What Is Pain?

Ask a man why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires to keep his health. If you then enquire, why he desires health, he will readily reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your enquiries farther, and desire a reason why he hates pain, it is impossible that he can ever give any. This is the ultimate end, and is never referred to any other object.

- David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss pain; something of which everyone has an individual experience. What causes it, how do we cope with it, what mechanisms are involved, what is the traditional view of pain and how is that being challenged today? Do we experience pain in the same way and how is emotional pain different from physical pain? What can our experience of pain tell us about ourselves and human consciousness? Is each individual human experience unique or are there experiences we can say apply across all of human consciousness? Is science a blunt instrument for examining subjective experience?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Pain

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

How much pain do we want in our lives? One straightforward answer is "as little as possible".

And it seems like a popular one — if the proliferation of increasingly specific painkillers and the popularity of movements like effective altruism is anything to go by.

We don't need to be neuroscientists to understand why: pain hurts.

But as Clemson philosophy Professor Todd May suggests, perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether we would genuinely like to be rid of certain sorts of pain...

Continue reading Eleanor Gordon-Smith's article: Is trying to transcend pain a pointless activity?

Further Reading

Pain is the most prominent member of a class of sensations known as bodily sensations, which includes itches, tickles, tingles, orgasms, and so on. Bodily sensations are typically attributed to bodily locations and appear to have features such as volume, intensity, duration, and so on, that are ordinarily attributed to physical objects or quantities. Yet these sensations are often thought to be logically private, subjective, self-intimating, and the source of incorrigible knowledge for those who have them. Hence there appear to be reasons both for thinking that pains (along with other similar bodily sensations) are physical objects or conditions that we perceive in body parts, and for thinking that they are not. This paradox is one of the main reasons why philosophers are especially interested in pain. One increasingly popular but still controversial way to deal with this paradox is to defend a perceptual or representational view of pain, according to which feeling pain is in principle no different than undergoing other standard perceptual processes like seeing, hearing, touching, etc. But there are many who think that pains are not amenable to such a treatment...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Pain by Murat Atdede

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