Can’t Complain

In: Journal of Moral Philosophy
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  • 1 Trent University, c/o Department of Philosophy, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough, Ontario, K9L 0G2 Canada kathrynnorlock@gmail.com; kathrynnorlock@trentu.ca

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Philosophers generally prescribe against complaining, or endorse only complaints directed to rectification of the circumstances. Notably, Aristotle and Kant aver that the importuning of others with one’s pains is effeminate and should never be done. In this paper, I reject the prohibition of complaint. The gendered aspects of Aristotle’s and Kant’s criticisms of complaint include their deploring a self-indulgent “softness” with respect to pain, yielding to feelings at the expense of remembering one’s duties to others and one’s own self-respect. I argue that complaining may also take the form of mindful attention to shared suffering. A complainer may observe affective duties, such as commiseration and invitations to disclose pains. Against more contemporary views that justify only constructive complaints directed to change, I suggest that quotidian, unconstructive complaining sometimes fulfills important social functions, including the amelioration of loneliness and affective solidarity, for the sake of others as well as oneself.

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