Philosophical Studies

, Volume 173, Issue 11, pp 2969–2992 | Cite as

Making sense of unpleasantness: evaluationism and shooting the messenger

  • Paul Boswell


Unpleasant sensations possess a unique ability to make certain aversive actions seem reasonable to us. But what is it about these experiences that give them that ability? According to some recent evaluationist accounts, it is their representational content: unpleasant sensations represent a certain event as bad for one. Unfortunately evaluationism seems unable to make sense of our aversive behavior to the sensations themselves, for it appears to entail that taking a painkiller is akin to shooting the messenger, and is every bit as unreasonable. In this paper I distinguish two versions of the shooting-the-messenger challenge: First, how do we account for the badness of unpleasant sensation? And second, how do we account for our access to that badness? I suggest plausible responses to the first question, but I also argue that the seriousness of the second has not been appreciated. I then propose a solution to the second: when we introspect our pains we also turn our emotional distress inwards, enabling them to represent our pains as bad.


Intentionalism Evaluationism Pain Shooting the messenger 



Versions of this paper were presented in Budapest and Ann Arbor, and it benefited from the comments and questions of audiences in both. I’d like to especially thank Peter Railton, Sarah Buss, Allan Gibbard, James Joyce, Rohan Sud, Daniel Drucker, and the members of the 2015 Michigan Philosophy Dissertation Working Group for all their comments and suggestions. I’d also like to thank an uncommonly helpful anonymous referee by whose criticisms and suggestions the paper was greatly improved.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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