UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pain and perception Bassford, Harold A.


Among philosophers there is considerable division concerning the propriety and the analysis of talking of a "pain-sense". In this thesis I investigate the relationship between pain and perception and in particular between pain and tactual perception, with a view to settling the philosophical dispute. The analysis is devoted to answering three central questions. (1) When one has a pain is it correct to say that one is perceiving the pain? (2) When one has a pain is it correct to say that one is perceiving something? (3) How comparable are feeling pain and the various forms of tactual perception? In answering (3) I attend as well to Berkeley's argument which claims that the situations in which we feel pain and those in which we feel heat are sufficiently similar that we should not conceptualize them in the asymmetric fashion we do, externalizing heat as a secondary quality and internalizing pain as a sensation. I first consider a set of arguments by Ryle, Armstrong, Malcolm and others which aim at providing a negative answer to question (l). These are arguments which would show that the word 'feel' in 'feel pain' is not used in its perceptual sense, while it is so used in 'feel heat'. The arguments range over the skill-denoting aspect of the perceptual use and the necessary lack of such aspect in the pain-ascription use, the interchangeability of 'feel' and 'have' in pain ascription, but not in perceptual statements, and the incorrigibility of first person pain avowals. I demonstrate that these arguments on the whole do not succeed, and that that part of the arguments which is correct is not adequate to provide a clearly negative answer to question (1). I then proceed to my positive analysis. By paying closer attention to various situations of pain discourse, and by tracing the comparability of pain and tactual sensation, I develop a model of pain which both does justice to ordinary discourse about pain and which provides answers to my three questions. This can be called an adverbial model, since it would hold that 'pain' in 'feel pain' is a cognate accusative, functioning as an adverb rather than a direct object. References to one's pain and to one's tactual sensation serve as descriptions of one's experience rather than as perceptual claims. Question (1) is therefore answered in the negative. Question (2) is given a qualified positive answer, however, for just as there are perceptual statements paralleling statements of tactual sensation, so too are there perceptual claims which parallel statements of pain sensation. When one feels pain one is not perceiving pain, but one is often perceiving something, such as bodily damage or the pin which causes the damage. The development of the argument shows in what the relationship between pain and tactual perception consists, and thus provides the answer to question (3). In addition I show how the adverbial analysis of pain can account for talk of pain identity and location. Finally, I complete the argument by showing how Berkeley's claim of an indefensible asymmetry has gone wrong, and by showing the kind and extent of perceptual statements which can be made in situations wherein we feel pain.

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