Shame, pain, grief and sorrow

In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, Socrates uses two terms to define shameful behavior: pain (lúpē) and bad (kakōn).  (Grg. 475)  He contrasts acting shamefully, such as treating people unjustly, with behaving “admirably,” and the two aspects of shameful behavior (pain and bad) with the two aspects of “admirable” action: pleasure and good.  (We’ll give the nouns a pass, for now.)  I put “admirable” in quotation marks just to flag that it translates kalón, which is frequently translated as “beautiful.”  “Admirable” is ok as a translation as long as we remember its derivation from the Latin mirari, to look with wonder.  This primary meaning of kalón helps us understand why Socrates’ follow-up remarks focus on “admirable” colors, bodies, shapes, and sounds.  The key role of an onlooker in feeling shame will be addressed in a later post.  For the moment just recall the eyes of “little Aurore” as Charlotte Delbo drinks and feels shame because she does not share any of her water.

Having driven the orator Gorgias from the debate, Socrates now contends with a younger orator named Polus.  They argue over Socrates’ assertion that it’s worse to act unjustly than to be acted upon unjustly.  Socrates gets Polus to agree that acting unjustly is shameful.  He then makes the contrast between shameful and admirable behavior, and the two aspects of each.  Since Socrates is just trying to set up Polus for the rhetorical kill, he merely brings pain (lúpē) into the argument as the opposite of pleasure and uses it to box Polus into admitting that acting unjustly is to behave badly.  I note this use of the word lúpē because in context it refers primarily to physical pain, but Socrates’ application of the word to feeling shame is so vague that it implies other sorts of pain.  As we shall see shortly, over time lúpē encompasses much more than physical pain.

(I cannot resist pointing out that the translation of Gorgias in Plato’s Complete Works exemplifies some of the problems I have previously raised concerning translations of Aristotle.  First, the translator poses Socrates’ question as whether acting unjustly is worse than “suffering” injustice.  The word “suffer” is not in the original Greek, which is simply in the passive voice, i.e., to be acted upon unjustly.  “Suffering” is literally not an incorrect word to render the passive, and certainly the context does mention a number of acts of physical violence as examples of injustice, but inserting “suffering” into the question makes it sound more a question of being willing to endure physical pain in order to do the right thing. I do not think that Socrates poses the question that narrowly. Second, the translator uses the English word “thing” and the phrase “those things” for neuter pronouns in Greek.  The first instance makes “acting as one sees fit” into a “bad thing” instead of just saying it’s “bad.” The phrase “those things we were just now talking about” could just as well be rendered “what we were just now talking about,” Grg. 470a-b)

Aristotle also uses lúpē in his definitions of fear and shame as “pain or disturbance.”  Like Socrates, he uses lúpē to compare pleasure and pain.  (NE 1119a23, 1173b7-19)  Generally, Aristotle describes pleasure (hēdonē) as everything working as it should be, and pain as not.  This is a different not than Scarry’s “against.”  More general and inclusive than the narrow, modern understanding of physical pain.

Aristotle uses yet another word for pain odúnē when he discusses pity as a painful emotion,   We feel pain because we see some undeserving person seem to suffer destructive (phthartikō) or painful (lupērō) apparent evil (phainoménō kakō), which evil might soon happen to us or to someone close to us. (R. ii.7 1385b13)  “All unpleasant (lúpērōn) and painful (odúnērōn) things excite pity, and all destructive things; and all such evils as are due to chance.”  R. II.8 1386a5   Both lúpē and odúnē can be used for bodily or mental pain. Lúpē comes from a root word meaning “to break,” and odúnē from edō, to eat.  But their derivations throw “no light upon the distinction between them: both, according to the natural growth of language, have a physical origin, and are transferred by metaphor to the expression of mental affections.” (Cope commentary on R. 1386a5 ff.)  Aristotle uses both terms for emphasis, not for difference.

Lúpē and odúnē also appear in the New Testament. In Romans 9.2, Paul writes that he feels both.  Jerome translates them as tristitia and dolor respectively. The NRSV translates Paul as  “I have great sorrow (lúpē) and unceasing anguish (odúnē) in my heart.” Just as the Greeks used lúpē and odúnē interchangeably for physical and mental pain, the Latin tradition from Jerome through Aquinas used tristitia and dolor interchangeably to refer to bodily hurt as well as emotional pain. Aquinas uses Romans 9.2 to support the position that sorrow (tristitia) and pain (dolor) are the same, even though he distinguishes dolor as a response to “exterior apprehension” and tristitia as following on “internal apprehension.”  (S.T. I-IIae, q. 35, a.2.)  He expands on the distinction between interior and exterior apprehension in article 7 of the same question, where he states:  “Again, outward pain arises from an apprehension of sense, chiefly touch; while inward pain arises from an interior apprehension of the imagination or the reason.”  In these distinctions Aquinas touches on issues still being explored in contemporary science and philosophy of pain.  We have already mentioned Melzack’s attempts to explain physical pain that does not seem to arise from the sense of touch, and will examine more of Melzack’s work shortly.  As we close in on the aphasia of pain, we will explore D.M. Armstrong‘s philosophical analysis of pain as an intransitive emotion and Elaine Scarry‘s views on the ineffability of pain.

Here, the relevant point is that repeatedly in article 7 Aquinas writes dolor interior and dolor exterior.  Once he switches to tristitia interior, but never to tristitia exterior. Aquinas uses tristitia when quoting Aristotle’s definition of fear as a kind of lúpē, probably because he is quoting from a Latin translation of an Arabic translation of Aristotle.  The confusions that can arise from changes in how words are used can be seen in the awkwardness of the English translation of how Aquinas quotes Aristotle’s definition of fear: “the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii.5) that fear is a kind of sorrow ….”  (italics in original)  (S.T. I-IIae, q. 41, a.2, arg. 3)

Dorothee Soelle comments that Luke’s gospel tries to let the sleeping disciples “get off somewhat easier” during Jesus’ agony in the garden when he writes that the disciples “had fallen asleep ‘out of sorrow.’”  (Soelle [1975] 79)  The King James and the NRSV both have “because of grief.”  In the Latin Vulgate, Jerome uses prae tristitia.  (Luke 22: 45)  All are translating the Greek apò tēs lúpēs. As we have just seen, lúpē has a long history of expressing sadness, sorrow, or grief.  All the same it does seem to me that the contemporary meaning of “sorrow” misleads Soelle.  The disciples may have failed Jesus in his hour of need, but they too were in pain.

We have seen the traces of the subtle changes in meaning as lúpē, the word used by Socrates and Aristotle for “pain,” is translated as tristitia, which is now translated as “sorrow.” Even scholars who are translating from the Greek text of the New Testament, not from the Latin Vulgate, translate lúpē as “sorrow” or “grief.”  And scholars who have translated the whole of the Summa Theologica, including the question where Aquinas explains the difference between dolor and tristitia, go right back to translating tristitia as “sorrow” when Aquinas quotes the passage where Aristotle says that fear is lúpē, i.e., pain. Both internal consistency and sensitivity to contemporary usage of “sorrow” should have caught the attention of the Dominicans translating Aquinas into English. Over time people used lúpē to refer to a wide range of “unpleasant” changes in our lives, from the sharp stab of a needle stick to the tears of grief.  Lúpē can mean “sorrow.”  But, as Soelle’s swipe at Luke the Evangelist shows, in today’s world we are more likely to say “get over it” or “get on with it” to someone displaying sorrow or grief than we are to someone calling out in physical pain. There is a difference today between translating Aristotle as “shame is pain or turmoil” and “shame is sorrow or upset.”

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