Pains that Don't Hurt

Australasian Journal of Philosophy 92 (2):305-320 (2014)
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Pain asymbolia is a rare condition caused by brain damage, usually in adulthood. Asymbolics feel pain but appear indifferent to it, and indifferent also to visual and verbal threats. How should we make sense of this? Nikola Grahek thinks asymbolics’ pains are abnormal, lacking a component that make normal pains unpleasant and motivating. Colin Klein thinks that what is abnormal is not asymbolics’ pains, but asymbolics: they have a psychological deficit making them unresponsive to unpleasant pain. I argue that an illuminating account requires elements of both views. Asymbolic pains are indeed abnormal, but they are abnormal because asymbolics are. I agree with Klein that asymbolics are incapable of caring about their bodily integrity; but I argue against him that, if this is to explain not only their indifference to visual and verbal threat, but also their indifference to pain, we must do the following: take asymbolics’ lack of bodily care not as an alternative to, but as an explanation of their pains’ missing a component, and claim that the missing component consists in evaluative content. Asymbolia, I conclude, reveals not only that unpleasant pain is composite, but that its ‘hedomotive component’ is evaluative.
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