IMC 2013: Sessions

Session 699: What's Bad about Pain?: Challenges for Representationalists

Tuesday 2 July 2013, 13.00-13.45

Sponsor:School of Philosophy, Religion & History of Science, University of Leeds
Moderator/Chair:Nick Jones, School of Philosophy, Religion & History of Science, University of Leeds
Speaker:Jamie Dow, Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre, University of Leeds

Plato’s Philebus offers a landmark account of pleasure and pain, in which they are cognitive states, presenting the subject’s situation in the world as going well or badly in some respect. On this account, there are emotional pains and pleasures as well as those consisting entirely in bodily sensations; and – famously – pleasures can be true or false. After briefly canvassing the explanatory advantages of such accounts, two challenges will be considered. How well do representationalist accounts explain the unpleasant feel of pain? And how do such accounts avoid the implausible implication that we have reason to avoid pain only where that pain is felt at things that really are bad for their subject?

Platonic and Aristotelian answers to these challenges will be compared. Aristotle’s sophisticated account of sensory ‘imagination’ (phantasia) arguably offers a superior answer to the first. In addressing the second, whilst neither Plato nor Aristotle offers a fully satisfactory answer, both correctly highlight an important difference between true pains and false. True pains give us reason to eliminate the cause and object of the pain, whereas false pains give us reason merely to eliminate the experience.