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Is it proper to delight in another's suffering?

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Pleasure is one half of the the internal compass that tells us when we are on or off of the proper course of action for living.

The person guilty of monstrous injustices against others is guilty of an even greater one against himself - his own self destruction.

That he faces the consequences for that self destruction is just - but should one ever feel joy at the destruction of life? Even if that life is guilty of destroying countless others?

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If a person is guilty of monstrous injustices, and then faces consequences, is it proper for the victim to enjoy the guilty person's suffering?

Hell never mind the victim, there’s the rest of us too! Every now and then I find myself stuck eating a dreadful meal. When I do, I think of O.J. Simpson. He used to parade his murderous mug all over the best dining establishments here where I live, and now his dining budget is something like $1-$2 a day. Banquet brand Salisbury steak with that hideous gummy corn on the side is $1 a serving, so he might be getting even worse than that! Somehow this thought makes a bad meal more bearable. Or maybe there’s something wrong with my psycho-epistemology.

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If a person is guilty of monstrous injustices, and then faces consequences, is it proper for the victim to enjoy the guilty person's suffering?

I don't know.

Honestly? Rather than try to figure whether it's "proper" to feel such a thing (like enjoyment), for myself I just try to understand things as they are and then feel accordingly -- whatever those feelings might be. Though, as now, sometimes it's important and instructive to try to examine one's feelings, to determine their nature and source.

On the subject of the guilty suffering, I don't believe that I feel "enjoyment." There's a certain sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that justice is done. For instance, when my wife and I watch any kind of true crime story, we'll certainly root that the murderer (or whatever) get caught and receive his comeuppance. But I don't think I relish the thought of the punishment itself or the suffering it will produce. Rather... I think I regret its overall necessity; I regret that the crime was committed in the first place. I don't smile when I think of the penal system, or smile to think of all the guilty who suffer there (never mind the innocent). I feel confident in their purpose, but I rather wish that fewer people committed crimes and that fewer punishments were necessary. I think my attitude towards such criminals is closer to pity.

As my wife and I prepare for our first child, I sometimes imagine about that child's transgresses, and my role in providing discipline (and yes, punishment). I do not expect to take any pleasure in that, though I regard it as necessary and moral. I do not expect that my child's suffering will ever make me happy, even (or perhaps especially) when my child deserves it.

And I know that you've specified "monstrous injustices" and the attitude of the "victim," though I thankfully have little personal experience with such things. There is... one family member that does come to mind, admittedly :). If I heard that she suffered greatly, I think I would nod in appreciation in the sense of "I knew that something like this would result," but even there, I don't think I would "enjoy" it, exactly.

When I heard news of Bin Laden's death, my feelings were of relief, and my thoughts were something like, "oh thank goodness," but I don't think I gave any thought to whether he had suffered. If I knew that he had, while I believe I would again acknowledge that he "had that coming to him"... even there, no, I don't think I would myself take pleasure in that knowledge, or "enjoy" it. What if my family had been among Bin Laden's victims? Would that make a difference for me? Maybe it would. But I don't believe I can honestly say.

Perhaps this is somewhat analogous to my feelings on war? I'm no pacifist, you know? I think that some wars are absolutely just, moral, necessary. And yet... and yet, I don't think I take any pleasure in it. I regard war as frightening and frequently terrible, and I regret its sometimes necessity.

It is sometimes necessary to amputate a diseased limb. To put down a rabid dog, though once a family pet. To punish one's child. To war against a neighboring country. To incarcerate (and perhaps execute) a criminal. These are moral actions. And yet, I believe myself to be orientated towards production, creation, growth, and I take my pleasures in those activities. Where destruction is necessary for such growth, I accept the fact. But it may be too contrary to my grain for me to actually enjoy that destruction.

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If a person is guilty of monstrous injustices, and then faces consequences, is it proper for the victim to enjoy the guilty person's suffering?

No. Happiness might be the consequence of the removal of suffering (say when a torture ceases torturing you), or the knowledge that someone is no longer suffering (that the torture of a third party has ceased), perhaps even the knowledge that one casuing suffering is not in a position to cause suffering anymore, but I don't think one would ever feel happiness from the idea that a torturer himself is being tortured. That appears to me to be a monsterous contradiction, not to mention sadistic.

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If a person is guilty of monstrous injustices, and then faces consequences, is it proper for the victim to enjoy the guilty person's suffering?

Yes. Justice is a value when the victim participates in achieving that justice by testifying. Achieving values is good and is often accompanied by pleasurable emotions. When the victim does not participate then when bad consequences happen to the perpetrator that is a benefit but not a value, or in other words "poetic justice".

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If a person is guilty of monstrous injustices, and then faces consequences, is it proper for the victim to enjoy the guilty person's suffering?

I think there's not much point in worrying about whether one's emotions, which one has no direct control over, are proper or improper, and focus on appropriate BEHAVIOR. Worrying about whether your emotional mechanism is being PC at any one moment is a good way to make yourself neurotic or even psychotic.

The best part of this approach is that, by identifying and pursuing proper BEHAVIOR, your emotions will gradually line up with that behavior and boom, no more problem.

That being said, I would find it incredibly crass to, say, hold a huge, loud, public party celebrating someone's execution, because this would be disrespectful toward people who may have a legitimate reason to value the executee and thus be upset over the death. Now, a private celebration? Dandy. Also, one should rightfully celebrate in reference to oneself, so it's not so much that you're ENJOYING the other person's suffering as you're ENJOYING your new freedom from a source of your OWN suffering, and NOBODY has the right to deprive you of THAT.

Edited by JMeganSnow
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