– Selected Authors Dealing With the Topic of Suffering

Last update: 2024-05-31


Ronald Anderson

Preparatory notes:

Ronald Anderson: https://thesocietypages.org/worldsuffering/, https://www.compassionatesocieties.org/, https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/1426877.

Matthew Collins

Matthew Collins writes and draws about suffering on his website ecstatic-compassion.org. He says:

I vow to be an agent for healing in the world, a vehicle for reducing suffering. In this compassionate mind-state I feel like a Bodhisattva Caregiver, wandering the landscape of the sentio-sphere (the set of beings who have experiences) seeking to heal the sick, bandage the wounded, cradle all suffering beings in a compassionate embrace; I want to hug the lonely, feed the hungry, let the anxious and depressed know that they are never alone, sooth the chronic pain of millions, make sure all have access to end-of-life analgesics, rescue the billions of animals suffering on factory farms, protect the innumerable wild animals from predation and starvation, and prevent any future catastrophic suffering.



Would it be a good idea to create a compassion-related meditation club as part of a global management of suffering? (to be followed)

Besides, Matthew lists the following as some things we can do today to reduce suffering globally:

Would it be a good idea if one of us were given the task, say once a month, of reminding a selected group of people involved in this type of activity that, if they so wish, we’re all taking part in the same action together, as part of a global management of suffering? (to be followed)

Bruno Contestabile

Bruno Contestabile‘s online work, Socrethics, is a fairly extensive review of human thought on suffering, from the old Four Noble Truths of Buddhism up to recent negative utilitarianism.

His approach emphasizes a therapy for suffering that takes the form of philosophy, ethics, and political economy.

His work does not deal with the phenomenon of suffering from the specific point of view that we propose in A Discipline Specialized in the Study of Suffering, but it may certainly contribute to this new body of knowledge.

The following pieces can be useful for the description, analysis, and measurement of suffering: The Biological Evolution of Pain, The Cultural Evolution of Suffering, Is There a Predominance of Suffering?, Population Ethics – A Compromise Theory.

Philosophy as Therapy – Conceptual Models provides a historical overview of philosophy as a cure for suffering, drawing comparisons with psychology and religion.

Short History of Welfare Economics (mentioned in our chapter on Economics) states that “There are good reasons to amend or replace Happiness Economics by a Suffering-focused Economics.”

More important for us is the article Negative Utilitarian Priorities (mentioned in our chapter on Politics). It answers the question “Where should a negative utilitarian participate or invest?”, and in so doing describes the current institutional framework, with its many international and non-governmental organizations, that could be useful for our global management of suffering. Another article, Negative Utilitarianism and Justice, complements the first by discussing the contributions of thinkers such as John Rawls and Karl Popper to the ethical basis of societal organization. Bruno concludes Negative Utilitarian Priorities with the following:

  1. Peace and security: The most urgent action is a reform of the UN Security Council, so that the Responsibility to Protect and treaties for arms control cannot be undermined by veto rights. The NGO Working Group on the Security Council could play an important role in this reform.
  2. Sustainable development: The UN activities in this area promote economic growth. For that reason, a stabilization of the world population is only indirectly addressed by emphasizing sustainability. For negative utilitarians, however, a reduction of the world population is no taboo, as long as the shrinking process does not durably worsen the (weighted) average life satisfaction. With regard to reducing suffering, family planning has the best cost-/benefit ratio in the long term.
  3. Humanitarian aid: The humanitarian aid in natural catastrophes, wars, famines, epidemics, and other emergencies has the best cost-/benefit ratio in the short term.
  4. Human rights: In negative utilitarianism the ethical priority increases with the level of suffering. Human rights avoid some of the worst kinds of suffering and should therefore get a higher share of the UN’s budget. A special concern is the eradication of torture, the right to palliative care, and the legalization of voluntary euthanasia. From a different perspective one could also prioritize the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, because without these rights, ethical priorities cannot even be discussed.
  5. International law: The fight against corruption and the enforcement of a global rule of law are more efficient than additional investments in development.

This table is also provided (to which could be added United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals that Bruno mentions elsewhere):


Work area


Responsible UN body
Peace and Security – Security Council

– General Assembly, Disarmament Commission

Development Economic and Social Council. Functional Commissions are:

– Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

– Population and Development

– Science and Technology

– Social Development


Humanitarian Aid Secretariat, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Human Rights – Secretariat, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

– General Assembly, Human Rights Council

The Rule of Law – International Court of Justice

– General Assembly, International Law Commission

For now, let’s keep in mind Bruno’s program of negative utilitarian priorities, along with Michael’s Platform for a Suffering Abolitionist Party, Magnus’ Reasoned Politics, and the Algosphere Alliance’s public policy proposals. (to be followed)

Could there be a “Party for a Global Management of Suffering”? Probably not… but perhaps there could be a party for the global management of “sentience”. In any case, for us, action is not primarily political, but rather technical: the whole point is to be ourselves the workforce that actually carries out the required management of this very specific phenomenon called suffering!

Andres Gomez Emilsson

Andrés Gómez Emilsson co-founded with Michael Edward Johnson and Romeo Stevens the Qualia Research Institute (QRI), a non-profit organization developing a mathematical formalization for subjective experience and its emotional valence (pleasure and suffering). QRI subscribes to suffering-focused ethics, is part of the Effective Altruism community, and counts David Pearce on its board of advisors.

Andres has a blog called Qualia Computing, where we can see in particular https://qualiacomputing.com/tag/suffering/.

Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering is an important article that is worth mentioning in A Discipline Specialized in the Study of Suffering, under Preparatory Notes for the Measurement of Suffering. Here is an excerpt:

The most intense pains are orders of magnitude more awful than mild pains (and symmetrically for pleasure). This should inform the way we prioritize altruistic interventions and plan for a better future. Since the bulk of suffering is concentrated in a small percentage of experiences, focusing our efforts on preventing cases of intense suffering likely dominates most utilitarian calculations. An important pragmatic takeaway from this article is that if one is trying to select an effective career path, as a heuristic it would be good to take into account how one’s efforts would cash out in the prevention of extreme suffering (see: Hell-Index), rather than just QALYs and wellness indices that ignore the long-tail. Of particular note as promising Effective Altruist careers, we would highlight working directly to develop remedies for specific, extremely painful experiences. Finding scalable treatments for migraines, kidney stones, childbirth, cluster headaches, CRPS, and fibromyalgia may be extremely high-impact (cf. Treating Cluster Headaches and Migraines Using N,N-DMT and Other Tryptamines, Using Ibogaine to Create Friendlier Opioids, and Frequency Specific Microcurrent for Kidney-Stone Pain). More research efforts into identifying and quantifying intense suffering currently unaddressed would also be extremely helpful.

Elsewhere on Andres’ blog, the article The Universal Plot: Part I – Consciousness vs. Pure Replicators could also be of great importance, as it comes close to Jean-Christophe Lurenbaum‘s thesis that the key to success in the global alleviation of suffering is for us to abandon the ideology of the reproduction of life and instead focus on replicating the culture of non-suffering.

Michael Edward Johnson

Michael Edward Johnson co-founded with Andrés Gómez Emilsson and Romeo Stevens the Qualia Research Institute (QRI), a non-profit organization developing a mathematical formalization for subjective experience and its emotional valence (pleasure and suffering). Mike gave a good description of QRI’s work in State of the Qualia, Fall 2019, and he wrote the following, which is close to our concerns, in State of the Qualia, Fall 2020:

One day you decide to destroy hell. What happens next? First you figure out what hell is. Making war on the correct thing is important. For QRI that thing is suffering. Second you assemble people who believe what you’re doing is possible and noble. Third you build technical capabilities for detecting suffering, with the expectation that what you can measure you can manage. Fourth you identify an intervention that can actually help people. Ideally it’s non-invasive, inexpensive, and fun, something people would actually use. Fifth you network — building alliances and marshalling resources for scaling research and interventions. Preparing the actual assault. This is where we are now- not the end of the journey but not the start, either. Maybe 70% into the second chapter (there are a lot of chapters!).

Mike left QRI in 2022 and now plans to create the Symmetry Institute, following on from his Symmetry Theory of Valence. This theory is well explained in A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence. It might be important for advancing our technoscientific knowledge of suffering: see our Part 1: Contributions from a Discipline Specialized in the Study of Suffering. In short, the Symmetry Theory of Valence asserts that (an occurrence of) consciousness is describable by a mathematical object whose features are isomorphic to the phenomenology of that consciousness (qualia formalism). Symmetry (or consonance) in the mathematical object corresponds to pleasure, while asymmetry (or dissonance) corresponds to suffering. Or as it says in Qualia Formalism and a Symmetry Theory of Valence: “The symmetry of an information geometry of mind corresponds with how pleasant it is to be that experience.”

Here are other writings by Mike that might contribute to A Discipline Specialized in the Study of Suffering:

Brian Tomasik

Brian Tomasik‘s website, Essays on Reducing Suffering, is widely cited by various authors, especially in relation to the Effective Altruism Movement. Brian wrote a lot about wild-animal suffering, insect sentience, suffering-focused ethics, and the concept of s-risks. He is an advisor to the Center on Long-Term Risk and the Center for Reducing Suffering. As to our global management, it is not clear yet what we can use from his writings, but they surely constitute a contribution to the Discipline Specialized in the Study of Suffering.

In The Horror of Suffering Brian explains how the awfulness of suffering is often forgotten, so that action upon it remains insufficient. For instance:

From my perspective it seems obvious that reducing suffering is the highest priority. I think many people agree that this goal is really important, especially in the abstract, even if they don’t have the physical or emotional resources directly to invest in it much themselves. I also think that people in comfortable conditions who do have the resources to work toward reducing suffering can become caught up in entertaining distractions, and because they don’t feel the extent of suffering in the world on a daily basis, they assume it has lower priority than they would if they had more direct access to it.

That is why we think our global management must be implemented by ourselves, as a technical management task, through day-to-day actions that we carry out systematically, without depending too much on the support of others.

Luke Scott Turner

Luke Scott Turner has a blog at sufferingthinkers.blogspot.com, where he presents himself as follows:

I’m a suffering person who thinks critically about whether and to what degree various ideologies relieve suffering. I wish I could discuss this topic with my fellow critically thinking sufferers.

Luke has several short pieces on the philosophy of relieving suffering. He also often writes about his own psychological struggle with suffering, which seems to help him address other sufferers intimately, as in Intro Attempt: Overture for the Doomed, by the Doomed:

What flavor is your doom? Is it the crushing impossibility that someone whose affectionate touch could thrill you will ever want to touch you that way? Does that impossibility hurt you so profoundly that tears swell up whenever you recognize its reality? Is it literal hunger pangs while having no reason to believe you’ll ever eat again? Is it the pains of physical disease constantly killing you by degrees while your doctors can only offer palliative care? Is it the endless terror and loneliness of being hated and/or bullied for who you are – for as long as you’ll live? Is it the irreconcilable and permanent anguish of losing your loved ones to old age, disease, natural disaster, suicide or murder, or war? Is it the gut-wrenching terror of knowing that you yourself will most assuredly die from one of those same causes? Is it the vast, isolated, emotional echo-chamber of gloom from perpetual rejection and abandonment? Is it the vacuously infinite despair of long term incarceration that will ruin you for life?

Luke’s work should be taken into account in the Discipline Specialized in the Study of Suffering that we are starting to develop. For instance, see his Suffering Defined and Catalogued and Compassion-Driven Analysis (YouTube). (to be followed)

One of Luke’s key messages, which fits perfectly with our approach, is the importance of dealing with suffering in a focused, comprehensive, and self-critical way. See his Intro Attempt: Introduction for the Book: Diary of a Person Confused About the Relief of Suffering:

Maybe there’s something wrong, or several things wrong, with our knowledge about how to relieve suffering. Through this book I invite my readers to check our premises on the matter. (…) This book is my attempt at making the universal relief of suffering the explicit goal of an education in the humanities – and thereby increasing our efficiency in achieving that goal. Hopefully, this book might inspire professional intellectuals toward an explicitly comprehensive and focused discourse about relieving suffering, and through their example and guidance, thereby inspiring the culture at large toward a similarly increased determination and effectiveness at relieving suffering everywhere, for everyone, for all creatures who suffer. I hope this book can serve as a catalog of questions and issues about the relief of suffering for intellectuals to reference in a way that helps them connect their specialized disciplines to one another as a team squarely and consistently focused on a comprehensive struggle to relieve suffering. I want this book to keep us all on target. (…) I wish some other, professionally credentialed intellectual would write this book instead of me. But I don’t see anyone interested in doing so. So it’s up to me. I must do the best with what energy and time I have. Well, even if this book is a failure in terms of intellectual content, it still might succeed in terms of providing an inspiring example. Perhaps even the most disapproving of professional intellectuals might consider this book as a poorly executed great idea – and then produce a much better executed version of it. That would be awesome! But on a more selfish note, I at least want credit for the great idea. But for clarity, I want to explicitly re-state just what that great idea is. It is this: Write a book that stays consistently focused on the relief of suffering for all. No hidden agendas. No dishonesty. Explicitly and deliberately use the phrase “relief of suffering.” Connect everything covered in the book to the relief of suffering, expressed in that exact phrase. Do not replace that phrase with some other word or phrase like “the moral good” or “the will of God” or “social justice” or “rational self-interest.” These other phrases may hide hidden agendas that derail the focus. By all means discuss “the moral good” and “the will of God” and “social justice” and “rational self-interest,” but explicitly and consistently relate them to the relief of suffering. Use statements similar to the form: “So and so relates to the relief of suffering by such and such ways.” These are the rules I tried to follow in writing this book. The results are interesting. I found, by following these rules, that “the moral good” (and the other ideas) may not relate to the universal relief of suffering the way most of us assume they do. These other ideas are habitually assumed to be the vanguards of relieving suffering. But when one follows the rules I stated, one may find that this habitual assumption is false. In other words, there may indeed be many flaws in our knowledge of how to relieve suffering.

See also what he says about cryptic discussions in Suffering Defined and Catalogue:

Establishing the importance of understanding the essence of suffering and the ability to recognize cryptic discussions about suffering. Now I want to address the importance of recognizing when people are actually talking about suffering. People talk about suffering all the time without using the actual word “suffering”. They use words like “poverty” and “scarcity” instead. I think it is crucially important to be able to recognize that discussions of poverty and scarcity are essentially discussions about suffering. People talk about suffering cryptically, in code. You need to be able to decipher the code. Once you can decipher the code, you can reduce such cryptic talk down to its core issue. And that core issue is always, I believe, what to do about the problem of suffering. Almost all substantive ideological talk revolves around this core issue, be it economics, politics, theology, psychology, and much of philosophy.




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