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Suffering, or pain in a broad sense,may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. Suffering is the basic element that makes up the negative valence of affective phenomena. The opposite of suffering is pleasure or happiness.
Valence, as used in psychology, especially in discussing emotions, means the intrinsic attractiveness/"good"-ness or averseness/"bad"-ness of an event, object, or situation. The term also characterizes and categorizes specific emotions. For example, emotions popularly referred to as "negative", such as anger and fear, have negative valence. Joy has positive valence. Positively valenced emotions are evoked by positively valenced events, objects, or situations. The term is also used to describe the hedonic tone of feelings, affect, certain behaviors, goal attainment or nonattainment, and conformity with or violation of norms. Ambivalence can be viewed as conflict between positive and negative valence-carriers.
Pleasure is a broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria. The early psychological concept of pleasure, the pleasure principle, describes it as a positive feedback mechanism that motivates the organism to recreate the situation it has just found pleasurable, and to avoid past situations that caused pain.
Happiness is used in the context of mental or emotional states, including positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. It is also used in the context of life satisfaction, subjective well-being, eudaimonia, flourishing and well-being.
Suffering is often categorized as physicalor mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and frequency of occurrence usually compound that of intensity. Attitudes toward suffering may vary widely, in the sufferer or other people, according to how much it is regarded as avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, deserved or undeserved.
Suffering occurs in the lives of sentient beings in numerous manners, often dramatically. As a result, many fields of human activity are concerned with some aspects of suffering. These aspects may include the nature of suffering, its processes, its origin and causes, its meaning and significance, its related personal, social, and cultural behaviors, its remedies, management, and uses.
Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience subjectively. Eighteenth-century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think (reason) from the ability to feel (sentience). In modern Western philosophy, sentience is the ability to experience sensations. In Eastern philosophy, sentience is a metaphysical quality of all things that require respect and care. The concept is central to the philosophy of animal rights because sentience is necessary for the ability to suffer, and thus is held to confer certain rights.
The word suffering is sometimes used in the narrow sense of physical pain, but more often it refers to mental pain, or more often yet it refers to pain in the broad sense, i.e. to any unpleasant feeling, emotion or sensation. The word pain usually refers to physical pain, but it is also a common synonym of suffering. The words pain and suffering are often used both together in different ways. For instance, they may be used as interchangeable synonyms. Or they may be used in 'contradistinction' to one another, as in "pain is physical, suffering is mental", or "pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". Or they may be used to define each other, as in "pain is physical suffering", or "suffering is severe physical or mental pain".
Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. The International Association for the Study of Pain's widely used definition defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage". In medical diagnosis, pain is regarded as a symptom of an underlying condition.
Psychological pain, mental pain, or emotional pain is an unpleasant feeling of a psychological, non-physical origin. A pioneer in the field of suicidology, Edwin S. Shneidman, described it as "how much you hurt as a human being. It is mental suffering; mental torment." There is no shortage in the many ways psychological pain is referred to, and using a different word usually reflects an emphasis on a particular aspect of mind life. Technical terms include algopsychalia and psychalgia, but it may also be called mental pain, emotional pain, psychic pain, social pain, spiritual or soul pain, or suffering. While these clearly are not equivalent terms, one systematic comparison of theories and models of psychological pain, psychic pain, emotional pain, and suffering concluded that each describe the same profoundly unpleasant feeling. Psychological pain is believed to be an inescapable aspect of human existence.
Feeling is the nominalization of the verb to feel. The word was first used in the English language to describe the physical sensation of touch through either experience or perception. The word is also used to describe experiences other than the physical sensation of touch, such as "a feeling of warmth" and of sentience in general. In Latin, sentire meant to feel, hear or smell. In psychology, the word is usually reserved for the conscious subjective experience of emotion. Phenomenology and heterophenomenology are philosophical approaches that provide some basis for knowledge of feelings. Many schools of psychotherapy depend on the therapist achieving some kind of understanding of the client's feelings, for which methodologies exist.
Qualifiers, such as physical, mental, emotional, and psychological, are often used to refer to certain types of pain or suffering. In particular, mental pain (or suffering) may be used in relationship with physical pain (or suffering) for distinguishing between two wide categories of pain or suffering. A first caveat concerning such a distinction is that it uses physical pain in a sense that normally includes not only the 'typical sensory experience of physical pain' but also other unpleasant bodily experiences including air hunger, hunger, vestibular suffering, nausea, sleep deprivation, and itching. A second caveat is that the terms physical or mental should not be taken too literally: physical pain or suffering, as a matter of fact, happens through conscious minds and involves emotional aspects, while mental pain or suffering happens through physical brains and, being an emotion, involves important physiological aspects.
In politics, humanitarian aid, and social science, hunger is a condition in which a person, for a sustained period, is unable to eat sufficient food to meet basic nutritional needs. So in the field of hunger relief, the term hunger is used in a sense that goes beyond the common desire for food that all humans experience.
The vestibular system, in vertebrates, is part of the inner ear. In most mammals, the vestibular system is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution to the sense of balance and spatial orientation for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance. Together with the cochlea, a part of the auditory system, it constitutes the labyrinth of the inner ear in most mammals. As movements consist of rotations and translations, the vestibular system comprises two components: the semicircular canals which indicate rotational movements; and the otoliths which indicate linear accelerations. The vestibular system sends signals primarily to the neural structures that control eye movements, and to the muscles that keep an animal upright and in general control posture. The projections to the former provide the anatomical basis of the vestibulo-ocular reflex, which is required for clear vision; while the projections to the latter provide the anatomical means required to enable an animal to maintain its desired position in space.
Nausea is an unpleasant, diffuse sensation of unease and discomfort, often perceived as an urge to vomit. While not painful, it can be a debilitating symptom if prolonged, and has been described as placing discomfort on the chest, upper abdomen, or back of the throat.
The word unpleasantness, which some people use as a synonym of suffering or pain in the broad sense, may be used to refer to the basic affective dimension of pain (its suffering aspect), usually in contrast with the sensory dimension, as for instance in this sentence: "Pain-unpleasantness is often, though not always, closely linked to both the intensity and unique qualities of the painful sensation."Other current words that have a definition with some similarity to suffering include distress, unhappiness, misery, affliction, woe, ill, discomfort, displeasure, disagreeableness.
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Hedonism, as an ethical theory, claims that good and bad consist ultimately in pleasure and pain. Many hedonists, in accordance with Epicurus and contrarily to popular perception of his doctrine, advocate that we should first seek to avoid suffering and that the greatest pleasure lies in a robust state of profound tranquility (ataraxia) that is free from the worrisome pursuit or the unwelcome consequences of ephemeral pleasures.
For Stoicism, the greatest good lies in reason and virtue, but the soul best reaches it through a kind of indifference (apatheia) to pleasure and pain: as a consequence, this doctrine has become identified with stern self-control in regard to suffering.
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Jeremy Bentham developed hedonistic utilitarianism, a popular doctrine in ethics, politics, and economics. Bentham argued that the right act or policy was that which would cause "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". He suggested a procedure called hedonic or felicific calculus, for determining how much pleasure and pain would result from any action. John Stuart Mill improved and promoted the doctrine of hedonistic utilitarianism. Karl Popper, in The Open Society and Its Enemies , proposed a negative utilitarianism, which prioritizes the reduction of suffering over the enhancement of happiness when speaking of utility: "I believe that there is, from the ethical point of view, no symmetry between suffering and happiness, or between pain and pleasure. (...) human suffering makes a direct moral appeal for help, while there is no similar call to increase the happiness of a man who is doing well anyway." David Pearce, for his part, advocates a utilitarianism that aims straightforwardly at the abolition of suffering through the use of biotechnology (see more details below in section Biology, neurology, psychology). Another aspect worthy of mention here is that many utilitarians since Bentham hold that the moral status of a being comes from its ability to feel pleasure and pain: therefore, moral agents should consider not only the interests of human beings but also those of (other) animals. Richard Ryder came to the same conclusion in his concepts of 'speciesism' and 'painism'. Peter Singer's writings, especially the book Animal Liberation, represent the leading edge of this kind of utilitarianism for animals as well as for people.
Another doctrine related to the relief of suffering is humanitarianism (see also humanitarian principles, humanitarian aid, and humane society). "Where humanitarian efforts seek a positive addition to the happiness of sentient beings, it is to make the unhappy happy rather than the happy happier. (...) [Humanitarianism] is an ingredient in many social attitudes; in the modern world it has so penetrated into diverse movements (...) that it can hardly be said to exist in itself."
Pessimists hold this world to be mainly bad, or even the worst possible, plagued with, among other things, unbearable and unstoppable suffering. Some identify suffering as the nature of the world and conclude that it would be better if life did not exist at all. Arthur Schopenhauer recommends us to take refuge in things like art, philosophy, loss of the will to live, and tolerance toward 'fellow-sufferers'.
Friedrich Nietzsche, first influenced by Schopenhauer, developed afterward quite another attitude, arguing that the suffering of life is productive, exalting the will to power, despising weak compassion or pity, and recommending us to embrace willfully the 'eternal return' of the greatest sufferings. [ citation needed ]
Philosophy of pain is a philosophical speciality that focuses on physical pain and is, through that, relevant to suffering in general.
Suffering plays an important role in a number of religions, regarding matters such as the following: consolation or relief; moral conduct (do no harm, help the afflicted, show compassion); spiritual advancement through life hardships or through self-imposed trials (mortification of the flesh, penance, ascetism); ultimate destiny (salvation, damnation, hell). Theodicy deals with the problem of evil, which is the difficulty of reconciling the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent god with the existence of evil: a quintessential form of evil, for many people, is extreme suffering, especially in innocent children, or in creatures destined to an eternity of torments (see problem of hell).
The 'Four Noble Truths' of Buddhism are about dukkha, a term often translated as suffering. They state the nature of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation, the Noble Eightfold Path. Buddhism considers liberation from dukkha and the practice of compassion (karuna) as basic for leading a holy life and attaining nirvana.
Hinduism holds that suffering follows naturally from personal negative behaviors in one's current life or in a past life (see karma in Hinduism).One must accept suffering as a just consequence and as an opportunity for spiritual progress. Thus the soul or true self, which is eternally free of any suffering, may come to manifest itself in the person, who then achieves liberation (moksha). Abstinence from causing pain or harm to other beings, called ahimsa, is a central tenet of Hinduism, and even more so of another Indian religion, Jainism (see ahimsa in Jainism).
In Judaism, suffering is often seen as a punishment for sins and a test of a person's faith, like the Book of Job illustrates.
For Christianity, redemptive suffering is the belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for sins and allow to grow in the love of God, others and oneself.
In Islam, the faithful must endure suffering with hope and faith, not resist or ask why, accept it as Allah's will and submit to it as a test of faith. Allah never asks more than can be endured. One must also work to alleviate the suffering of others, as well as one's own. Suffering is also seen as a blessing. Through that gift, the sufferer remembers God and connects with him. Suffering expunges the sins of human beings and cleanses their soul for the immense reward of the afterlife, and the avoidance of hell.
According to the Bahá'í Faith, all suffering is a brief and temporary manifestation of physical life, whose source is the material aspects of physical existence, and often attachment to them, whereas only joy exists in the spiritual worlds.
Artistic and literary works often engage with suffering, sometimes at great cost to their creators or performers. The Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database offers a list of such works under the categories art, film, literature, and theater. Be it in the tragic, comic or other genres, art and literature offer means to alleviate (and perhaps also exacerbate) suffering, as argued for instance in Harold Schweizer's Suffering and the remedy of art.
This Brueghel painting is among those that inspired W. H. Auden's poem Musée des Beaux Arts:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; (...)
Social suffering, according to Arthur Kleinman and others, describes "collective and individual human suffering associated with life conditions shaped by powerful social forces".Such suffering is an increasing concern in medical anthropology, ethnography, mass media analysis, and Holocaust studies, says Iain Wilkinson, who is developing a sociology of suffering.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a work by the Union of International Associations. Its main databases are about world problems (56,564 profiles), global strategies and solutions (32,547 profiles), human values (3,257 profiles), and human development (4,817 profiles). It states that "the most fundamental entry common to the core parts is that of pain (or suffering)" and "common to the core parts is the learning dimension of new understanding or insight in response to suffering".
Ralph G.H. Siu, an American author, urged in 1988 the "creation of a new and vigorous academic discipline, called panetics, to be devoted to the study of the infliction of suffering",The International Society for Panetics was founded in 1991 to study and develop ways to reduce the infliction of human suffering by individuals acting through professions, corporations, governments, and other social groups.
In economics, the following notions relate not only to the matters suggested by their positive appellations, but to the matter of suffering as well: Well-being or Quality of life, Welfare economics, Happiness economics, Gross National Happiness, Genuine Progress Indicator.
In law, "Pain and suffering" is a legal term that refers to the mental distress or physical pain endured by a plaintiff as a result of injury for which the plaintiff seeks redress. Assessments of pain and suffering are required to be made for attributing legal awards. In the Western world these are typical made by juries in a discretionary fashion and are regarded as subjective, variable, and difficult to predict, for instance in the US,UK, Australia, and New Zealand. See also, in US law, Negligent infliction of emotional distress and Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In management and organization studies, drawing on the work of Eric Cassell, suffering has been defined as the distress a person experiences when they perceive a threat to any aspect of their continued existence, whether physical, psychological, or social.Other researchers have noted that suffering results from an inability to control actions that usually define one's view of one's self and that the characteristics of suffering include the loss of autonomy, or the loss of valued relationships or sense of self. Suffering is therefore determined not by the threat itself but, rather, by its meaning to the individual and the threat to their personhood.
Suffering and pleasure are respectively the negative and positive affects, or hedonic tones, or valences that psychologists often identify as basic in our emotional lives.The evolutionary role of physical and mental suffering, through natural selection, is primordial: it warns of threats, motivates coping (fight or flight, escapism), and reinforces negatively certain behaviors (see punishment, aversives). Despite its initial disrupting nature, suffering contributes to the organization of meaning in an individual's world and psyche. In turn, meaning determines how individuals or societies experience and deal with suffering.
Many brain structures and physiological processes are involved in suffering. Various hypotheses try to account for the experience of suffering. One of these, the pain overlap theorytakes note, thanks to neuroimaging studies, that the cingulate cortex fires up when the brain feels suffering from experimentally induced social distress or physical pain as well. The theory proposes therefore that physical pain and social pain (i.e. two radically differing kinds of suffering) share a common phenomenological and neurological basis.
According to David Pearce’s online manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative,suffering is the avoidable result of Darwinian genetic design. Pearce promotes replacing the pain/pleasure axis with a robot-like response to noxious stimuli or with gradients of bliss, through genetic engineering and other technical scientific advances.
Hedonistic psychology,affective science, and affective neuroscience are some of the emerging scientific fields that could in the coming years focus their attention on the phenomenon of suffering.
Disease and injury may contribute to suffering in humans and animals. For example, suffering may be a feature of mental or physical illness such as borderline personality disorderand occasionally in advanced cancer. Health care addresses this suffering in many ways, in subfields such as medicine, clinical psychology, psychotherapy, alternative medicine, hygiene, public health, and through various health care providers.
Health care approaches to suffering, however, remain problematic. Physician and author Eric Cassell, widely cited on the subject of attending to the suffering person as a primary goal of medicine, has defined suffering as "the state of severe distress associated with events that threaten the intactness of the person".Cassell writes: "The obligation of physicians to relieve human suffering stretches back to antiquity. Despite this fact, little attention is explicitly given to the problem of suffering in medical education, research or practice." Mirroring the traditional body and mind dichotomy that underlies its teaching and practice, medicine strongly distinguishes pain from suffering, and most attention goes to the treatment of pain. Nevertheless, physical pain itself still lacks adequate attention from the medical community, according to numerous reports. Besides, some medical fields like palliative care, pain management (or pain medicine), oncology, or psychiatry, do somewhat address suffering 'as such'. In palliative care, for instance, pioneer Cicely Saunders created the concept of 'total pain' ('total suffering' say now the textbooks), which encompasses the whole set of physical and mental distress, discomfort, symptoms, problems, or needs that a patient may experience hurtfully.
Since suffering is such a universal motivating experience, people, when asked, can relate their activities to its relief and prevention. Farmers, for instance, may claim that they prevent famine, artists may say that they take our minds off our worries, and teachers may hold that they hand down tools for coping with life hazards. In certain aspects of collective life, however, suffering is more readily an explicit concern by itself. Such aspects may include public health, human rights, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, philanthropy, economic aid, social services, insurance, and animal welfare. To these can be added the aspects of security and safety, which relate to precautionary measures taken by individuals or families, to interventions by the military, the police, the firefighters, and to notions or fields like social security, environmental security, and human security.
Philosopher Leonard Katz wrote: "But Nature, as we now know, regards ultimately only fitness and not our happiness (...), and does not scruple to use hate, fear, punishment and even war alongside affection in ordering social groups and selecting among them, just as she uses pain as well as pleasure to get us to feed, water and protect our bodies and also in forging our social bonds."
People make use of suffering for specific social or personal purposes in many areas of human life, as can be seen in the following instances:
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|Topics related to suffering|
|Physical pain-related topics||Pain · Pain in animals · Pain in invertebrates · Pain (philosophy) · Psychogenic pain · Chronic pain|
|Evil-related topics||Evil · Problem of evil · Hell · Good and evil: welfarist theories|
|Compassion-related topics||Compassion · Compassion fatigue · Pity · Mercy · Sympathy · Empathy|
|Cruelty-related topics||Cruelty · Schadenfreude · Sadistic personality disorder · Abuse · Physical abuse · Psychological or emotional abuse · Self-harm · Cruelty to animals|
|Death-related topics||Euthanasia · Animal euthanasia · Suicide|
|Other related topics||Dukkha · Weltschmerz · Negative affectivity · Psychological pain · Amor fati · Dystopia · Victimology · Penology · Pleasure · Pain and pleasure · Happiness · Hedonic treadmill · Wild animal suffering|
Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.
Hedonism is a school of thought that argues that the pursuit of pleasure and intrinsic goods are the primary or most important goals of human life. A hedonist strives to maximize net pleasure. However upon finally gaining said pleasure, happiness may remain stationary.
Utilitarianism is a family of consequentialist ethical theories that promotes actions that maximize happiness and well-being for the majority of a population. Although different varieties of utilitarianism admit different characterizations, the basic idea behind all of them is to in some sense maximize utility, which is often defined in terms of well-being or related concepts. For instance, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as
The paradox of hedonism, also called the pleasure paradox, refers to the practical difficulties encountered in the pursuit of pleasure. Unfortunately for the hedonist, constant pleasure-seeking may not yield the most actual pleasure or happiness in the long run—or even in the short run, when consciously pursuing pleasure interferes with experiencing it.
Sadomasochism is the giving or receiving of pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation. Practitioners of sadomasochism may seek sexual gratification from their acts. While the terms sadist and masochist refer respectively to one who enjoys giving and receiving pain, practitioners of sadomasochism may switch between activity and passivity.
David Pearce is co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association, currently rebranded and incorporated as Humanity+, Inc., and a prominent figure within the transhumanism movement.
The Cyrenaics or Kyrenaics were a sensual hedonist Greek school of philosophy founded in the 4th century BCE, supposedly by Aristippus of Cyrene, although many of the principles of the school are believed to have been formalized by his grandson of the same name, Aristippus the Younger. The school was so called after Cyrene, the birthplace of Aristippus. It was one of the earliest Socratic schools. The Cyrenaics taught that the only intrinsic good is pleasure, which meant not just the absence of pain, but positively enjoyable sensations. Of these, momentary pleasures, especially physical ones, are stronger than those of anticipation or memory. They did, however, recognize the value of social obligation and that pleasure could be gained from altruistic behaviour. The school died out within a century and was replaced by the philosophy of Epicureanism.
Philosophy of pain may be about suffering in general or more specifically about physical pain. The experience of pain is, due to its seeming universality, a very good portal through which to view various aspects of human life. Discussions in philosophy of mind concerning qualia has given rise to a body of knowledge called philosophy of pain, which is about pain in the narrow sense of physical pain, and which must be distinguished from philosophical works concerning pain in the broad sense of suffering. This article covers both topics.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a common law tort that allows individuals to recover for severe emotional distress caused by another individual who intentionally or recklessly inflicted emotional distress by behaving in an "extreme and outrageous" way. Some courts and commentators have substituted mental for emotional, but the tort is the same.
The Art of Happiness is a book by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, a psychiatrist who posed questions to the Dalai Lama. Cutler quotes the Dalai Lama at length, providing context and describing some details of the settings in which the interviews took place, as well as adding his own reflections on issues raised.
John Stuart Mill's book Utilitarianism is a classic exposition and defence of utilitarianism in ethics. The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser's Magazine in 1861; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in 1863. Mill's aim in the book is to explain what utilitarianism is, to show why it is the best theory of ethics, and to defend it against a wide range of criticisms and misunderstandings. Though heavily criticized both in Mill's lifetime and in the years since, Utilitarianism did a great deal to popularize utilitarian ethics and has been considered "the most influential philosophical articulation of a liberal humanistic morality that was produced in the nineteenth century."
Antinatalism, or anti-natalism, is a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth. Antinatalists argue that people should abstain from procreation because it is morally bad. In scholarly and in literary writings, various ethical foundations have been presented for antinatalism. Some of the earliest surviving formulations of the idea that it would be better not to have been born come from ancient Greece. The term antinatalism is in opposition to the term natalism or pro-natalism, and was used probably for the first time as the name of the position by Théophile de Giraud in his book L'art de guillotiner les procréateurs: Manifeste anti-nataliste.
Ralph Gun Hoy Siu was a distinguished American scholar, military and civil servant, and author. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and died in Washington, D.C., aged 80.
Well-being, wellbeing, or wellness is the condition of an individual or group. A high level of well-being means that in some sense the individual's or group's condition is positive.
Hedonic motivation refers to the influence of a person's pleasure and pain receptors on their willingness to move towards a goal or away from a threat. This is linked to the classic motivational principle that people approach pleasure and avoid pain, and is gained from acting on certain behaviors that resulted from esthetic and emotional feelings such as: love, hate, fear, joy, etc. According to the hedonic principle, our emotional experience can be thought of as a gauge that ranges from bad to good and our primary motivation is to keep the needle on the gauge as close to good as possible.
The self-transforming brain refers to the ability of the self to consciously use mental activity to change/modify the brain's neural network in order to experience life with more happiness and fulfillment. This capacity of using awareness to do so is based on the assumption that the brain and the mind are closely connected that one does not change without the other. The phrase "I think therefore I am" is not just a famous proclamation in the eyes of neuroscience. It has been evidenced that mental activity, such as fleeting thoughts and feelings can create new neural structure in the brain and thus shape a person's reality. In this manner, it is possible to make use of the brain's neuroplasticity to re-wire/change one's brain and life for the better by consciously activating happy, tranquil and loving mental states.
Negative utilitarianism is a version of the ethical theory utilitarianism that gives greater priority to reducing suffering than to increasing happiness. This differs from classical utilitarianism, which does not claim that reducing suffering is intrinsically more important than increasing happiness. Both versions of utilitarianism hold that morally right and morally wrong actions depend solely on the consequences for overall well-being. 'Well-being' refers to the state of the individual. The term 'negative utilitarianism' is used by some authors to denote the theory that reducing negative well-being is the only thing that ultimately matters morally. Others distinguish between 'strong' and 'weak' versions of negative utilitarianism, where strong versions are only concerned with reducing negative well-being, and weak versions say that both positive and negative well-being matter but that negative well-being matters more.
Negative consequentialism is a version of the ethical theory consequentialism, which is "one of the major theories of normative ethics." Like other versions of consequentialism, negative consequentialism holds that moral right and wrong depend only on the value of outcomes. That is, for negative and other versions of consequentialism, questions such as "what should I do?" and "what kind of person should I be?" are answered only based on consequences. Negative consequentialism differs from other versions of consequentialism by giving greater weight in moral deliberations to what is bad than what is good.
|title=(help) "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-10-28. Retrieved 2008-09-11.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link). Other examples are given by L. W. Sumner, on page 103 of Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics: "Think for a moment of the many physical symptoms which, when persistent, can make our lives miserable: nausea, hiccups, sneezing, dizziness, disorientation, loss of balance, itching, 'pins and needles', 'restless legs', tics, twitching, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, and so on."