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Pains as reasons


Imperativism is the view that the phenomenal character of the affective component of pains, orgasms, and pleasant or unpleasant sensory experience depends on their imperative intentional content. In this paper I canvass an imperativist treatment of pains as reason-conferring states.

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  1. By the by: some might find it odd that Hamblin counts (5) as an imperative—an advice, in this case. Isn’t it clearly indicative? One of the main themes in Hamblin’s groundbreaking book is, in effect, that syntax is a fallible guide to mood; the idea being, roughly, that (5) and “Invest in nickel exploration!” differ only in irrelevant respects, as far as their imperativalness is concerned. Section 4.1 below sketches a semantics for imperatives according to which (5), in its intended reading, is decidedly imperative.

  2. More strictly, by the ordered pair consisting of a set of satisfaction worlds, and a ranking (see Klein and Martínez forthcoming). The simplified model to be sketched here is sufficient for my current purposes.

  3. On the other hand, tacit recognition of someone’s (or something’s) authority can be accommodated by the present model, as differences in the default weight assigned to imperatives from different sources.

  4. And p is the most distal effect they have the function of producing. In the main text I gloss over this and other necessary complications of the teleosemantic theory of imperatives.

  5. I should remind the reader that this short section assumes without argument that claim C2 in Sect. 2 is true. If it is not, the foregoing considerations can be read as explaining why, typically, when one is in pain there will be a justifying reason for body-directed behavior—even if that pain is not itself this reason. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for helping me articulate my views about C2.

  6. It should be noticed that, while it justifies pain-avoiding behavior, this evil-genius pain does not justify behavior directed towards avoiding the non-existent bodily damage—although it might well motivate it.

  7. It should be pointed out that this maneuver is, in general, problematic. Consider the following analogous principle:

    Amputation is defeasibly bad for its subject.

    It’s not difficult to describe situations in which an amputation turns out all right for the amputee. (How about this one: you suffer the amputation of your right ear. This is bad, but it makes the serial killer working in your neighbourhood, who happens to be a hardcore Van Gogh fan, spare you.) But, despite of that, here it seems to be quite justified to take steps to prevent the possibility of amputation in general—wearing protective gloves in the chainsaw factory, say. Defeasibility doesn’t seem to be disallowing this course of action here; it’s unclear why it should be disallowing analogous courses of action, aimed at preventing the possibility of pain in general—which, as I have argued, would be very unwise.


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Financial support for this work was provided by the DGI, Spanish Government, research project FFI2011-26853, and Consolider-Ingenio project CSD2009-00056. I would like to thank Colin Klein, David Bain, Matt Fulkerson, Jennifer Corns, an anonymous reviewer, and audiences in Austin, Barcelona, Glasgow and New York for many helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Manolo Martínez.

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Martínez, M. Pains as reasons. Philos Stud 172, 2261–2274 (2015).

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  • Pain
  • Reasons
  • Imperativism