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


Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Martin Oswald. Indianapolis, New York: Bobbs-Merrill C°, 1962.

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations. Translated by Gregory Hays. New York: Random House.

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Kensington Press/Philosophical Library, 2015.

Diogenes Laertius. A Summary of Stoic Philosophy: Zeno of Citium in Diogenes Laertius Book Seven. Edited by Keith Seddon and Charles D. Yonge. Self-published by Keith Seddon, 2008.

Epictetus. Discourses and Selected Writings. Edited and translated by Robert Dobbin. New York: Penguin, 2008.

Ellis, Ralph D. Curious Emotions: Roots of Consciousness and Personality in Motivated Action. Amsterdam: John benjamins, 2005. https://doi.org/10.1075/aicr.61.

Ellis, Ralph D. The Moral Psychology of Internal Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316996683.

Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: Bantam, 1959.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edited by David Johnston. New York: W.W. Norton, 2021.

Kagan, Jerome, and Mitchell Berkun. “The Reward Value of Running Activity.” Journal of Comparative Physiological Psychology 47, no. 2 (1954): 108-110. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0058877.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Practical Reason. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. New York: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2002.

Marcel, Gabriel. “Sketch of a Phenomenology and a Metaphysic of Hope.” In Reality, Man and Existence: Essential Works of Existentialism, edited by Harold J. Blackham, 196-205. New York: Bantam, 1965.

Montagu, Ashley. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

Panksepp, Jaak. Affective Neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Panksepp, Jaak. “Cross-Species Affective Neuroscience Decoding of the Primal Affective Experiences of Humans and Related Animals.” PloS ONE 6, no. 8 (September 2011). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0021236.

Panksepp, Jaak. “The Neuro-Evolutionary Cusp Between Emotions and Cognitions: Implications for Understanding Consciousness and the Emergence of a Unified Mind Science.” Consciousness & Emotion 1, no. 1 (2000): 17-56. https://doi.org/10.1075/ce.1.1.04pan.

Panksepp, Jaak, Jason Wright, Máté Döbrössy, Thomas Schlaepfer, and Volker Coenen. “Affective Neuroscience Strategies for Understanding and Treating Depression: From Preclinical Models to Three Novel Therapeutics.” Clinical Psychological Science 2, no. 4 (2014): 472–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702614535913.

Pierson, Don. “Depression-Awareness Campaign Aids Bradshaw too.” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 3, 2003. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2003-10-03-0310030214-story.html.

Rank, Otto. Truth and Reality. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.

Rank, Otto. The Trauma of Birth. New York: Dover, 1994.

Spitz, René A., and Katherine M. Wolf. “Anaclitic Depression: An Inquiry into the Genesis of Psychiatric Conditions in Early Childhood, II.” Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 2, (1946): 313-42.  New York: International University Press. https://doi.org/10.1080/00797308.1946.11823551.

Tapio, Koski. The Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Running: The Multiple Dimensions of Long-Distance Running. Berlin: Springer, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15597-5.

Watt, Douglas. “Affect and the ‘Hard Problem’: Neurodevelopmental and Corticolimbic Network Issues.” From Tuscon Conference: Consciousness Research Abstracts: Toward a Science of Consciousness 1, (1998):  1-92.

Watt, Douglas. “The Centrencephalon and Thalamocortical Integration: Neglected Contributions of Periaqueductal Gray.” Consciousness & Emotion 1, no. 1 (2000): 91-114. https://doi.org/10.1075/ce.1.1.06wat.

Zeno. The Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes. Edited by Alfred Pearson.  Sydney: Wentworth Press, 2019.

Open Access Statement:

This is an open access journal which means that all content is freely available without charge to the user or his/her institution. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without asking prior permission from the publisher or the author, as long as the author and original source are properly cited. This is in accordance with the BOAI definition of open access.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Submitting a text to Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture means that the author agrees with the general conditions of this license. The author does and will maintain copyrights and publishing rights for his/her article without any restrictions.