Assuming no metaphysical reality, and everything is just spacetime and matter, where do the moral concerns regarding suffering and pain come from?

If someone suffered enormous physical pain 100 years ago, it just means some quarks and electrons were in a particular configuration 100 years ago. In the absence of a metaphysical reality or existence, what’s the philosophical argument for caring that that particular configuration of quarks and electrons happened?

None of us wants to feel pain. I don’t want to feel pain. However, years after I’m dead, will it matter that on March 12 2009 I felt pain? While I’m alive it matters, since I can remember it and re-experience it. However, after I die, if the consciousness that felt that pain no longer exists to remember it, does it matter that it happened?

If there is some “eternal” being that remembers all our experiences forever, then the pain we experience will be remembered and re-experienced forever, so it has some importance.

In the absence of this, and if our consciousness disappears forever the moment we die, there is no one left to bear witness to the experience of pain felt. The universe was in one state, and now it’s in another.

I should note that I’m not saying we should hurt people, just trying to find a philosophical ground for our aversion to hurting others in the absence of a permanent consciousness that experiences the pain.

Well, to start the ball rolling, there is enlightened self interest. Causing suffering in others can cause them to behave in ways that are bad for society and me specifically. It is in my interest for everyone to be as comfortable as possible so that they are as well behaved as possible.

I believe you mean “permanent consciousness”, but anyway: it comes from our mirror neurons, the ones that make us extrapolate from our own consciousness to the consciousness of others. I, for one, hope this extrapolation is correct and justified. It makes society better. And me too, I hope.

According to legend (probably myth), a Roman noblewoman by the name of Lucretia was raped by a Roman prince around 510 BCE. She subsequently took her own life. Prominent citizens displayed her corpse in public and advocated overthrowing the monarchy. This is supposedly the origin of the Roman Republic, and remained meaningful for Romans many years after she died.

On February 12, 1946, one Sgt. Isaac Woodward was on a bus in Batesburg, South Carolina. He had been honorably discharged from the army just hours earlier. His bus driver asked the sheriff to remove Mr. Woodward, still in uniform, from the bus, and the police beat him so hard that he was blinded for life. Mr. Woodward’s story - his pain - was one of many which inspired the civil rights movement last century, and it is still meaningful today.

After you are dead, people who know about your pain - indirectly - can give it meaning.

~Max

Presumably, human ideas of morality reflect a very long, very convoluted, unfathomably complex heritage of the evolution of cognition; especially as relates to the interactions between increasingly intelligent social animals selected for behavior that will in the long term produce that best odds of survival. Concepts that attempt to embody N-variable weighted measurements trying to find an optimum between often contradictory requirements.

The sort of things that Terry Pratchett referred to as “big lies”:
“JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.”

I’m a human male. This human male finds human females sexually attractive.

Is that rational? Why don’t I want to have sex with a mouse, or pollinate a flower? Because finding human females sexually attractive rewards my brain and those things don’t.

If this is all there is, then why not emotionally connect to “this”? Soak it in, channel desire and fun and empathy. But I get that typically people that bring forward these arguments are looking to emotionally disconnect from their current experience. But that’s not where the conclusions lead for me.

It seems like a lot of your question boils down to “Does right now matter?”

Is that correct?

I’ll expand a little more.

If right now is just right now, well, you got nothing else. You are NOT a metaphysical being of pure energy. You ARE going to die, and all of your metaphysical thoughts will die too, just as once you didn’t exist and were born and developed into a creature capable of metaphysical thoughts. Nothing wrong with metaphysical thoughts, they’re just as temporary as anything else. The clock is ticking; Game On.

Somewhat. I think I’m more focusing on the negative experiences of the “now”.

That is, if someone ate an ice cream many years ago and enjoyed it, it mattered to them but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.

If someone felt extreme pain many years ago, and now they’re dead, in the grand scheme of things does it matter that they felt that pain?

This question, for me, originates when I think about the pain and suffering of people who suffered through things like the Armenian Genocide or the Holocaust and died. I feel a lot of sadness when I think of what they went through. But then I think, if their consciousness no longer exists, the entities that suffered all that pain no longer exist, so does it make sense for us to feel sad?

If some people who went through those same events are alive today, then we can feel sad that conscious entities who lived through all that are still around to remember and re-experience the pain.

For the majority of people who went through that and are now dead, there is no one left to feel or remember the subjective experience of the pain, so it’s different I think.

I’m nearly certain I’m not expressing myself clearly, but the above train of thought is what led to the question in the OP

In order for something to matter, does it have to matter to someone? I’m inclined to say yes. Which would mean that, if there no longer exists anyone to whom it mattered, it no longer matters.

Does it have to matter permanently, or is it enough that it matters at the moment you make the decision to hurt or not to hurt someone?

Well, a thought experiment. You are in a room watching somebody (let’s call him John) cause me extreme, unbearable pain. After several unspeakable hours I die.

Since I am no longer a conscious entity, does John have any reason to feel remorse over what he’s done? Do you have any reason to feel anger towards John? Do you have any reason to be sad about the pain I suffered?

Yup. We made them up.

That doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Maybe it means they matter even more.

So?

I’ve never understood the theory that because something is temporary that means it doesn’t matter. Only temporary things can be alive; because only things that change can be alive, and nothing that changes can be permanent. To be permanent would also be to be frozen, static, and dead.

Not in the sense that they are arbitrary, that they are the result of any deliberate choice, or that they could be dispensed with. Just that spelling out exactly why, in the context of surviving as human beings, those things make sense would be like trying to reverse-engineer a neural net to explain exactly why a certain pattern of connections produces recognition of a given object.

That’s kind of the point I was trying to make. The universe may be infinite, but OUR universe, our time, is finite, so to the extent that WE care, the universe may as well be finite as well. So sure, we can still care about what happens to us.

I gather that the wider question is if someone was loved or cared about in some long distant time, then they die. Then over time everyone who had any connection to them dies as well. Does that mean that the love for them is gone? I suppose it is because that’s what happens with time. But they were still loved in their time. By the same token, I don’t love most of the people in the world because I don’t know most of the people in the world. Doesn’t mean that I couldn’t love them, I just don’t know them, and there are only so many opportunities and we are limited by our choices.

I understand. Supposing there is no soul, no afterlife, what does it matter if any of us suffered? In 100 years, every person on this planet will be a bag of bones. So, does it matter that that bag of bones at some or many points felt pain? I don’t have a satisfying answer to that, because it’s the same answer to the question “Why does anything matter?” Does it matter if that skeleton felt joy? Maybe that person really loved their wife. That’s nice, isn’t it, but what does that matter when we’re talking about a skeleton in the ground? Whatever your answer to that question is, is the reason why suffering is (or isn’t) important. Why would pain uniquely matter or not? I’ve read the argument that people suffering may cause pain to others, but that doesn’t address why that should matter.

So yes, admittedly unsatisfying because even though I think right now matters, and is really the only thing that matters (knowing the future will soon be “right now” factors into my math, for what it’s worth), I am terrible at explaining why other than “Suffering is bad” which leads us right where we started, doesn’t it?

Now when we start talking about in the contexts of genocides or slavery, that becomes only a slightly different question. Even if you don’t believe that it mattered if a particular skeleton suffered while it was inside of a living human, the pain caused by those sorts of atrocities endure long after. But then, what does that matter if extant humans will be gone just the same?

Shit’s wild.

The universe cares nothing for us. The solar system cares nothing for us. The earth cares nothing for us.

We do appear to care about us. (Maybe some animals do as well. Plants don’t.)

It’s fascinating that people want to drag the universe into this. And hilarious. Leave the poor universe out of our problems. It has middle-aged spread and a lot of gas. It has problems of its own.

Agreeing. We didn’t make them up out of whole cloth, or out of a fever dream, or intentionally; we made them up out of the whole history of our evolution as a social species, and we must have them to function as such. And by “we” I don’t mean only humans, either; we share some sense of them with other species. But we made them up, all the same.

Depending on how far one stretches “any connection”, that may not be possible. Their existence had an impact, however tiny, on the world; and that impact may reverberate, in ways we’re not capable of detecting, long after any conscious memory of them is gone.

Yes, it makes sense to feel sad over such incidents, because there is a strong likelihood they are going to be repeated elsewhere over and over and over… while actions - by nations, organizations or even individuals - that (maybe) could prevent such incidents are not taken over and over and over… The learning process can be very slow in humans; sometimes it never happens.

Individually, the pain experienced may be insignificant to (most of) humanity. Collectively, the pain experienced matters for what it reflects about humanity and the lack of any reality-based possibility humanity will ever improve enough to leave their bad habits behind.

I was impressed by PTerry’s longer discussion in “The Hogfather”.

“All right," said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need… fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME…SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point —”

MY POINT EXACTLY.”
― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

I think if we’re going to make philosophical statements, based on science (the observation of pain being some kind of neurological phenomenon), then it’s unavoidable that we get into metaphysics.

Because metaphysics doesn’t just mean God or the afterlife, it’s a lot more broad than that.

For example, the notion that the present is all that exists is itself a metaphysical statement, and one that can be challenged without resorting to religion (for example, does relativity entail a block universe?)
Or the notion that there are standalone events that don’t matter to the future state of the universe…is that true? Isn’t our world a chaotic system?

Anyway, for myself, I’ve never subscribed to the notion of “being remembered” being important: transient suffering is bad because it’s bad IMO, I wouldn’t care if there is some future time where it is no longer remembered. So, I don’t really need to get into the metaphysical weeds personally.
I’m just sayin’