Prof. Bainbridge on suffering and truth

Is suffering good for you?
Where is the truth to be found?

Prof. Bainbridge has a fascinating post on the Catholic theology of suffering.

When suffering is inevitable, it is clearly better that the pain be borne with courage. If someone can turn his own suffering to good use in the form of spiritual advancement, so much the better. Offering an interpretation of suffering in spiritual terms may well be a good way to lend courage to (“encourage” in the literal sense of the term) those who must suffer in any case.

What scares me is the risk that these ideas will help make those who hold them indifferent to the avoidable suffering of others. As the Steve Goodman song has it, “It ain’t hard, puttin’ up with somebody else’s troubles.” In particular, I’m strongly averse to being ruled by those who think that suffering might be spiritually good for me and my fellow-citizens, or for that matter think it might be good for humans anywhere.

The rigidity of the Roman Catholic Church on sexual issues, as translated into public policy, has spread untold misery around the globe. If that rigidity is partly generated by the thought that the suffering involved somehow completes the Passion, that makes it (in some twisted way) easier to understand, but not any less horrifying to contemplate.

Footnote: Prof. Bainbridge expresses an appropriate contempt for the idea that the truth might be “decided in the salons of Beverly Hills, Georgetown, and the Upper East Side.”

The application of the principle supporting that contempt to the idea that truth might be determined by the prayerful examination of textually corrupt documents in ancient languages, as read through the Thomist version of Aristotelian philosophy, and that the truth about sex is best determined in that way by groups of celibate men, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Might there not be some set of truth-seeking institutions other than the fashionable salon and the conclave?

Update: Prof. Bainbridge replies,, distinguishing what believers in the salvific power of suffering want for themselves and what they are willing to impose on others who believe otherwise.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: