Is it possible to suffer a misfortune or a harm of which we are completely unaware? At first sight the idea seem ridiculous. It's like someone telling you they have just discovered that yesterday they had been suffering a toothache all day but were quite unaware of it at the time!
Consider the following situation, however...
John is universally judged to be a competent manager. A new project is mooted by higher management and "water-cooler" conversations lead to the informal proposal that John should be earmarked to lead the project. It will mean a higher salary for him, more responsibility, higher status and greater job satisfaction. Everyone agrees that he is the right man for the job and that he would enjoy the challenge. However, Alan has it in for John and fabricates evidence that John has had mental problems in the past. The management simply accept what Alan says on face value and quietly drop the idea of promoting John to project leader. Years later, after all the characters in our drama have passed away, John's biographer comes across evidence of Alan's deceit. He judges that what Alan did indeed harm John and writes in his biography that John's career was blighted by the malice of Alan.
The biographer's judgement seems to me to be quite correct. Had Alan not acted in the way that he did John would have experienced a benefit that, in the event, he was denied. Alan has clearly done John a harm. But the problem is that this contradicts our previous intuition for John has not experienced anything disagreeable.
Many people balk at the idea that a third-party's judgement (such as the biographer's) can override or somehow negate the subjective judgement of the person themselves. After all, what right have I got to gainsay your claim that you are happy? Surely you are the ultimate authority on your own happiness? However, if we insist that a misfortune is only a misfortune if you experience it then we have to conclude that Alan has done John no harm. Furthermore, any betrayal, gossip, infidelity or theft that remains undiscovered is never wrong in itself. It only becomes wrong when it is discovered and the resultant distress is experienced; what renders something wrong is only consequent bad experiences.
This would put a colleague who learnt about Alan's deceit in a paradoxical position. If he informs John about the loss of the job opportunity, John will feel anger and disappointment and so the colleague automatically will come to share responsibility with Alan for causing a harm to John! Without his action John will not have suffered anger and disappointment. This clearly goes against our common-sense beliefs about harms for we usually praise people who bring injustices to light - not blame them for causing distress - even though their actions may lead to the experience of distress. If John discovers the wrong done to him by Alan through his colleague's information then the distress he experiences will be as a result of what Alan did - not as a result of his colleague bringing it to light. The colleague cannot share the blame of the harm just for making John aware of it. In addition, the law does not treat the wrongness of a crime as consisting in the distressing awareness of it. If a fraud was committed two months ago it was wrong then - not just when I discover and report it.
I think the problem of our contradictory intuitions lies in what appears to be a conflict between two opposing viewpoints. On the one hand we have the first-person viewpoint of John ("I am happy and contented") and the third-person viewpoint of the biographer ("John has suffered and so is unhappy"). It seems illegitimate for someone to make such a judgement in the face of an authoritative judgement made by a person about their own state of mind.
The answer is that the third-person perspective is bit more subtle than I have described it. The biographer is not really saying "I judge John to have suffered a misfortune". Rather, he is putting himself in John's place, empathetically, and saying "If John had known about Alan's action then I judge he would have been distressed because he would recognise that an objective harm had been done to him. Therefore, he has suffered a misfortune even though he did not discover the deceit and experienced the distress".
The implication of this is that our individual lives cannot be seen and evaluated simply in terms of our here and now subjectivity - the flow of conscious experiences - but have to be viewed as stories in an objective world in which the third-person perspective is as important as the first.