Purgatorial Suffering

I return to expounding authoritarian morality by introducing a very useful term “purgatorial suffering.”

A crucial notion in authoritarian morality* is “moral harm.” Moral harm is the mental or physical harm which ought to occur as a consequence of violation of a moral law. Moral harm is the sanction for the moral law. Hence, when a moral law is violated the moral authority issues a new specific moral prescription. This specific moral prescription is that some harm ought to happen because of the violation. In the case of so-called social or sins of unjust structures no definite individuals can be identified as the violators. But here let us think of violations for which a definite individual is the violator.There is no claim that the moral authority actively inflicts the prescribed suffering.The harm prescribed is for purgatorial suffering.

There is no claim that the moral authority actively inflicts the prescribed suffering. Infliction of the suffering may be turned over to us.** And the suffering prescribed may never occur.

Purgatorial suffering is an apt term because the specific norm requiring suffering for the violator is removed as the suffering goes on. The specific prescription is fulfilled when the prescribed suffering has occurred. The moral order is purged from the ad hoc prescription of punishment. The violator is purged from the condemnation of the specific moral norm prescribing his suffering. He is cleansed from condemnation.

Seriously, I am uncovering the basic thoughts behind ordinary notions of retributive punishment and pleas or prayers for mercy from the moral authority. It is thought that the moral authority can set aside or forgive some of the prescribed suffering. One of my goals is to uncover basic thoughts in ordinary moral thought

Purgatorial suffering can be internal and external or physical. Guilt and shame are examples of internal purgatorial suffering. Disease or loss of a job could be external purgatorial suffering.

Mental or physical suffering does not need to be interpreted or accepted as suffering prescribed for a violations to be purgatorial. Consider a comparison with criminal law. If a man serves a five year sentence as retributive punishment for his crime, he has fulfilled the prescription of the judge who sentenced him and has “paid his debt to society” regardless of whether or not he accepted his suffering as justified.

In subsequent posts, I need to explore how moral character is purged from bad character traits by proper responses to purgatorial suffering. This will connect purgatorial suffering with concepts such as repentance, mercy and forgiveness. In this post, I focus on purgatorial suffering and violations of what we ought to do; not with purgatorial suffering and how we ought to be – moral character.

Primarily purgatorial suffering is for a violation of what has happened. It is not for bringing about some good in the future. However, purgatorial suffering can be linked with accomplishment of some future good by being accepted as an occasion for character building

*Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality
**See Virtue of Taking Retribution