When Pain Isn't Painful

The Philosophers' Magazine 3 (2015)
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Abstract

Sometimes the philosophical armchair gets bumped by empirical facts. So it is when thinking about pain. For good or ill (good, actually, as we shall see) most of us are intimately acquainted with physical pain, the kind you feel when you stand on a nail or burn your hand. And, from the armchair, it can seem blindingly obvious that pain is essentially unpleasant. There are of course unpleasant experiences that aren’t pains – nausea or itches, for example – but surely there aren’t pains that don’t hurt, pains that are neutral or even pleasurable rather than unpleasant. Surely, indeed, there couldn’t be. For it is part of the very concept of a pain that a pain be unpleasant. Or so it has seemed to many. Yet over recent decades philosophers’ confidence in these putative truisms has been shaken by some fascinating cases from the clinic, the lab, and life.

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David Bain
Glasgow University

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