Pain (philosophy)

Philosophy of pain may be about suffering in general or more specifically about physical pain. The experience of pain is, due to its seeming universality, a very good portal through which to view various aspects of human life. Discussions in philosophy of mind concerning qualia has given rise to a body of knowledge called philosophy of pain,[1] which is about pain in the narrow sense of physical pain, and which must be distinguished from philosophical works concerning pain in the broad sense of suffering. This article covers both topics.

Historical views of pain

Two near contemporaries in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jeremy Bentham and the Marquis de Sade had very different views on these matters. Bentham saw pain and pleasure as objective phenomena, and defined utilitarianism on that principle. However the Marquis de Sade offered a wholly different view - which is that pain itself has an ethics, and that pursuit of pain, or imposing it, may be as useful and just as pleasurable, and that this indeed is the purpose of the state - to indulge the desire to inflict pain in revenge, for instance, via the law (in his time most punishment was in fact the dealing out of pain). The 19th-century view in Europe was that Bentham's view had to be promoted, de Sade's (which it found painful) suppressed so intensely that it - as de Sade predicted - became a pleasure in itself to indulge. The Victorian culture is often cited as the best example of this hypocrisy.

Various 20th century philosophers (viz. J.J.C. Smart, David Kellogg Lewis, D.M. Armstrong) have commented upon the meaning of pain and what it can tell us about the nature of human experiences. Pain has also been the subject of various socio-philosophical treatises. Michel Foucault, for example, observed that the biomedical model of pain, and the shift away from pain-inducing punishments, was part of a general Enlightenment invention of Man. The idea of species-wide empathy, he asserts, was created, in which the pain of the punished is itself a pain to the punisher.

The individuality of pain

It is often accepted as a priori principle that one has inherent knowledge of one's own consciousness simply by virtue of dwelling within an "inner world" of the mind. This drastic distinction between inner world and outer world was most popularized by René Descartes when he solidified his principle of Cartesian dualism. From the centrality of one's own consciousness springs a fundamental problem of other minds, the discussion of which has often centered on pain.

Pain and meaning

The philosopher Nietzsche experienced long bouts of illness and pain in his life, and wrote much about the meaning of pain as it relates to the meaning of life in general. Among his more famous quotes, are ones specifically related to pain:

"Did you ever say yes to a pleasure?
Oh my friends, then you also said yes to all pain.
All things are linked, entwined, in love with one another."
"What does not kill me, makes me stronger."

Pain and theories of mind

The experience of pain has been used by various philosophers to analyze various types of philosophy of mind, such as dualism, identity theory, or functionalism. David Lewis, in his article 'Mad pain and Martian pain', gives examples of various types of pain to support his own flavor of functionalism. He defines mad pain to be pain which occurs in a madman who has somehow gotten his "wires crossed" (possibly an early observation distinguishing normal pain from either clinical psychalgia or schizophreniac pain) in such a way that what we usually call "pain" does not cause him to cry or roll in agony, but instead to, for example, become very concentrated and good at mathematics. Martian pain is, to him, pain which occupies the same causal role as our pain, but has a very different physical realization (e.g. the Martian feels pain due to the activation of an elaborate internal hydraulic system rather than, for example, the firing of C-fibers). Both of these phenomena, Lewis claims, are pain, and must be accounted for in any coherent theory of mind.

See also


  1. ^ Murat Aydede, Bibliography — Philosophy of Pain

Further reading

  • Grahek, Nikola (2007). Feeling Pain and Being in Pain. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-07283-0.

External links

List of academic fields

The following outline is provided as an overview of an topical guide to academic disciplines:

An academic discipline or field of study is known as a branch of knowledge. It is taught as an accredited part of higher education. A scholar's discipline is commonly defined and recognized by a university faculties. That person will be accredited by learned societies to which he or she belongs along with the academic journals in which he or she publishes. However, no formal criteria exist for defining an academic discipline.

Disciplines varies between universities and programs. These discipline will have well-defined rosters of journals and conferences supported by a few universities and publications. A discipline may have branches, that are called sub-disciplines.

There is no consensus on how some academic disciplines should be classified (e.g., whether anthropology and linguistics are disciplines of social sciences or fields within the humanities). More generally, the proper criteria for organizing knowledge into disciplines are also open to debate.

Mad pain and Martian pain

"Mad Pain and Martian Pain" is a philosophical article written by David Kellogg Lewis. Lewis argued, that a theory of pain must be able to reflect the most basic intuitions of both functionalism and identity theory. Because of such, he proposes the existence of two beings both in pain – one whose physical explanation of pain differs from ours and one whose reaction to pain differs from ours. Lewis states that any complete theory of the mind should be able to explain how each being is in pain.

Mahendra Bhatnagar

Mahendra Bhatnagar (Hindi: महेंद्र भटनागर (Devanagari); born 26 June 1926) is a Hindi and Indian English poet from India. He is one of the significant post-independence voices in his field of poetry, expressing the lyricism and pathos, as well as aspirations and yearnings of the modern Indian intellect.

Outline of academic disciplines

An academic discipline or field of study is a branch of knowledge, taught and researched as part of higher education. A scholar's discipline is commonly defined by the university faculties and learned societies to which they belong and the academic journals in which they publish research.

Disciplines vary between well-established ones that exist in almost all universities and have well-defined rosters of journals and conferences, and nascent ones supported by only a few universities and publications. A discipline may have branches, and these are often called sub-disciplines.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to academic disciplines. In each case an entry at the highest level of the hierarchy (e.g., Humanities) is a group of broadly similar disciplines; an entry at the next highest level (e.g., Music) is a discipline having some degree of autonomy and being the basic identity felt by its scholars; and lower levels of the hierarchy are sub-disciplines not normally having any role in the structure of the university's governance.


Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. The International Association for the Study of Pain's widely used definition defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage"; however, due to it being a complex, subjective phenomenon, defining pain has been a challenge. In medical diagnosis, pain is regarded as a symptom of an underlying condition.

Pain motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging situations, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future. Most pain resolves once the noxious stimulus is removed and the body has healed, but it may persist despite removal of the stimulus and apparent healing of the body. Sometimes pain arises in the absence of any detectable stimulus, damage or disease.Pain is the most common reason for physician consultation in most developed countries. It is a major symptom in many medical conditions, and can interfere with a person's quality of life and general functioning. Simple pain medications are useful in 20% to 70% of cases. Psychological factors such as social support, hypnotic suggestion, excitement, or distraction can significantly affect pain's intensity or unpleasantness. In some debates regarding physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia, pain has been used as an argument to permit people who are terminally ill to end their lives.

Pain and pleasure

Some philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, Baruch Spinoza, and Descartes, have hypothesized that the feelings of pain (or suffering) and pleasure are part of a continuum.

There is strong evidence of biological connections between the neurochemical pathways used for the perception of both pain and pleasure, as well as other psychological rewards.


Suffering, or pain in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. Suffering is the basic element that makes up the negative valence of affective phenomena. The opposite of suffering is pleasure or happiness.

Suffering is often categorized as physical or mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and frequency of occurrence usually compound that of intensity. Attitudes toward suffering may vary widely, in the sufferer or other people, according to how much it is regarded as avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, deserved or undeserved.

Suffering occurs in the lives of sentient beings in numerous manners, often dramatically. As a result, many fields of human activity are concerned with some aspects of suffering. These aspects may include the nature of suffering, its processes, its origin and causes, its meaning and significance, its related personal, social, and cultural behaviors, its remedies, management, and uses.

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