with Spencer Greenberg
the podcast about ideas that matter

Episode 079: When is suffering good? (with Paul Bloom)

November 12, 2021

When (if ever) can suffering be good? Is there an optimal ratio of pleasure to pain? What is motivational pluralism? Can large, positive incentives be coercive? (For example, is it coercive to offer to pay someone enormous amounts of money to do something relatively benign or even painful or immoral?) How can moving from making judgments about a person's actions to making judgments about their character solve certain moral puzzles? Why do we sometimes make seemingly irrational judgments about the relative badness of certain actions? How does the level of controversy around an action factor into how much we publicly disapprove of it? What are the differences between compassion and empathy? Is antisocial personality disorder (AKA psychopathy or sociopathy) defined only by a lack of empathy? How have humans evolved (or not) to detect and mitigate the effects of others who feel no remorse? Is altruism especially vulnerable to remorseless people? What are the differences between narcissists and sociopaths?

Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, and Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University. Paul Bloom studies how children and adults make sense of the world, with special focus on pleasure, morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is past-president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly. He is the author of six books, including his most recent, The Sweet Spot: The Pleasures of Suffering and the Search for Meaning. Find more about him at, or follow him on Twitter at @paulbloomatyale.

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