When Bad Things Happen to Other People

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9780415923347: When Bad Things Happen to Other People
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Although many of us deny it, it is not uncommon to feel pleasure over the suffering of others, particularly when we feel that suffering has been deserved. The German word for this concept-Schadenfreude-has become universal in its expression of this feeling. Drawing on the teachings of history's most prominent philosophers, John Portmann explores the concept of Schadenfreude in this rigorous, comprehensive, and absorbing study.

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About the Author:

John Portmann has studied at Yale, Cambridge University, and L'ecole des hautes etudes in sciences sociales in Paris. He received his Ph.D. in philosophical and religious ethics from the University of Virginia, where he studied under James Childress, Daniel Westberg, Richard Rorty and Patricia Spears. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Does taking pleasure in the pain of another always represent malice? Or can this emotion reflect a thoughtful respect for justice? And what about humor, which often revolves around a "comeuppance" that those who laugh see as trivial (though the laughter's target may disagree)? These are the sorts of questions Portmann takes on in his nuanced analysis of schadenfreude. The subject has been debated by philosophers over the generations; Portmann engages with them, from Kant and Freud to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. He draws on literature, too, exploring the positions of Kafka and Dickens, Umberto Eco and Toni Morrison, and applies his normative notion of schadenfreude to current debates on subjects such as capital punishment, media violence, and the cult of celebrity. Portmann defends schadenfreude but urges attention to its basis in "power structures and social forces through which our characters both take shape and shape the lives of those around us." A demanding but productively provocative analysis. Mary Carroll

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