Tag Archives: pain

Peter Mere Latham

To any one who should insist upon its being stated in terms what Pain is, it would, I hold, be a sufficient answer to say, that he knew himself perfectly well what it was already, and that he could not know it the better for any words in which it could be defined. Things which all men know infallibly by their own perceptive experience, cannot be made plainer by words. Therefore, let Pain be spoken of simply as Pain.

Peter Mere Latham, ‘General Remarks on the Practice of Medicine’, The British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 78 (June 28, 1862), p. 677

Thomas Schelling

Schizophrenia, hypnosis, amnesia, narcosis, and anesthesia suggest that anything as complicated as the human brain, especially if designed with redundancy for good measure and most assuredly if not designed at all but arising out of a continuous process that began before we were reptiles, should be capable of representing more than one “person.” In fact, it must occasionally wire in a bit of memory that doesn’t belong or signal for a change in the body’s hormonal chemistry that makes us, at least momentarily, “somebody else.” I am reminded of the tantalizing distinction that someone made when my wife had our first child after two hours on sodium pentathol: It doesn’t make it hurt less, it just keeps you from remembering afterward. Strange that the prospect of pain can’t scare me once I’ve seen that, when I become conscious, I won’t remember!

Thomas Schelling, ‘The Intimate Contest for Self-command’, The Public Interest, vol. 60 (Summer, 1980), pp. 97-98

David Hume

The first circumstance which introduces evil, is that contrivance or economy of the animal creation, by which pains, as well as pleasures, are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees, seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose. All animals might be constantly in a state of enjoyment: but when urged by any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger, weariness; instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they might be prompted to seek that object which is necessary to their subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid pain; at least they might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain. Why then is any animal ever rendered susceptible of such a sensation? If animals can be free from it an hour, they might enjoy a perpetual exemption from it; and it required as particular a contrivance of their organs to produce that feeling, as to endow them with sight, hearing, or any of the senses. Shall we conjecture, that such a contrivance was necessary, without any appearance of reason? and shall we build on that conjecture as on the most certain truth?

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779, part 11

Shelly Kagan

[P]retty much everyone believes at least this much: the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain is at least one component of well-being. (It is quite hard to deny this. The value of pleasure and the disvalue of pain seem virtually self-evident to anyone experiencing them.)

Shelly Kagan, Normative Ethics, Boulder, 1998, p. 30

Shelly Kagan

[E]ven though there may be components of well-being that go beyond one’s experiences—and thus can plausibly be thought to come in imperceptible amounts—it seems undeniable that one important component of well-being is indeed the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain.

Shelly Kagan, ‘Do I Make a Difference?’, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2011), p. 115

John McTaggart

Pain is an evil–all our morality implies that. Even if we have a right to forgive the universe our own pain–and I doubt if we have the right to do even this–we have certainly no right to forgive it the pain of others. We must either believe the pain inflicted for some good purpose, or condemn the universe in which it occurs.

John McTaggart, ‘The Necessity of Dogma’, International Journal of Ethics, vol. 5, no. 2 (January, 1895), p. 156

Alastair Norcross

I have experienced pains no more severe than a broken wrist, torn ankle ligaments, or an abscess in a tooth. These were pretty bad, but I have no doubt that a skilled torturer could make me experience pains many times as bad.

Alastair Norcross, ‘Comparing Harms: Headaches and Human Lives’, Philosophy & Public Affairs (Spring, 1997), vol. 26, no. 2, p. 146

Chelsea Handler

Have you ever experienced a pain so sharp in your heart that it’s all you can do to take a breath? It’s a pain you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy; you wouldn’t want to pass it on to anyone else for fear he or she might not be able to bear it. It’s the pain of being betrayed by the person with whom you’ve fallen in love. It’s not as serious as death, but it feels a whole like it, and as I’ve come to learn, pain is pain any way you slice it.

Chelsea Handler, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, New York, 2005, p. 46

Stewart Goetz

[W]hile no one who is sane will deny that an experience of pain has certain relational features (e.g. other things being equal, one who is experiencing pain will act for the purpose that the pain be mitigated), no one who is sane will hold that an experience of pain is nothing more than its relational features. After all, pain feels a certain way. It has an intrinsic nature for which the only adequate description is that it hurts. And it is precisely because pain has this kind of intrinsic nature that it also has the relational features that it has. It is this irreducible, intrinsic qualitative nature of pain that modern philosophical orthodoxy is intent on either reducing to something else or outright eliminating. Were their efforts to prove successful, there would be no problem of evil because there would be no quale that is evil.

Stewart Goetz, ‘The Argument from Evil’, in William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, Oxford, 2009, pp. 449-450

Michael Huemer

I have been a moral realist for as long as I can remember. I think the reason is roughly this: it seems to me that certain things, such as pain and suffering to take the clearest example, are bad. I don’t think I’m just making that up, and I don’t think that is just an arbitrary personal preference of mine. If I put my finger in a flame, I have a certain experience, and I can directly see something about it (about the experience) that is bad. Furthermore, if it is bad when I experience pain, it seems that it must also be bad when someone else experiences pain. Therefore, I should not inflict such pain on others, any more than they should inflict it on me. So there is at least one example of a rational moral principle.

Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2005, p. 250

Jeff McMahan

Pain that is equally intense may be equally bad even in the absence of self-consciousness. It is not necessary to have the thought “I am in pain” in order for pain to be bad. As people who have experienced the more intense forms of pain are aware, pain can blot out self-consciousness altogether. Intense pain can dominate consciousness completely, filling it and crowding out all self-conscious thoughts.

Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life, New York, 2002, p. 229

Galen Strawson

[I]t is true that ‘I seem to see a table’ does not entail ‘I see a table’; but ‘I seem to feel a pain’ does entail ‘I feel a pain’. So scepticism loses its force—cannot open up its characteristic gap—with regard to that which ultimately most concerns us, pleasure and pain.

Galen Strawson, Freedom and Belief, Oxford, 1986, p. 223, n. 29

R. M. Hare

Objection might be taken to the claim that there could be a ‘bare sensation’ of pain which was not disliked. What, it might be asked, would such an experience be like? Can we imagine such an experience? I think that I can not only imagine it, but have had it; but I shall return to this question later. Here I shall just make the obvious point that we cannot conclude, from the fact that something surpasses our imagination, that it cannot happen. I cannot myself imagine what the electric torture would be like; but that does not take away the possibility that it might be inflicted on me. It would be more relevant if it could be established that no sense could be given to the expression ‘experience which is like pain except for not being disliked.’ But that is precisely the question at issue, and this whole paper is an attempt to see what sense can be given to such an expression.

R. M. Hare, ‘Pain and Evil’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supp. vol. 38 (1964), p. 95

Paul Feyerabend

One night […] I dreamed that I had a rather pleasant sensation in my right leg. The sensation increased in intensity, and I began to wake up. It grew even more intense. I woke up more fully and discovered that it had been a severe pain all the time. The sensation itself told me that it had been a sensation of immense pain, which I had mistaken for a sensation of pleasure.

Paul Feyerabend, Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend, Chicago, 1995, p. 117

Stuart Rachels

Ethics is founded on evidence that can’t be shared. My experience of severe pain gives me reason to believe that nihilism is false. In other words, when I am in severe pain, that pain, as it’s presented to me, gives me evidence that it’s bad in some way. I can’t share this evidence with you; you can’t feel my pain. Even if you could peer inside my head and see it, you wouldn’t be presented with it in a way that gave you evidence of its badness. But you, of course, are in the same position regarding your pain: when you are in severe pain, that pain, as it’s presented to you, provides you with evidence that it’s bad in some way. So, each of us has evidence for his or her severe pain being bad in some way. In the case of infants and nonhuman animals, the evidence is there, but the creature is too unsophisticated to recognize it as such.

Stuart Rachels, Hedonic Value, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Syracuse, 1998, p. 35

Thomas Nagel

Consider how strange is the question posed by someone who wants a justification for altruism about such a basic matter as this. Suppose he and some other people have been admitted to a hospital with severe burns after being rescued from a fire. “I understand how my pain provides me with a reason to take an analgesic,” he says, “and I understand how my groaning neighbor’s pain gives him a reason to take an analgesic; but how does his pain give me any reason to want him to be given an analgesic? How can his pain give me or anyone else looking at it from outside a reason?

This question is crazy. As an expression of puzzlement, it has that characteristic philosophical craziness which indicates that something very fundamental has gone wrong. This shows up in the fact that the answer to the question is obvious, so obvious that to ask the question is obviously a philosophical act. The answer is that pain is awful. The pain of the man groaning in the next bed is just as awful as yours. That’s your reason to want him to have an analgesic.

Thomas Nagel, ‘The Limits of Objectivity’, in Sterling McMurrin (ed.), The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 1, Cambridge, 1980, pp. 109-110

Wayne Sumner

[T]here are quite commonplace instances of our not being averse to, or even relishing, pain. I can deliberately probe a loose tooth with my tongue and find the sharp pang which results quite delicious. In this case I have no difficulty identifying the feeling as painful; indeed, that seems to be part of its appeal.

Wayne Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, Oxford, 1996, p. 101

Thomas Nagel

When the objective self contemplates pain, it has to do so thought the perspective of the sufferer, and the sufferer’s reaction is very clear. Of course he wants to be rid of this pain unreflectively—not because he thinks it would be good to reduce the amount of pain in the world. But at the same time his awareness of how bad it is doesn’t essentially involve the thought of it as his. The desire to be rid of pain has only the pain as its object. This is shown by the fact that it doesn’t even require the idea of oneself in order to make sense: if I lacked or lost the conception of myself as distinct from other possible or actual persons, I could still apprehend the badness of pain, immediately. So when I consider it from an objective standpoint, the ego doesn’t get between the pain and the objective self. My objective attitude toward pain is rightly taken over from the immediate attitude of the subject, and naturally takes the form of an evaluation of the pain itself, rather than merely a judgment of what would be reasonable for its victim to want: “This experience ought not to go on, whoever is having it.” To regard pain as impersonally bad from the objective standpoint does not involve the illegitimate suppression of an essential reference to the identity of its victim. In its most primitive form, the fact that it is mine—the concept of myself—doesn’t come into my perception of the badness of my pain.

Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere, Oxford, 1986, p. 161

Ayn Rand

He thought of his days going by, of the buildings he could have been doing, should have been doing and, perhaps, never would be doing again. He watched the pain’s unsummoned appearance with a cold, detached curiosity; he said to himself: Well, here it is again. He waited to see how long it would last. It gave him a strange, hard pleasure to watch his fight against it, and he could forget that it has his own suffering; he could smile in contempt, not realizing that he smiled at his own agony.

Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, New York, 1943, pt. 2, chap. 1

John Locke

He that sees a fire, may, if he doubt whether it be anything more than a bare fancy, feel it too; and be convinced, by putting his hand in it. Which certainly could never be put into such exquisite pain by a bare idea or phantom, unless that the pain be a fancy too: which yet he cannot, when the burn is well, by raising the idea of it, bring upon himself again.

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690, bk. 4, chap. 11, sect. 7

Jeremy Bentham

Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure—
Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend.
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:
If pains must come, let them extend to few.

Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, London, 1789, chap. 4, fn. 1