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Citizenship Speaker Series
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Douglas MacLean
Some Reflections on the Value of Pain and Suffering
Friday, October 25, 2013, 04:00pm - 05:30pm
Mershon Center for International Security Studies
1501 Neil Ave. Columbus, OH 43201

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Douglas MacLean

Douglas MacLean is a professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research and teaching are primarily in ethics, and much of it focuses on philosophical issues in public policy. MacLean has edited and contributed to several books on ethical issues involving the management of public risks, including Energy and the Future and Values at Risk. His recent work also addresses issues in environmental ethics and techniques for measuring costs and benefits in public policy decisions. His previous appointments include being a senior research associate and then director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland and serving as the Distinguished Chair in Ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy.


When philosophers think about morality, they often take for granted that pain and suffering are intrinsically bad. That happiness and pleasure are good, that pain and suffering are bad, constitute starting points for much thinking and theorizing about morality. Immanuel Kant famously questioned the intrinsic or unconditional goodness of happiness, but the badness of pain and suffering has an even stronger claim to be an axiom of moral philosophy and ethical theories. The assumption is that unless they are necessary means to greater happiness or good, pain and suffering should be avoided and minimized.

I will examine and challenge this common assumption. I will try to convince you that pain and suffering are woven into human life in ways that we cannot imagine eliminating without making our lives and much of what we value unrecognizable. If I can convince you of that, then I may also be able to convince you that thinking about morality should not begin with assumptions about what is intrinsically good or bad; rather, it should begin by exploring the ways that moral values are connected and never lose touch with our history and our practices, where both suffering and happiness have important roles to play.


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