Scheler’s theory of suffering: what it is and what it says about pain

Scheler’s Theory of Suffering Offers a Reflection on How Human Beings Respond to Experiences of Pain. We usually run away from it, we try to hide it, but what if we did the opposite? Does it make sense to find a purpose for our suffering?

Surely influenced by the Christian view of pain and penance, and coinciding with the ideas of Viktor Frankl, a philosopher far behind him, Max Scheler proposes the idea that if we can find meaning in suffering, it can even us offer something positive.

Scheler was a German, therefore Western, philosopher with a vision of suffering that clashes with the most deeply rooted idea in our modern West that suffering requires avoidance strategies, whatever its trigger.

But there are things that no matter how hard we try to avoid them won’t hurt us, and Scheler’s theory of suffering can help. Let’s see how.

    What is Scheler’s Theory of Suffering?

    There is no doubt that pain, whether physical or emotional, is something we don’t want to feel. Sure. Our survival animal nature tells us that if something hurts us, it is best to avoid it.

    However, our human nature, which can detach from our biological instincts and think long-term, has endowed us with the capacity to reflect on suffering, wondering if it is of any use.

    There are things that pose a threat to our bodies and cause us pain, like a mosquito bite or the heat of a flame, two perfectly logical things that we actively avoid. However, what about all those good things that in order to achieve them we have to go through something that will make us suffer?

    A simple example: get in shape. If you want to show off your toned body this summer, you have to sacrifice yourself every day for the next few months, exercising every day. While it isn’t terribly painful, it certainly isn’t as comfortable as lying on the sofa or going out for a drink with friends.

    This is a very trivial and simple case, but it serves as an example to observe that if we did not find meaning in this suffering and avoid it, we would not get a little more value. Suffering can move forward despite the pain, progress. This is the idea defended by Scheler’s theory of suffering.

      What is the theory of the meaning of suffering?

      Max Scheler’s theory on the meaning of suffering (1874-1928) raises the idea that when you feel some kind of pain, whether physical or mental, it needs to be used for something that makes sense. The theory proposes that when something hurts it must be for some reason, and if it does, it will help us move forward to a higher goal. Within the framework of ethics, each one must seek this reason in his own suffering to give it meaning and make it useful.

      This German philosopher, specialist in ethics and human values, underlined that in the face of suffering, two challenges must be met: the first is to discover what is its deep meaning, and the second is to come together, to be silent, to contemplate, to reflect and to meditate.

      If these steps are followed, mastery of the mind will be achieved, which Scheler says is what makes a person calm, free, vigorous, and ready for action.

      Scheler considered it to be the ability to reflect on one’s own pain. one of the main characteristics that differentiates humans from other animals. Animals act on purely biological purposes, instincts that are focused here and now, while human behavior acquires a sense of perfection. People, according to Scheler, also act on the basis of spirituality.

      This author’s theory on the meaning of suffering it coincides in many ways with the Christian view of pain. Christianity sees pain not as something to be undone, but as a path that leads to redemption and self-sacrifice. The most devout Christians believe that even in the worst of times, suffering is a positive thing, the same idea championed by Scheler.

        The positive view of suffering and the spiritual level

        In Scheler’s theory of suffering, this unpleasant sensation acquires various interpretations, depending on the degree of analysis of this condition. The German philosopher maintains that there are three possible levels, each corresponding to three conditions of being:

        • Biological: the organism

        • Psychological: the Self
        • Spiritual: the person

        In the approach, we can only find meaning in suffering when the human being is situated in his personal dimension, that is to say at the spiritual level. As for the psychological and organic level, suffering does not really make sense, because it involves passive suffering.

        It is only in the spiritual dimension that it is possible to initiate an action concerning this suffering, giving it an existential meaning and channeling the pain associated with this discomfort as energy aimed at achieving a certain goal.

        Max Scheler believed that a person’s suffering amounted to sacrifice and that in that sense it could be positive. When we speak of “sacrifice” we are referring to a deliberate act, even if it will involve pain, but it’s done for a higher value, a long term gain that will bring more benefits than doing nothing for the pain. The idea is to give up something that is appreciated, that involves suffering, but which will allow us to achieve something more precious.

        In other words, the idea of ​​Scheler’s theory of the meaning of suffering, the person does not suffer from pain, but directs it according to a purpose. It gives meaning to the awkwardness which becomes a motivating and useful thing for your life.

          Conclusions on this theory

          Having come this far, a question that emerges from this whole theory is why suffer? According to the main postulates of Scheler’s theory of suffering, one could say that suffering has no reason unless it is approached from the idea of ​​spiritual development. This theory launches the argument, heartwarming for those who experience this feeling, who are in pain for some more.

          Therefore, to suffer would also be a free and responsible act, something linked to the approaches of Viktor Frankl (1905-1997). In his line of thought, what causes pain is not decisive, but rather the pain itself is a motivation for an individual to adopt an existential attitude or posture, make sense of their suffering, and do something. thing of his life from her. And, as we have mentioned, this would only make sense in the context of what is spiritual, since from a biological or psychological point of view, and following Scheler’s idea, it would have no reason. to be.

          The final conclusion of Scheler’s theory of suffering is that anyone can find meaning in pain, as long as they interpret it from a spiritual perspective. It is at this level that it is possible to sustain and dodge the pain as it is used to advance towards a merit. Sacrifice brings us to a greater end. One could even say that, according to Scheler, suffering is not a vain nuisance if it is given meaning, but a step towards greater realization, happiness and fullness.

          Bibliographical references

          • Frankl., VEU (1957). The meaning of suffering. A: Faced with the existential void. Towards a humanization of psychotherapy. (5th ed.). Barcelona: Herder.
          • Frankl., VEU (1977). The voice that screams in search of meaning. A: Do psychotherapy and humanism give meaning to life? (6th edition of the 2nd ed.). Breviaries, Mexico: FCE.
          • Miramontesa, F. (2013). The theory of the meaning of suffering: philosophical foundation of a therapy: Scheler and Frankl. Facts: Journal of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, 1 (1), 51-55.
          • Scheler, M. (1923/1960). The meaning of suffering. In: Love and Knowledge (Spanish version by Ansgar Klein). Buenos Aires: South.

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