Freedom, mattering, and the intrinsic badness of suffering




Andrew, James Preston

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation is, fundamentally, concerned with two questions: (1) ought we to believe that anything matters in itself?, and (2) if so, what ought we to believe matters in this way?; with respect to (1), I argue in the affirmative (specifically, I argue that there are both strong epistemic and pragmatic reasons to believe that somethings matters), and with respect to (2), I argue that, at minimum - and most fundamentally - we ought to believe that the badness of suffering matters and that, moreover, all suffering is bad, by virtue of being undeserved (on the grounds that the variety of freedom necessary for grounding anyone’s deserving to suffer is impossible). The dissertation, therefore, is centered upon core issues relating to the topics of value, normativity, freedom, and moral responsibility. It is divided into two primary parts.

Consisting of five chapters, Part I is aimed at establishing that, for various reasons, we ought to believe that suffering is intrinsically bad. In Chapter 1, I motivate my conception of mattering, arguing that the view of commonsense is that (i) mattering is mind-independent and that (ii) there is mattering (i.e., something in fact matters). In Chapter 2, I propose and attempt to motivate my definition of suffering as unsanctioned harm (this is intended as an ecumenical definition that will accommodate a multiplicity of views about the nature of suffering). In Chapter 3, I offer two varieties of arguments - one variety grounded in phenomenological considerations and another grounded in considerations having to do with consistency - to the conclusion that (S) suffering is intrinsically bad and that (I) it is prima facie impermissible to intentionally cause suffering. In Chapter 4, I argue that (S) and (I) are not subject to evolutionary debunking, and are actually rendered more plausible by the fact that they do not admit of any straightforward evolutionary account. I conclude, in Chapter 5, by arguing that even in the absence of strong epistemic reasons for accepting (S) and (I), there is strong pragmatic reason to do so - at least for many of us. According to The Pragmatic Argument, many of us ought, pragmatically, to believe that something matters, and thus ought to believe (S) and (I), given that these claims will be true if anything truly matters (i.e., matters mind-independently).

Consisting of four chapters, Part II makes the case that suffering could not possibly be deserved (in the basic desert sense), given the limitations, not only on our own agency, but on any logically possible variety of agency. In Chapter 6, I unpack the notion that “the guilty deserve to suffer”, presenting the most defensible version of this claim of which I am aware, due to Randolph Clarke. In Chapter 7, I argue that (i) in order for one to deserve to suffer, it would be necessary for one to be the ultimate source of one’s acts and that (ii) it is doubtful that this is possible, given the extant models of free will. In Chapter 8, I argue that being the ultimate source of one’s acts is necessary, but insufficient, for deserving to suffer: one would also need to be the ultimate cause of the way that one was - and that, as Galen Strawson has (I believe) shown decisively, is not even logically possible. Finally, in Chapter 9, I defend the Basic Argument - and, more narrowly, the claim that this argument proves that no one could ever deserve to suffer - against some common lines of attack.



LCSH Subject Headings