A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

A Couple More Thoughts on Pain

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on February 26, 2007

Connected to the issue raised in the previous post, that is if pain has to hurt, there are some interesting things said by George Pitcher in an article called “Awfulness of Pain” (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 67, No. 14. (Jul. 23, 1970), pp. 481-492.), where at the start he asks “Is pain necessarily unpleasant?”

There he points to the case of:
    1.Masochism

    2.People with incurable diseases that have underwent prefrontal lobotomy. Those people typically “report after the operation that they still have pain but it doesn’t bother them; they simply don’t care about the pain and often forget it is there.” He further says…

It might be thought that the operation simply destroys the patients’ ability to feel any pain at all, but it is not so: for they still complain vociferously about pinprick and mild burn.

    3.People who have “trained themselves” not to mind pain – like fakirs.

Pitcher actually takes the position that the pain can be blocked in the brain, and so, he tends to think that those cases might be understandable in such theory, but as that doesn’t help much phenomenologically, I will just ignore that theory.

For the case of masochism, it seems to me that it is not about finding the pain pleasurable, but that it is the whole context that masochists find arousing (and find some kind of pleasure in it). Or – this case can’t be reduced to simple situation where masochist doesn’t find the pain unpleasant (or painful), but that it is probably that they find it painful which creates the situation in which their paraphilia is manifested. Pitcher also says that “Affirmatives” (people who think that pain is always unpleasant) can give analogies like…

…an object might be ugly in itself, but when placed in certain setting, it might make an essential contribution to a whole that is aesthetically pleasing. Or, a certain herb can be in itself foul-tasting, but nevertheless enhance the flavor of a delicious soup or salad.

Second and third case seem more straightforward, as they don’t seem to include this kind of problems. However still, if a person says that he feels the pain, but it doesn’t bother him, might not be a fact that the pain is not in itself “painful”, but that there is just difference in what I named in the previous posts – “access to pain”.
To make an analogy – some thing might look ugly to me. But if I put some kind of colored glasses, it might be enough for the thing not to look ugly anymore. By putting glasses, I’m not changing the thing, but I’m changing the access to the thing. (or instead of glasses, think few glasses of wine). But what changes in those cases is not how we are affected by the things, but the way we see the thing is changed, and that is the reason for change of the experience.

So maybe in case of 2 and 3 what is changed is also the properties of the access to the thing, and it is not a change of how we are affected by one and the same thing, while the thing, and the access to it are still the same.

Other thing that makes the analysis difficult is that the pain’s effect on us is what is usually taken as what “pain” refers to. In such way we are metaphorically using it to point to some unpleasant experience by using “painful experience”. So, if the prototype pain is which hurts us, probably “pain” isn’t best suited to point to a part of the pain abstracted from how it affects us…

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