2021-04Thematic Section
Running and the Paradox of Suffering


What motivates the voluntary suffering of training for a long-distance run – or any other difficult athletic skill? Long-term pleasure cannot adequately explain this seemingly masochistic activity. On the contrary, I argue that pleasure, or “reinforcement,” is not the only ultimate motivator of behavior. Each of the emotion systems defines its own intrinsic values, including an innate “play” system and an innate “exploratory drive” that is included in what neuropsychologist Jaak Panksepp calls the “SEEKING system” of the emotional brain. Panksepp’s description of the conscious dimension of SEEKING is remarkably similar to Otto Rank’s descriptions of his “love of life” dimension of motivation, which actually conflicts with the pleasure principle. The desire for pleasure is a desire to reduce consummatory drives, which means reducing the energy level of our bodily systems. Complete reduction would be death. If there were no competing motivation in the other direction, there would be nothing to keep us alive. The SEEKING system is what does that. It motivates a higher energy level. In the case of athletic training, we do not have to “force ourselves” to this higher energy level. The SEEKING system is an innate natural drive. If we were to deliberately try to just sit on a couch indefinitely, at some point we would fail.


Stoicism, Aristotle, philosophy of sport, sports psychology, emotion, motivation

How to cite:

Ellis, Ralph D. “Running and the Paradox of Suffering.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 5, no. 4 (2021):  8-20. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2021.0036.


Ralph D. Ellis
Clark Atlanta University
223 James P. Brawley Dr., S.W. Atlanta, Georgia 30314, USA


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