Some foundational problems in the scientific study of pain

Philosophy of Science Supplement 69 (3):265-83 (2002)
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Abstract
This paper is an attempt to spell out what makes the scientific study of pain so distinctive from a philosophical perspective. Using the IASP definition of ‘pain’ as our guide, we raise a number of questions about the philosophical assumptions underlying the scientific study of pain. We argue that unlike the study of ordinary perception, the study of pain focuses from the very start on the experience itself and its qualities, without making deep assumptions about whether pain experiences are perceptual. This in turn puts scientific explanation in a curious position due to pain’s inherently subjective epistemic nature. The reason for this focus on the experience itself and its qualities, we argue, has to do with pain’s complex phenomenology involving an affective/motivational dimension. We argue for the scientific legitimacy of first‐person phenomenological studies and attempts to correlate phenomenology with neural events. We argue that this methodological procedure is inevitable and has no anti‐physicalist ontological implications when properly understood. We end the paper by commenting on a discussion between two prominent pain scientists in the field, Don Price and Howard Fields, about the need to distinguish more dimensions in the phenomenology of pain and how to classify them vis‐à‐vis the recent scientific findings. Our interest in this discussion is not only to introduce some clarifications but also to show how “neurophenomenology” has already been shaping the scientific research and to back our claim about why this methodology is inevitable with an example
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