Between Indifference and Anguish

Lisa Tessman

in Burdened Virtues

Published in print October 2005 | ISBN: 9780195179149
Published online October 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835782 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

  Between Indifference and Anguish

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This chapter begins with a search for a praiseworthy trait in the realm of sensitivity and attention to others’ suffering, a trait that ought to lie somewhere between the poles of indifference and anguish (and that those who are confident that there is such a praiseworthy trait tend to call “compassion”). Because of the very enormity of unjust suffering in the world, every possible level of sensitivity and attention to others’ suffering is at once too indifferent (for one always turns one’s back on so many) and too anguished (by the pain of those to whom one does attend). Even if one can determine a “best” disposition to have and make the right decisions regarding which actions to take in the face of all this suffering, one still leaves strong moral demands unsatisfied. The resultant moral remainder (in the form of regret and guilt at what one cannot do) burdens the moral agent, and what one can successfully do in the way of being attuned to others’ suffering is burdensome too, for such sensitivity, even in moderation, is intrinsically painful. Thus even the best possible trait to have turns out to be a “burdened virtue.”

Keywords: indifference; anguish; moral remainder; burden; virtue; suffering; compassion

Chapter.  11910 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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