that suffering is the dominant message of most lives

Peter Berkowitz (senior fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford Univ.; instructor at George Mason Univ. Law School), “Other People’s Mothers,” The New Republic, January 10, 2000, p. 35-36

“He complains, on the one hand, that opponents of infanticide and euthanasia ignore the harsh facts about the lives of the severely disabled; but he casually posits, on the other hand, that on balance an ordinary human life contains more happiness than sadness. ‘The infant exists: His life can be expected to contain a positive balance of happiness over misery.’ Really? Plausible or implausible, this is an empirical claim for which Singer offers no evidence. It is certainly far from a self-evident truth or unrebuttable presumption. Many are the thoughtful men and women who have come to a pessimistic conclusion about life, or whose bitter experience has persuaded them that the Greek god Silenus was right and the best for man is to have never been born, and the next best to die quickly. And if one reduces the moral life to the summing of pains and pleasures, how can one rule out that all is not ‘vanity of vanities,’ because ‘all things are full of weariness: man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing?’ Perhaps, on balance, many or most or all human lives contain more suffering than happiness.” [Reference is to contemporary philosopher Peter Singer]
Catastrophe could happen to anyone, at any time

Alain de Botton (research fellow in philosophy, London Univ.; TV documentarian and best-selling nonfiction author), The Consolations of Philosophy, 2000, p. 86

“If we do not dwell on the risk of sudden disaster and pay a price for our innocence, it is because reality comprises two cruelly confusing characteristics on the one hand, continuity and probability last across generation; on the other, unheralded cataclysms. We find ourselves divided between a plausible invitation to assume that tomorrow will be much like today and the possibility that we will meet with an appalling event after which nothing will ever be the same again.”
Schopenhauer finds that acting to satisfy our desires invariably hurts others and ourselves

Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins (both professors of philosophy, Univ. of Texas at Austin), A Short History of Philosophy, 1996, p. 225

[According to Schopenhauer:] “Worst of all, our egoism produces the illusion that other people are separate and opposed beings, in competition for the satisfactions we crave. In fact, they are manifestations of the same fundamental reality that we are. We only imagine that they are detached from us, and therefore we imagine that we can further the aims of our own will at their expense. The result is that our desires lead us to harm each other. Ultimately, this amounts to harming ourselves. The person who wickedly exerts his will against others suffers too. (Schopenhauer suggests that the faces of wicked people reveal this inner suffering.) Nevertheless, so long as we are limited to the phenomenal perspective, all of us will continue to exert our will against others, adding to the overall suffering of human experience.”

[Reference is to Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788-1860)]


Misery is the course of the human life

Arthur Schopenhauer (German philosopher, 1788-1860), as quoted in The Consolations of Philosophy, by Alain de Botton, 2000, p. 172

“In my seventeenth year, without any learned school education, I was gripped by the misery of life as Buddha was in his youth when he saw sickness, old age, pain and death. The truth ... was that this world could not have been the work of an all-loving Being, but rather that of a devil, who had brought creatures into existence in order to delight in the sight of their sufferings; to this the data pointed, and the belief that it is so won the upper hand.” [Ellipsis in original text]
Religion flourishes in part because suffering exists

Leon Wieseltier (staff literary editor), “Opiates,” The New Republic, May 7, 2008, p. 56

“Suffering is an old ally of religion. How else to interpret the outlandish particulars of eschatology, except as measurements of pain? Why would a happy person invent a paradise? It is because suffering is so hospitable to illusion that philosophers have often made an ideal out of lucidity.”
There is a long history of opposition to relieving pain

Patricia S. Churchland (University of California President’s Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of California at San Diego), “Human Dignity from a Neurophilosophical Perspective,” in Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics, 2008, p. 111

“The history of opposition to anesthesia as a method of relieving pain during surgery and childbirth is equally dismaying, and also surprising. What could be morally objectionable about relieving pain? Quite a lot, apparently. Arch-conservative theologians and physicians regarded pain as God’s punishment for sin, as part of God’s divine plan, as making the person closer to God as he begs for mercy. To interfere with that plan was to play into the hands of the devil. It was to usurp God’s power and take it unto oneself or-as one might say now-to “play God.” Ether and chloroform, the best of the early anesthetics, were particularly potent and if used carefully, were also reasonably safe. William Morton, a dentist in Boston, demonstrated the use of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846, and chloroform was introduced by James Young Simpson in Scotland in 1847. In Scotland, Simpson’s use of chloroform was widely denounced in the pulpit. One clergyman asserted that ‘chloroform is a decoy of Satan. It may appear to be a blessing, but it will harden society and rob God of the deep earnest cries for help.’ Use of anesthesia in childbirth, even in Caesarian sections, was strenuously opposed even by some who thought its use in amputation and tooth extraction was just barely acceptable. Their justification was that the procedure tried to circumvent God’s curse upon Eve as she and Adam left the Garden of Eden: ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing. In pain shall ye bring forth children’ (Genesis 3:16).”
Aging generally means a period of declining quality of life before death

The President’s Council on Bioethics, Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society, September 2005, p. 12

“Already today, as Joanne Lynn points out, ‘Most Americans die with failure of a major organ (heart, lungs, kidneys, or liver), dementia, stroke, or general frailty of old age ... [T]hese conditions lead to long periods of diminished function and involve multiple unpredictable and serious exacerbations of symptoms.’ Living longer also means suffering numerous chronic but not deadly conditions — such as arthritis, hearing and vision loss, dental decay, bowel problems, and urinary difficulties. Frailty becomes both more extended and more commonplace, which means that ‘the body’s systems have little reserve and small upsets cause cascading health problems.’”

[Ellipsis and brackets in original text]


Gradual enfeeblement is the norm

The President’s Council on Bioethics, Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society, September 2005, p. 14

“The Rand study highlights the single most dramatic and socially significant change in how we Americans die: four in ten of us die only after an extended period of worsening debility, dementia, and dependence. To be sure, most people over 65 at any given time are still healthy. But as the cohort ages further, hundreds of thousands slip into protracted dotage and feebleness, needing protracted long-term care. And virtually every American family will be affected — indeed, is already affected.”

Quality of life is more important than life itself


Death reminds us that it is the quality of life, and not the extension of life, which matters

Epicurus (Greek philosopher, 341-270 BC.), in Ethics in America: Source Reader, ed. by Lisa H. Newton, 1989, p. 157

“But the wise man neither seeks to escape life nor fears the cessation of life, for neither does life offend him nor does the absence of life seem to be any evil. And just as with food he does not seek simply the larger share and nothing else, but rather the most pleasant, so he seeks to enjoy the not the longest period of time, but the most pleasant.”

Life itself is more important than quality of life


Quality of life should not be a factor in most life-or-death decisions

Jeff McMahan (prof. of philosophy, Rutgers University), “Challenges to Human Equality,” The Journal of Ethics, Volume 12, No. 1 (2008), p. 82



“Most liberals insist that decisions not only about killing but even about saving lives must not be based on ‘quality of life’ considerations, or ‘quantity of life’ considerations. There is, however, some disagreement about this, even among liberals, in cases other than those involving wrongful killing. Some accept that when one can save some but not all the people who will otherwise die, it can be permissible, at least in some instances, to give priority to those who would lose most by dying.”



Prager’s LD Vault: Quality of Life · Revised July 2009 · © 2009 John R. Prager


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