Apr 15, 2020
It’s right there in the Book of Job: “Man is born unto trouble
as the sparks fly upward.” Suffering is an inescapable part of the
human condition—which leads to a question that has proved just as
inescapable throughout the centuries: Why? Why do we suffer? Why do
people die young? Is there any point to our pain, physical or
emotional? Do horrors like hurricanes have meaning?
In Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering, Scott Samuelson tackles that hardest question of all. To do so, he travels through the history of philosophy and religion, but he also attends closely to the real world we live in. While always taking the question of suffering seriously, Samuelson is just as likely to draw lessons from Bugs Bunny as from Confucius, from his time teaching philosophy to prisoners as from Hannah Arendt’s attempts to come to terms with the Holocaust. He guides us through the arguments people have offered to answer this fundamental question, explores the many ways that we have tried to minimize or eliminate suffering, and examines people’s attempts to find ways to live with pointless suffering. Ultimately, Samuelson shows, to be fully human means to acknowledge a mysterious paradox: we must simultaneously accept suffering and oppose it. And understanding that is itself a step towards acceptance.
Wholly accessible, and thoroughly thought-provoking, Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering is a masterpiece of philosophy, returning the field to its roots—helping us see new ways to understand, explain, and live in our world, fully alive to both its light and its darkness.