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Philosophy and the Two Stages of Suffering

Updated: May 11, 2023

Suffering is usually built on two states of being: one is commonly greater than the other, and the other always succeeds the former. The first stage is almost entirely found within the early stages of life, when we are forced by our countries to attend education for a desirable 12 years of our lives. Since most people don't like school, the first stage is simply not being able to do what we want.

When there is an obstacle between us and whatever we want to do, whether at the exact moment of time or as a life-giving meaning, many of us may inevitably suffer for having our freedom taken away from us. Thus, in order to counter suffering, freedom is often imperative. When we have freedom, we have the power to dictate what we wish to do at the exact moment of time, or alter our lives in a way that would best satisfy us as far as we know ourselves.

However, even when we have whatever we want, the feeling of suffering can still remain within us, thus leading to frustration, which is the second stage of suffering. It might sound ironic, but there are times where even we are not able to know how to put out the fires of unwanted suffering, even though many would claim that it is the individual who knows what is best for themselves.

In order to solve the second stage, people use an arsenal of solutions, both short-term and long-term, to reach the long-term satisfaction they wish to attain. Some try drugs, others, one-night stands; the list really goes on, and although there isn't necessarily a "magic potion" to solve this stage, some people indeed succeed in overcoming suffering, at least for a while, and have times whose positivity exceeds negativity.

As I've written elsewhere, some doses of suffering can actually be good for you thanks to their ability to make you a stronger, more resilient human being, hence why a life devoid of suffering could pretty much be a life of relative weakness. However, in a more ideal world, no person should suffer without justification, as suffering is often a result of a penalty, and not all people deserve penalties, most especially those who are kind-hearted and contributive.

Nonetheless, even for the most fortunate, suffering is often an inevitable component of our lives. By being a part of a nation, we ought, as children, to put aside our desires in the name of the law of mandatory education (it is as if this is your "penalty" for being a part of a larger society), and later, in order to be able to afford living independently, you ought to find a job you won't necessarily like, and hope to be able to handle it until retirement arrives (it is as it's your "penalty" for living under a roof of your own).

Should you, let's say, won't have to do anything that causes you suffering from the moment you are born, you might still suffer; why? Because many people need a higher meaning to be able to cope better with life, with the likely exception being optimistic nihilists who are genuinely pleased with not having any purpose they wish to submit to, let alone, believe in.

By "higher" meaning I don't necessarily talk about meaning which is greater than yourself, but, rather, a meaning which is not only for the long-term, but one that is also less shallow and deeper; one that overcomes our day-to-day activities; one (or more, even), that justify our existence at least in our own eyes.

That meaning can appear in three categories, three that could co-exist; one that is very altruistic (such as being a doctor, a volunteer or a hero), religious (which is probably the most popular nowadays) and philosophical (one that is dictated by introspection and contemplation). By giving your existence a direct purpose which overcomes suffering and either/both of its two stages, life can be much easier to endure, thus significantly reducing the existent and potential suffering in your life. As Nietzsche said: "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how".

Hence the underrated importance of philosophy in our lives; philosophy that doesn't necessarily have to be taught in academies, but philosophy that one can do with themselves or between other people. Philosophizing answers a deep, sincere desire to not only understand the world around us, but to solve our own problems through logical reasoning.

Other philosophers can be of help, but in the end, as subjective beings, philosophy is almost a duty we have to follow if we wish to overcome suffering, depression, and even suicide. Whether or not the truths we find will necessarily be "truths" that exceed the sphere of our own mentality is not important. It can often be enough to simply change our mentality through philosophy, in order for philosophy to work on solving our problems, even if the philosophies we create for ourselves are far from the truth.

Of course, philosophy was built on the foundation of finding the truth, but truths, even if wrong objectively, can be true, subjectively, by them being true in relation to others or to ourselves. After all, one can find other functions to philosophizing, such as the desire to end unnecessary/unjustified suffering; the same suffering that can be beaten by "purpose-ifying" our lives in order to reach (or to try reaching) a life that has been well spent.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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