This past week and a half’s explorations into the world’s being and the way that we perceive it as human beings has been a whirlwind joyride of amazing discussions and surprising personal discoveries. Dissecting ideas of the very nature of reality and the root of our world’s mysterious nature has lead me through many different paths in which some contradict each other, whiles others agree, but all connecting. Exploring the minds of various philosophers, and being graciously allowed into the minds of my fellow classmates has helped me to hash some things out in my own mind. At the very beginning of this expedition into the basis of the world, everyone in the class studied a certain philosopher who has acted as a somewhat a guide to our individual Metaphysical journeys. We then found others in the class who’s philosophers were connected to our own in some way. Through discussions within the various groups, certain themes seem to arise from each individual group. This became the basis for our group discussions. My own philosopher and the philosophers I was introduced to through other group members seemed string together a common theme on the ideas of suffering and pleasure. We delved into many different paths of this theme, but we kept coming back to one idea in particular that seemed to resonate with us in some way, and continued to circle back to the questions of the nature of the world. In consideration of how connected they are in the root of reality, are suffering and pleasure dependent on each other? Can the two exist simultaneously or together at all?
Through discussions on this theme of the codependency of suffering and pleasure, there is a contradiction of sorts that was found at the root of it. The very nature of suffering opposes pleasure, and thus the very nature of pleasure opposes suffering. This can cause two different ways to view the two ideas and how they are connected to each other. One side of thought says that through suffering we are able to achieve and know pleasure. It says that by going through ordeals and hardships, we are able to grow and learn more about the nature of the thing that made us suffer, and thus we are able to have more pleasure. The inclusion of suffering in this case is the thing that leads us to pleasure, and without suffering, we can’t have pleasure. The other side to this argument would be that the extraction of suffering is what leads to pleasure. In this view, the total ignoring and disregard of suffering is what gives us a pleasurable life. If we don’t regard as suffering as a thing to take notice to, and instead become ignorant to it, there is nothing stopping us from having a pleasurable life.
These two contradicting statements leave a very ambiguous path in a way of finding a way to come to terms with both of them. It’s hard for me to totally ignore suffering and pretend that it doesn’t exist. But I also find it hard to agree with the idea that pleasure can only and solely come through suffering. I think that I come to term with the two ideas in a way of bringing the two together in a way. I view suffering as a negative thing, but I also think that going through suffering can lead to more pleasurable things in the future in the way of growth and learning things from that experience. The absence of suffering is pleasure in this way, but suffering can also lead to pleasure. So I think that in the way that it makes sense to me, and I can come to term with these two ideas, suffering can lead to more experiences where suffering is absent, which is a pleasurable thing.
While this may be how I come to term with these contradicting ideas, I can’t help thinking that someone that I’ve gotten to know over the last week or so would have something to say to me about all that. I feel as much as I studied Arthur Schopenhauer’s ideas, and as much as I’ve taken a lot of his ideas into my own idea of suffering and pleasure, when it’s come down to this final distillation of the nature of suffering and its place in the world, we would disagree. Schopenhauer would say there can be no long term exclusion of suffering in our lives, only temporary moments of pleasure. He would say that our human desires to live make it so that we are always going to suffer and that there is no way that we can have a life long pleasurable experience or experiences. We would agree in the fact that suffering is a negative thing, but while his thinking about it ends there, and through that he believes that life is ultimately a negative thing, we disagree where my belief in trying to turn suffering into a thing that may lead to less suffering comes into play. The group I’ve been discussing these ideas with and their respective philosophers of study have some interesting opinions on this theme as well. Aman and her post on Anne Conway shows that Conway would agree with the side that suffering is pleasure, and that only through the inclusion of suffering may we experience pleasure. Aidan’s explanation of the Epicurean train of thinking shows that the Greek philosopher Epicurus saw suffering as an evil thing of the world, and something to be avoided at all cost. It’s amazing to see how different these ideas are on the same topic, but just how much they are connected to each other in the way of the process of coming to those different ideas.
One day, I made a bus trek by bus up to household jam session as part of the Phils Day Off endeavor. I went up there to contemplate Schopenhauer’s ideas while enjoying some music (which, I’m sure, Schopenhauer would have been more than happy to participate in.) At the beginning of the night, a friend and fellow bass player took me over to the side to show me a trick that allowed the string’s on my bass life span to be extended, making it so that you wouldn’t have to buy strings as often. What he did was loosen the strings on the bass so that they were still on the instrument but loose enough that he could pull it up away from the fretboard a good distance. He loosened the string, and continue to pull the string up and then smack in back down onto the fretboard. He would do this over and over again on each string for a few minutes at a time. What this was doing, he later explained, was releasing all of the dead skin cells and extra debris that was caught in the strings, making it so that the strings became cleaner again, and thus could be repeated whenever the string would go dead or dull and wouldn’t need to be replaced as frequently. Other than being a sweet tip for a young-unemployed musician such as myself, it also came to be a great metaphor for all these talks of suffering and pleasure in my mind. You can look at life as a dead bass string, and you can view the debris as suffering. You can see it as Schopenhauer would, as something chokes life and ultimately makes life worthless. And no matter how much we clear up the debris temporarily, it will become dirty and dull again soon after. You can look at from one who would not worry about the suffering, and instead of focusing on the dirtiness of the string, would completely ignore it and go out and buy a new string right away. Or, you can look at it from the cleaning method that my friend taught me about the strings. Acknowledging the dirt and debris and how it’s affected you, and then turning it around and cleaning it up and turning it into something that is pleasurable.