Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 767–784 | Cite as

An Emotional-Freedom Defense of Schadenfreude

  • Earl Spurgin


Schadenfreude is the emotion we experience when we obtain pleasure from others’ misfortunes. Typically, we are not proud of it and admit experiencing it only sheepishly or apologetically. Philosophers typically view it, and the disposition to experience it, as moral failings. Two recent defenders of Schadenfreude, however, argue that it is morally permissible because it stems from judgments about the just deserts of those who suffer misfortunes. I also defend Schadenfreude, but on different grounds that overcome two deficiencies of those recent defenses. First, my defense accounts for the wide range of circumstances in which we experience Schadenfreude. Those circumstances often involve feelings and judgments that are less noble and admirable than judgments regarding just deserts. Second, it accounts for the sheepish or apologetic feelings that commonly accompany Schadenfreude. The two recent defenses can account for those feelings only by holding that they are mistaken or misguided. In opposition to those who view Schadenfreude as a moral failing, I argue that it is morally permissible unless it is part of a causal chain that produces an immoral act. The moral permissibility of the emotion is necessary in order for individuals to have the emotional freedom that, in turn, is necessary for their well-being. Schadenfreude’s moral status is similar to a sexual fetish’s. Like a fetish, experiencing Schadenfreude is not immoral in itself, but sharing and discussing it with others is immoral in many contexts.


Emotions Freedom Just deserts Misfortune Pleasure Schadenfreude 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyJohn Carroll UniversityUniversity HeightsUSA

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