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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"in vain, O Pain"

In the process of research this afternoon, came across this delightfully philosophic passage from a 1988 speech delivered by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Dickson:
As the Court explained in a decision three years after the trilogy: Pain and suffering and loss of amenities are intangibles. They are not possessions that have an objective, ascertainable value. Professor Kahn-Freund in his brilliant essay "Expectation of Happiness" (1941), 5 Modern L. Rev. 81 [at p. 86], cites the example of the Stoic philosopher Poseidonios, who, when tormented by pain, is reported to have exclaimed: "Pain, thou shalt not defeat me. I shall never admit that thou art an evil."

However, Professor Kahn-Freund asks, could we award damages for pain and suffering to this philosopher who welcomed his misery as a test of his own power to resist it? Is the Stoic entitled to less compensation than the weak-willed person who recoils at the slightest suggestion of pain or unhappiness? These examples only reinforce the conclusion that it is fruitless to attempt to put a dollar value on the loss of a faculty in the way that we put a dollar value on the loss of a piece of property.
In yet another bow to the powers of the Internet to distract and inform, such words simply begged for further (procrastinating) inquiry. Quick googling led me to the more common spelling of this philosopher's name - Posidonius - and a brief review of his life story. Remarkable. And though the quote bolded above initially sparked the mid-day break from routine, I admit to much preferring this slighly convoluted translation and adopt it wholeheartedly:
"in vain, O Pain," he exclaimed one day under the pangs of it, "in vain thou subjectest me to torture; it is not in thee to extort from me the reproach that thou art an evil."
Indeed. And thus the daily struggle against the mappined limits of our lives continues.

4 Comments:

Blogger Shari said...

My question (and I only question this to improve my already visible art of procrastination) is did you start at the beginning of this list of short stories or did you just scroll down waiting for a title to pop out at you before you started reading?

12:03 PM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

you mean the list of Munro stories? No, it's the story itself that is extra special. I had been thinking of it recently, since I mentioned it in passing in the last blogger "tag" request, on books that mean a lot to you. [feel free to try answering those questions if you really feel like procrastinating!]

Back in June, my fellow intrepid traveller Gongshow first came across the "Mappined Life" in a collection of quick stories he was reading to pass time into London on the Underground. He found the text online via google and sent me an email straight-away.

I feel it well summarized our reasons for jetting off to England for a year, in hopes of breaking from the predictability of "conventional make-believe", and is a theme I hope not to forget now that the options are constricted for a time by loan repayments.

[Many of the other stories are wonderful as well though. Enjoy, and feel free to repost your favorites here.]

2:15 PM  
Blogger Shari said...

You are going through an enormous ammount of my archives.

12:41 AM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

Can't sleep. I find myself thinking this all the time.

1:40 AM  

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