The 17th century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz famously argued that this world of ours is “the best of all possible worlds”, and in doing so founded the philosophical study that he named ‘theodicy’ – the attempt to answer the question of why we suffer in a world supposedly watched over be an all-powerful and benevolent God. The scenes of devastation created by the tsunami that recently hit the east coast of Japan make these kinds of proclamations hard to swallow to say the least. Some philosophers after Leibniz made a point of how blindly indulgent and insensitive such claims can seem in the face of these reminders of the relentless and destructive powers of nature. Voltaire’s famous literary lampoon Candide: Or, the Optimist mocked the academic sophistry of such arm-chair speculation about suffering, and fellow German Schopenhauer, philosophy’s eternal pessimist, was perhaps the most damning of them all, saying once that:
…I cannot here withhold the statement that optimism, where it is not merely the thoughtless talk of those who harbour nothing but words under their shallow foreheads, seems to me to be not merely an absurd, but also a really wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind. Let no one imagine that the Christian teaching is favourable to optimism; on the contrary, in the Gospels world and evil are used as synonymous expressions. Continue reading “The Real Problem of Evil”
It is more than strange that while dismantling Cartesian divides between mind and body has been at the forefront of philosophy for over a century, philosophy of mind is overwhelmed with literature that presumes a mind / world relationship, in which the role of the body is often up for grabs.
However, recent breakthroughs in studies of the experience of pain will hopefully inspire philosophers to bring the body back into the philosophical picture. As the BBC reports, the experience of pain is never as simple as a signal running from body to brain that results in a qualitative experience of a certain magnitude. Psychologist Flavia Mancini has demonstrated that the experience of pain is shaped by our own body-monitoring. For instance, concealing the left hand with a convex mirror that reflects the right, a patient’s threshold for pain in the left hand dramatically increases; likewise, a mirror that appears to shrink the left hand decreases the pain treshold. The larger the painful body part appears to us, the more the pain lessens in intensity.
This shows that the body image is not merely a representational space wherein pains are located like darts on a board; but rather that our own awareness of our bodies shapes the content of our experience. Perhaps even more compellingly, it shows that the body takes into account certain aspects of itself (apparent size) in determining the magnitude of a feeling or sensation. Yet all of this pales in significance compared to the fact that one finally has the excuse to keep a convex mirror in every room of the house.