Saul Kripke Center

Saul Kripke Center
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Brown Bag Lunch: Jennifer Corns

May 16, 2011 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Jennifer Corns, The Graduate Center, CUNY, Why Pain is Not Simply a Sensation:

Though most pain scientists understand pain to be a complex, multidimensional experience, it is popular among philosophers to understand pain to be a simple sensation. If we understand sensations to be those mental states having only qualitative content, the claim that pain is simply a sensation is equivalent to the claim that pain is a mental state exhausted by its qualitative content. Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity (1972) lectures provide one of the most famous presentations of this view. The most natural interpretation of Kripke’s position is that there is a distinctive qualitative content essential to and exhaustive of pain; pain is simply a sensation. In this talk, I’ll argue that this characterization of pain, however intuitive, cannot do justice to the wide range of actual pain experiences. For any identified qualitative content, there are token pains without it. Though pains usually have qualitative content, there is no distinctive, qualitative content essential to all pains. Furthermore, as pains may vary in qualitative content, if there is anything that constitutes all the tokens as a type it must be something other than their qualitative content. There is, therefore, no distinctive, qualitative content either essential to, or exhaustive of, pain. I suspect that the intuition that there is a qualitative content essential to pain is the result of conflating what’s most important to us about pain with what is essential to it—an instance of the type of conflation Kripke himself warns against (1972). Once this intuition is explained away, the path to accepting that pain is not simply a sensation is clear.


May 16, 2011
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm