Scheler’s Theory Of Suffering: What It Is And What It Says About Pain

Scheler's theory of suffering

Scheler’s theory of suffering proposes a reflection on how human beings respond to experiences of pain Normally, we run away from it, we try to hide it, but what happens if we do the opposite? Does it make sense to find a purpose for our suffering?

Surely influenced by the Christian vision of pain and penance, and coinciding with the ideas of Viktor Frankl, a philosopher much later than him, Max Scheler proposes the idea that, if we manage to find meaning in suffering, it can offer us something. positive.

Scheler was a German, therefore Western, philosopher with a vision of suffering that clashes with the most established idea in our modern West that suffering requires avoidance strategies regardless of what its trigger is.

But there are things that no matter how much we try to avoid them, they are not going to hurt us less, something that Scheler’s theory of suffering can help us with. Let’s see how.

What is Scheler’s Theory of Suffering?

There is no doubt that pain, whether physical or emotional, is something we do not want to experience. Naturally. Our survival animal nature tells us that if something hurts us, it is best to avoid it

However, our human nature, which can disengage from our biological instincts and think long-term, has given us the ability to reflect on suffering, asking ourselves if it is of any use.

There are things that pose a threat to our body and that cause us pain, such as the bite of a mosquito or the heat of a flame, two things that make all the sense in the world for us to actively avoid. However, What about all those good things that, to get them, we have to go through something that is going to make us suffer?

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A simple example: get in shape. If you want to show off a toned body this summer, you are going to have to sacrifice daily for the coming months, doing some exercise every day. While this doesn’t have to be extremely painful, it’s certainly not as comfortable as lying on the couch or going out with friends for a drink.

It is a fairly mundane and simple case, but it serves as an example to observe that, if we did not find meaning in that suffering and avoided it, we would not achieve something of greater value. Suffering can encourage you to move forward despite the pain, to progress This is the idea defended by Scheler’s theory of suffering.

Function of suffering

What does the Theory of the Meaning of Suffering consist of?

The theory of the meaning of suffering by Max Scheler (1874-1928) raises the idea that when you experience some type of pain, whether physical or mental, it must serve something, that has some meaning The theory proposes that when something hurts us, it must be for a reason and that, if found, it will serve to guide us towards a higher goal. Within the framework of ethics, each person has to find that reason for their own suffering in order to give it significance and turn it into something useful.

This German philosopher, student of ethics and human values, pointed out that In the face of suffering it is advisable to take on two challenges: the first is to discover what its deep meaning is, and the second is to collect oneself, remain silent, contemplate, reflect and meditate.

If these steps are followed, mastery of the spirit will be achieved, which, in Scheler’s opinion, is what makes a person calm, free, vigorous and ready for action.

Scheler considered it to be the ability to reflect on one’s own pain. one of the main traits that differentiate human beings from other animals Animals act based on purely biological objectives, instincts that focus on the here and now, while human behavior acquires a sense of perfection. People, in Scheler’s opinion, also act based on spirituality.

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This author’s theory of the meaning of suffering coincides in many aspects with the Christian vision of pain Christianity sees pain not as something that one must get rid of, but rather as a path that leads us to redemption and is achieved through sacrifice. The most devout Christians believe that, even in the worst moments, suffering is a positive thing, the same idea defended by Scheler.

The positive view of suffering and the spiritual level

In Scheler’s theory of suffering, this unpleasant sensation acquires various interpretations, depending on how far we go in the analysis of this condition. The German philosopher maintains that there are three possible levels each corresponding to three conditions of being:

In his approach, A meaning can only be found in suffering when the human being is located in his dimension as a person, that is, at the spiritual level Regarding the psychological and organic level, suffering has no real meaning, since it implies passive suffering.

Only by being in the spiritual dimension is it possible to initiate an action regarding that suffering, assigning it some existential meaning and channeling the pain associated with that discomfort as energy aimed at achieving a specific objective.

Max Scheler considered that a person’s suffering is equivalent to sacrifice and that, in this sense, this could even be positive. When we talk about “sacrifice” we are referring to an action carried out deliberately even though it will bring pain, but that It is done to obtain a higher value, a long-term gain that will bring more benefits than doing nothing against the pain The idea is to give up something that is appreciated, which implies suffering, but which will allow us to achieve something else of greater value.

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In other words, the idea of ​​Scheler’s theory of the meaning of suffering, the person does not suffer pain, but directs it according to an objective It gives meaning so that the annoyance becomes something motivating and useful for your life.

Conclusions about this theory

Having come this far, a question that arises from this entire theory is why suffer? According to the main postulates of Scheler’s theory of suffering, it could be said that suffering only has a reason if it is approached from the idea of ​​spiritual development. This theory launches the argument, consoling for those who are going through this sensation, that one suffers to obtain something more.

So that, suffering would also be a free and responsible act, something related to the approaches of Viktor Frankl (1905-1997). In the line of his thought, what causes pain is not decisive, but rather the pain itself is a motivator for an individual to assume an existential attitude or posture, give meaning to his suffering and do something with his life from it. of them.And, as we have commented, this would only make sense in the spiritual framework, since from a biological or psychological point of view, and following Scheler’s idea, this would have no reason to exist.

The final conclusion of Scheler’s theory of suffering is that each person can find meaning in pain, as long as they interpret it from a spiritual perspective. It is at that level that it is possible to sustain and overcome pain, since serves to direct towards a merit Sacrifice leads us to a greater goal. One could even say that, according to Scheler, suffering is not an empty annoyance if meaning is attributed to it, but rather a progress toward greater fulfillment, happiness, and fulfillment.