A multidimensional phenomenal space for pain: structure, primitiveness, and utility

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (1):1-21 (2021)
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Pain is often used as the paradigmatic example of a phenomenal kind with a phenomenal quality common and unique to its instantiations. Philosophers have intensely discussed the relation between the subjective feeling, which unites pains and distinguishes them from other experiences, and the phenomenal properties of sensory, affective, and evaluative character along which pains typically vary. At the center of this discussion is the question whether the phenomenal properties prove necessary and/or sufficient for pain. In the empirical literature, sensory, affective, and evaluative properties have played a decisive role in the investigation of psychophysical correspondence and clinical diagnostics. This paper addresses the outlined philosophical and empirical issues from a new perspective by constructing a multidimensional phenomenal space for pain. First, the paper will construe the phenomenal properties of pains in terms of a property space whose structure reflects phenomenal similarities and dissimilarities by means of spatial distance. Second, philosophical debates on necessary and sufficient properties are reconsidered in terms of whether there is a phenomenal space formed of dimensions along which all and only pains vary. It is concluded that there is no space of this kind and, thus, that pain constitutes a primitive phenomenal kind that cannot be analyzed entirely in terms of its varying phenomenal properties. Third, the paper addresses the utility of continued reference to pain and its phenomenal properties in philosophical and scientific discourses. It is argued that numerous insights into the phenomenal structure of pain can be gained that have thus far received insufficient attention.

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Sabrina Coninx
VU University Amsterdam


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