Posts tagged with: perception

Blog author: jballor
Friday, November 11, 2016
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Edward Feser, with a nod to Thomas Aquinas, discusses whether there might be such a thing as virtuous Schadenfreude. As Feser puts it, “On the one hand, the suffering of a person is not as such something to rejoice in, for suffering, considered just by itself, is an evil…. However, there can be something ‘annexed’ to the suffering which is a cause for rejoicing.”

My collaborator and friend Victor Claar and I ran up against something like this in our engagement with Thomas on the topic of envy, and Thomas’ treatment of these questions should be read as an annex to the part of the Summa that Feser looks at. Envy is defined, following Aristotle, as grief or sadness or sorrow at the good of another. When you take the responses of grief and joy to another’s good or ill, you can plot them into four possibilities: joy at another’s good, joy at another’s ill, grief at another’s good, and grief at another’s ill.

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Envy and Schadenfreude are linked because they are opposite reactions to the evil or good of another. The envious person is the kind of person who will rejoice in the ills suffered by another, and vice versa.

And just as Thomas cautions against joy at the suffering of another because suffering in itself is evil, so too does he caution against grieving at the good of another, even as he leaves open the possibility of what might be called “righteous indignation” at the unjust or undeserved goods enjoyed by an evil person. In this case, Thomas warns against such feelings, because it really is only up to God to judge what someone really and truly deserves, and, in fact, something might be “annexed” to that good that makes it turn out to be even worse for that person.

For more on envy in relationship to economics, check out: Jordan J. Ballor and Victor V. Claar, “Envy in the Market Economy: Sin, Fairness, and Spontaneous (Dis)Order,” Faith & Economics 61/62 (Spring/Fall 2013) 33-54.

Victor has also spoken on envy in numerous venues for Acton, including Acton University. Here’s a link to a talk from a number of years back.

Seth Godin, a marketing guru, passes along this nugget:

One mistake marketers make is a little like the goldfish that never notices the water in his tank. Our environment is changing. Always. Incrementally. Too slowly to notice, sometimes. But it changes. What we care about and talk about and react to changes every day. Starbucks couldn’t have launched in 1970. We weren’t ready.

Of course, sometimes the reason that our perspective on an issue changes is because the thing itself has changed, perhaps imperceptibly. In other cases, it’s because our perceptive apparatus has been modified in some way.

It is a case of the latter, an improvement in scientific precision, which now seemingly shows that diesel-powered locomotives aren’t as clean as we thought they were. In a piece in today’s WaPo, Juliet Eilperin writes, “For years, government scientists who measure air pollution assumed that diesel locomotive engines were relatively clean and emitted far less health-threatening emissions than diesel trucks or other vehicles.”

She continues, “But not long ago, those scientists made a startling discovery: Because they had used faulty estimates of the amount of fuel consumed by diesel trains, they grossly understated the amount of pollution generated annually. After revising their calculations, they concluded that the annual emissions of nitrogen oxide, a key ingredient in smog, and fine particulate matter, or soot, would be by 2030 nearly twice what they originally assumed.”

(Note: Washington Post environment writer Juliet Eilperin will host an online discussion today at 11 a.m. ET about the environmental effects of smog and air pollution here. You can submit a question or comment ahead of time here.)