Is Schadenfreude a way out of amorality?


Theodor Adorno, defined Schadenfreude as "largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate."

Nietzsche comments that

Schadenfreude originates in the fact that, in certain respects of which he is well aware, everyone feels unwell - is oppressed by care or envy or sorrow: the harm that befalls another man makes him our equal; it appeases our envy. If, on the other hand, he happens to feel perfectly well, he nonetheless gathers up his neighbour's misfortune in his consciousness as a capital upon which to draw when he himself faces misfortune: thus he too experiences schadenfreude.

Human all too Human 27.

As an aside, in the throes of paranoid insanity some ten years ago, the description of a culture defined by extreme Schadenfreude, really helped me have the strength to wonder if it mattered how cruel people seemed to be.

So leading on from that, might that apparent equivalence between Nietzschean and critical theory, be a useful stepping stone to saving Nietzsche?


Posted 2014-09-09T20:47:14.177


1Where do you see the 'apparent equivalence' between Nietzsche and critical theory? – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-09-10T03:19:41.380

simply: both seem to find it distasteful – None – 2014-09-10T03:47:56.437

or are critical of it... i should maybe have included more of the ad. quote. interesting the ad. quote suggests lacan and the law to me. i'm definitely gonna see where this takes me... – None – 2014-09-10T04:28:20.130



First, Adorno would never have described Schadenfreude as "appropriate", despite being already alienated by culture. It is highly inappropriate, the only mentioning in his Negative Dialectics for example speaks of the "triumph of humor over beauty". Wikipedia sources this "quote" as "cited in ...", so it's a citation of a translation by a third party. In short: Not very reliable.

Second point is that Schadenfreude is commonly known to show the dark sides of a human: the absence of empathy and the inability of acknowledging the negativity of the situation. It is a form of surrender, a triumph of something that has to be held as undesirable (Adorno: something alienating from the first nature).

And this is how I take the Nietzsche-quote, too. It is not describing Schadenfreude as "a way out of amorality". It is an expression of it!

Therefore, it is not suprising that two philosophers who criticized the upcoming inability of humanity (respectivly society) to reflect on the incoherence and latent leaning towards self-destruction ("alienation") are commenting on Schadenfreude this way as it is conceived as a paradigmatic expression of what they are criticizing.

Overall, it is not something that will "help to save" Nietzsche, as it is some evergreenish theme to leftist intellectuals. Taking Nietzsche seriously, he never even lost actuality.

Philip Klöcking

Posted 2014-09-09T20:47:14.177

Reputation: 9 269

Can you elaborate on what you mean by "some evergreenish theme to leftist intellectuals"? Where does leftism come into play? – Era – 2016-02-18T16:32:24.220

@Era: It is about the progressive, anti-conservative, to generalize: critical stance against the bourgeoisie and what others call culture. – Philip Klöcking – 2016-02-18T17:15:54.897

I don't understand how that answers my question. Are you taking the criticism of Schadenfreude in culture (or humanity, or society) to be leftist ipso facto? Where is the connection? – Era – 2016-02-18T17:58:28.003