The personal comparative concern in schadenfreude

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We all have enough strength to endure the misfortunes of others. François de la Rochefoucauld Schadenfreude is a perplexing emotion: on the one hand, it is pleasurable, some even argue one of the most pleasurable emotions, but on the other hand, it seems disgusting and inhumane, even sadistic, since we know we ought to be sad, rather than happy, about others’ misfortunes. In order to understand such a dissonance, we should distinguish between the emotion of schadenfreude and sadistic behaviour. In both cases, someone gets pleasure from another’s misfortune, but whereas schadenfreude is an emotion whose main concern, like that of other emotions, is a personal comparative concern, sadism is behaviour whose main concern is deriving pleasure from deliberately inflicting pain on someone else. Accordingly, schadenfreude is not as morally reprehensible as sadism and as the prevailing view considers it to be. The personal comparative concern Emotions are not theoretical detached attitudes; rather, they are interested experiences concerning the personal, and in particular the comparative, situation of the agent. Understanding something implies comparing it to different alternatives. This is true not only of intellectual reasoning, but of emotions as well. However, whereas intellectual comparisons typically express a detached and theoretical manner of comparison, emotional comparisons are made from a personal and interested perspective (see also Seip et al., Chapter 15 in this volume; Van Dijk and Ouwerkerk, Chapter 9 in this volume). An intellectual perspective sometimes attempts to overcome an emotional perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSchadenfreude
Subtitle of host publicationUnderstanding Pleasure at the Misfortune of Others
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139084246
ISBN (Print)9781107017504
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2014.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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