Pain priors, polyeidism, and predictive power: a preliminary investigation into individual differences in our ordinary thought about pain

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 42 (3):113-135 (2021)
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Abstract

According to standard philosophical and clinical understandings, pain is an essentially mental phenomenon (typically, a kind of conscious experience). In a challenge to this standard conception, a recent burst of empirical work in experimental philosophy, such as that by Justin Sytsma and Kevin Reuter, purports to show that people ordinarily conceive of pain as an essentially bodily phenomenon—specifically, a quality of bodily disturbance. In response to this bodily view, other recent experimental studies have provided evidence that the ordinary (‘folk’) concept of pain is more complex than previously assumed: rather than tracking only bodily or only mental aspects of pain, the ordinary concept of pain can actually track either of these aspects. The polyeidic (or ‘many ideas’) analysis of the folk concept of pain, as proposed by Emma Borg et al., captures this complexity. Whereas previous empirical support for the polyeidic view has focused on the context-sensitivity of the folk concept of pain, here we discuss individual differences in people’s ‘pain priors’—namely, their standing tendencies to think of pain in relatively mind-centric or body-centric ways. We describe a preliminary empirical study and present a small number of findings, which will be explored further in future work. The results we discuss are part of a larger programme of work which seeks to integrate philosophical pain research into clinical practice. For example, we hypothesise that variations in how patients with chronic pain are thinking about pain could help predict their responses to treatment.

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Author Profiles

Sarah A Fisher
University College London
Nat Hansen
University of Reading
Emma Borg
University of Reading

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Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 1980 - Philosophy 56 (217):431-433.
Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 1980 - Critica 17 (49):69-71.
Thinking About Consciousness.David Papineau - 2002 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press UK.
Naming and Necessity.Saul Kripke - 2003 - In John Heil (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: A Guide and Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press.

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