Re: Compassion vs. benevolence

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 15 Sep 1997 18:00:00 -0700 (PDT)

> Some recent posts seem to make no distinction between compassion and
> benevolence. Personally, I have little room for compassion which means
> "suffering with". Sometimes I do suffer with others but I don't see that as
> really desirable or admirable. When carried very far it becomes unhealthy
> and distinctly pathological, as in the martyr complex.
> Benevolence, by contrast, has nothing to do with suffering in sympathy.
> Benevolence involves civility, sensitivity, and generosity. All of these
> values are, I believe, compatible with intelligent self-interest. Actually
> that puts it too weakly: In most circumstances benevolence is part of what
> it takes to act in one's true self-interest. (I say "in most circumstances"
> because this virtue may break down in extreme situations of survival.)
> Benevolence forms parts of a rational, critical approach to values in a way
> that compassion does not as far as I can see.

While I certainly agree that there is no honor in "suffering with", I
think the word "compassion" has a useful referent not inconsistent with
its etymology and usage here: "to desire that others not suffer."
That's a simple value judgment, and I think a completely rational one.
Rather than "suffering with", which accomplishes nothing, to desire the
end of others' suffering is a prerequisite of acting to end it. And
ending others' suffering is a rational act for several reasons: e.g.,
sufferers not productive traders. Some suffering is precipitated by--
I hesitate to say caused because suffering itself is choice--genuine
misfortune, and learning how to end suffering can teach us how to deal
with those misfortunes.

That in particular is one of the quite valid criticisms of Rand: that
she willfully evades the reality that success is often as much a product
of blind luck as it is of work. While a rational man would not suffer
faced with such misfortune, many others do, and desiring to end their
suffering can have valuable consequences.