This book unravel the nature of Compassion by looking at the following set of question in realtion to the Western (Aristotle, Aquinas and Nussbaum) and Indian Philosphy (Buddhism and Sikhism); 'Is compassion the same as or distinct from pity, sympathy/empathy, love and benvolence?, Does compassion involves pain and sorrow?', or, 'Does the compassionate subject suffer with same intensity the sufferer himself suffers? 'Is compassion only a response towards serious suffering, or it is also a response towards non –serious suffering?, 'How does the compassionate subject make a relationship with the sufferer?',' Is compassion a virtue or an emotion?',' Is compassion a part of human isntinct or is it learnt through practice?',' Is there or can there be one universal understanding of the term compassion?'
The present research work entitled: "Nature of Compassion; A Philodophical Analysis", aims to discern the nature of compassion through the comparative study of some Western and Indian philosphical traditions.
Compassion can be considered as one cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanity in society. Human beings exist within relationships. They are born dependent. Right from the very birth, they need protection and care. As they grow up they require relationship with others for their survival (e.g., food shelter and reproduction). Generally speaking, compassion is regarded as helping human beings function in these relationship with greater harmony, hence further contributing to their survival. And not merely to survival, it even to an extent underlies law and order in society.
Compassion has been a matter of considerable importance ever since the faculty of thought in humans developed. It is argued that the human species could not have survived if egocentric living were the basis of human interactions. Compassions has been a central to liberating our minds from the power of destructive emotions such as fear, anger envy, and vengaeance. They teach compassion as an antidote to cruelty.2 Sikhism contends that the path of righteousness only by practing compassion.only by practing compassion.3 The Biblical tradtion too holds compassion as "a duty to divine law, as a response to divine love, and a sign of commitment to the Judeo- Christian ethics."4 Many conversations can be easily found on compassion in and across religion, philosphy, psychology, sociology and medicine dating back two and half thousand years and more, The present research however intends to analyze compassion philosophically. Even in the domain of philosphy, it is not an untouched discourse. Many philosophers view compassion as the cornnerstone of morality, e.g. Schopenhauer postualtes it as central to morality 5 and Nussbaum sees it as a source of principled moral judgement.6
The word compassion is commonly used and referred to by people to describe their altruistic feelings or concern for others' suffering without really knowing the nature of it. Most of us would doubtlessly agree that news of the terrorists' attacks on innocents, stories of rape victims, sights of terrible road accidents, and viewing starving people incites our compassion.7 Humans, as social animals, seem to feel compassion towards a wide variety of objects in a wide range of situations.
But there is nothing clear about this word except that it implies a feeling in the subject towards the suffering of the victim or sufferer. The history of philosphy offers multifarious definations of the term: some suggest it is not (Buddhists)9; some say that it requires the blamelessness of the sufferer for his/ her suffering (Nussabaum)10; and others that it is simply a complex emotional attitude another (Blum)11. But the presence of these different philosophical views makes it difficult for us to come to a consensus on what the nature of the term is.
As we know compassion is aroused by the sight of suffering. That's why many believe that compassion is closely related to the experience of sorrow and pain. But the nature of this sorrow or pain is not clear. It is debatable whether sorrow or pain of the compassion –feeler is same or pain is not clear. it is debatable whether sorrow or pain of the compassion –feeler is same as the sufferer himself or is different? That is, 'whether my pain or sorrow is same as the physical pain my freind is suffering because of her broken leg; or it is a kind of psychological pain?' The second problem is; 'whether compassion is only a response towards serious suffering or is it a sympathetic response even towards serious suffering or is it a sympathetic response even towards non –serious suffering?' The next complexity comes with the question who will judge the 'seriousness of suffering' (the compassions –feeler or the sufferer?). it is also a puzzle whether compassions involves co –suffering or not, Compassion, as the etymology of the term (co –suffering) suggest, can be felt towards those who are aware of their argues that to feel compassion it is not necessary that the sufferer be aware of his condition.13
Yet another position says that in order to know the suffering of another being, one needs to stand in direct relation to that being (sufferer). Compassion always exists in a dyadic realtionship, i.e., between a subject (compassion –feeler) and the sufferer, but it is unclear and ambiguous on just how this relationship is formed ( and on what factors it depends)? Most philosphical accounts of compassion rely on the idea that this relationship can be achieved through imaginative dwelling on the other's condition. While some other philosophers believe that compassion is not an abstract extrapolation of what one assumes to be the nature of the victim's suffering, but is rather the shared experience of suffering with the victim. There are still other who maintain that particular sets of beliefs about one's own vulnerabilities and compassionate-feeler to make a relation with a sufferer. Because of such diverse views there is no consensus about this relationship.
Another ambiguous question is whether compassion is actually one of our morally based emotions comparable to notions like pity, or it is a social virtue? It is another puzzle to try and figure out represnt a human instinct, or is it something learnt through practice? Many philosphers in different stages of time worked hard to find an answer. As a result we are confronted with many different views, And because of numerous views many uneratainities still continue to exist in this notion.
Thus the central aim of this work is to determine the nature of compassion by analyzing its conceptual structure and the following set of questions, which I found are necessary to understand the nature of compassion to full capacity.
Is compassion the same as or distinct from pity, sympathy/empathy, love, and benevolence?
Does compassion involve sorrow or pain?
If it involves suffering, then what kind of suffering is this?
Does the compassionate subject suffer with same intensity sufferer himself suffers?
Is compassion only a response to wards serious suffering, or it is also a response towards non –serious suffering?
How does the compassionate subject make a relationship with the sufferer?
Is compassion a virtue or an emotion?
Is compassion a part of human instinct or is it learnt through practice?
Is there or can there be one universal understanding of the term compassion?
In this study thus I will take up these issues in part or in full to unravel the nature of compassion.
My accounts of compassion is a comparartive study of Western (Aristotle, Aquinas and Nussbaum) and Indian Schools of thought (Buddhism and Sikhism).
The present is a philosphical study on many works, primarily of ethics and religion. For this study I read primary and secondary texts concerning ethics and religion. This study is grounded on some religious texts. Yet it will not be a theological study based simply on religious faith and discourse. In other words, this research is mostly philosphical and not religious or historical in the sense of the appreciation of any religious during any particular period.
The scope of this study is intentionally wide in the sense that it covers the work of many philosphers. In terms of time, it extends over a period of nearly three thousands years, from 3rd century B.C.E. to the 21st century, yet the research can be regarded as limited and focused because it is only concerned with one philosophical issue, i.e., the nature of compassion.
Kirandeep Kaur is a teacher and student of Philsosophy.
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