16 September: Keynote lecture “What’s Wrong With Alleviating Suffering?” by Jeffrey Flynn (Fordham University)

This paper aims to put us in a better position to understand and evaluate the imperative to reduce suffering, not just as an abstract principle but in terms of the concrete social practices in which it gets instantiated and how they change over time. The paper makes three interrelated claims. The first claim, most closely linked to the workshop theme, is that the category of “virtuous suffering” falls within the domain of an “ethics of suffering” and that properly understanding and evaluating an ethics of suffering requires uncovering the “politics of suffering” that accompanies it. The second claim is that every politics of suffering brings with it a more or less explicit conception of the social causes of suffering and a repertoire of remedies. I focus here on the shift in the modern West to a secular framing of suffering and its causes – the rise of “social suffering.” The third claim is that assessing any politics of suffering requires being attentive to shifts in the meaning and practice of alleviating suffering over time. I focus here on the shift in the latter half of the twentieth century toward a “neo-liberal politics of suffering” and the eclipse of social suffering.


  • Venue: Leiden University, Kamerlingh Onnes Gebouw, room B016
  • Time: 12.30

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