In my cross-cultural psychology class, we learned about the emotion "schadenfreude": to take pleasure in someone else's misfortune. If feeling this emotion goes against an individual's beliefs about themselves, i.e., that they are a good person, then isn't it possible that they would deny that they experienced this; doesn't this mean that our own personal experiences are not verifiable and therefore unknowable?

There's a scene in a movie (I forget which one) where a character claims to be happy, weeping all the while. Of course, that was just a movie, but I dare say you've seen someone blush bright red who says they're not embarrassed, or someone with their teeth clenched, insisting that they aren't angry. Our minds aren't detached from our bodies; what we feel makes a difference to what those bodies do. What people say they're feeling isn't always a good guide to what they actually feel.

In the scenario you describe, the person is really feeling the emotion (schadenfreude in this case) but says otherwise. It's possible that the person knows very well what they feel but doesn't want to admit it. If so then they, at least, have "verified" their experience, and with the right sort of persuasion, might even be willing to own up to their emotion. Another possibility is that they are deceiving themselves. Just how self-deception works may be tricky to sort out, but it seems to be a real enough phenomenon. If it's a case of self-deception, it might also be a case where the third-person perspective is more reliable; we might be able to recognize what the person is feeling, even if they don't. Furthermore, with a bit of empathetic conversation, we might even be able to get them to lift the inner veil, so to speak, and recognize it themselves.

Of course none of this means that you can always get yourself in a position to figure out what someone - possibly you yourself - is feeling. But there's nothing special about feelings on that score. I dare say there's no plausible way that we could ever come to know now how much change my Grandfather had in his pocket at noon on Jan. 9 1935, but that doesn't give us reason to think there's some kind of in-principle unknowability about such things.

So yes: someone who's really feeling schadenfreude might deny it, even to themselves. And on any given occasion, it might be hard or even practically impossible to show that they are. But from there to philosophical skepticism about our ability to know what others experience or what we ourselves experience would be a long trek.

It is more than possible that we would be inclined to deny this feeling. It is probable. But the fact that there are many books on this topic make it plain that not everyone denies it.

Feelings are not things like tables and chairs. They cannot be examined like external objects. Emotions are divided up different ways in different cultures and even within one culture. As Aristotle taught us, we should not expect the same degree of precision in say ethics - or the emotional realm- as we might in physics.

But as for schadenfreude itself, I was recently injured in a bad car accident and home bound in the Minnesota winter. A dear friend sent me a photo of himself lounging on the beach with a beer in hand in the Virgin Islands. I can't say that my first reaction was hoping that he was having a grand time. Maybe more like - I hope you get sun poisoning! Schadenfreude is an ugly feeling, a flower of envy -- which is one of the most painful emotions to own up to. I would consider my life a success if I could get to the point -- at which I have sometimes reached for minutes on end - that I truly took joy in other people's joy -- but that is not the way that I, at least, have been put together. Most of us live in a stew of ambivalent feelings -- even towards those we love.

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