Experimental Philosophy of Pain

Abstract

The standard view of pains among philosophers today is that their existence consists in being experienced. The typical line of support offered for this view is that it corresponds with the ordinary or commonsense conception of pain. Despite this, a growing body of evidence from experimental philosophers indicates that the ordinary understanding of pain stands in contrast to the standard view among philosophers. In this paper, we will survey this literature and add to it, detailing the results of seven new studies on the ordinary understanding of pain using both questionnaire and corpus analysis methods.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    See Reuter and Sytsma (ms) for further examples and an extended discussion, as well as Reuter (2017) for a critical challenge to the idea that the standard view can be squared with data from developmental studies.

  2. 2.

    See Reuter et al. (2014) for further examples and an extended discussion.

  3. 3.

    If this is correct, a further issue arises: Should we accept the deliverances of our intuitions with regard to the nature of pain? And to what extent should we treat these deliverances as being defeasible and open to revision in the light of theoretical considerations and/or empirical findings?

  4. 4.

    For a brief introduction to experimental philosophy see Sytsma and Machery (2013). For extended introductions see Alexander (2012) and Sytsma and Livengood (2015). For collections of articles see Knobe and Nichols (2008, 2013), as well as the volumes in the Advances in Experimental Philosophy series. For discussions of some recent disputes see Machery and O’Neil (2014) and Sytsma (2017). And for an extensive survey of the state of the art of experimental philosophy see Sytsma and Buckwalter (2016).

  5. 5.

    For a discussion of the difference between experiments, quasi-experiments, and descriptive studies see Sytsma and Livengood (2015, Chapter 5).

  6. 6.

    For a recent survey, see Sytsma (2014a). For a short introduction to work in experimental philosophy of mind, see Machery and Sytsma (2011). For a more extended review, see Sytsma (2010a) and Sytsma and Livengood (2015). For a collection of cutting-edge articles, see Sytsma (2014b), as well as the section on “Philosophy of Mind” in Sytsma and Buckwalter (2016).

  7. 7.

    These results have been replicated a number of times; see Sytsma and Machery (2012), Sytsma (2012) and Sytsma (2014c).

  8. 8.

    Participants were asked whether the twins felt one and the same pain or two different pains, and answered on a 7-point scale anchored at 1 with “clearly same pain,” at 4 with “not sure,” and at 7 with “clearly different pains.” The mean response was 3.29, which was significantly below the neutral response of 4.

  9. 9.

    Responses were collected through the Philosophical Personality website (http://philosophicalpersonality.com). Participants were counted as having more than minimal training in philosophy if they were philosophy majors, had completed a degree with a major in philosophy, or had taken graduate-level courses in philosophy. The participants were 71.6% women, with an average age of 35.0 years, and ranging in age from 16 to 86.

  10. 10.

    18 participants missed the comprehension check and were removed, although this had minimal effect on the results: including those participants, 67.5% (226/335) answered that the twins felt one and the same pain. Further, we saw no notable difference in responses based on the order in which they saw the probes: of those who got the comprehension check correct, 69.8% (90/129) of participants who got the shared pain probe first answered that the twins felt one and the same pain compared to 67.6% (127/188) of participants giving that answer when they got the painkiller probe first.

  11. 11.

    χ 2(1, N = 317) = 42.4479, p < 0.001, one-tailed.

  12. 12.

    35 participants missed the comprehension check and were removed from the analysis, although this had minimal effect on the results: including those participants, 82.1% (275/335) selected the (a) answer. Again, there was no notable difference in responses based on the order in which they saw the probes: of those who got the comprehension check correct, 84.3% (102/121) of participants who got the shared pain probe first gave the (a) answer compared to 83.2% (149/179) of participants giving that answer when they got the painkiller probe first.

  13. 13.

    χ 2(1, N = 300) = 134.67, p < 0.001, one-tailed.

  14. 14.

    The participants were 73.2% women, with an average age of 37.2 years, and ranging in age from 16 to 76.

  15. 15.

    16 participants missed the comprehension check and were removed from the analysis, although this had minimal effect on the results: including those participants, 84.6% (126/149) selected the (a) answer.

  16. 16.

    χ 2(1, N = 131) = 59.115, p < 0.001, one-tailed.

  17. 17.

    The participants were 65.2% women, with an average age of 33.7 years, and ranging in age from 16 to 100.

  18. 18.

    12 participants missed the comprehension check and were removed from the analysis, although this had minimal effect on the results: including those participants, 65.2% (116/178) selected the (a) answer.

  19. 19.

    χ 2(1, N = 166) = 15.6687, p < 0.001, one-tailed.

  20. 20.

    The participants were 73.6% women, with an average age of 41.9 years, and ranging in age from 16 to 85.

  21. 21.

    (1) t(109) = 5.9374, p < 0.001, one-tailed; (2) t(109) = 5.4726, p < 0.001, one-tailed; (3) t(109) = 2.4399, p = 0.008, one-tailed.

  22. 22.

    The participants were 66.0% women, with an average age of 43.8 years, and ranging in age from 16 to 88.

  23. 23.

    (1) t(102) = 2.1086, p = 0.019, one-tailed; (2) t(102) = 3.4327, p < 0.001, one-tailed; (3) t(102) = 1.5629, p = 0.061, one-tailed.

  24. 24.

    The participants were 35.6% women, with an average age of 29.2 years, and ranging in age from 18 to 74. All participants were reimbursed for their participation.

  25. 25.

    The percentage of “yes” responses was significantly above 50% in each case: (1) χ 2(1, N = 101) = 38.059, p < 0.001, one-tailed; (2) χ 2(1, N = 101) = 43.129, p < 0.001, one-tailed; (3) χ 2(1, N = 101) = 19.168, p < 0.001, one-tailed.

  26. 26.

    For an introduction to corpus analysis and a discussion of its merits for and applications in philosophical research, see Bluhm (2015).

  27. 27.

    Work on the commonsense conception of pain to date has largely focused on native English-speakers, but see Kim et al. (2016) for a cross-cultural study testing the views of South Koreans.

  28. 28.

    While we would have liked to use a larger number of attributes for low-intensity pains, only the four mentioned in the main text yielded a sufficiently high number of hits.

  29. 29.

    Please note that the plural form „Schmerzen“ (=pains) is much more frequently used in German compared to English.

  30. 30.

    I-form, χ 2(1, N = 1019) = 103.99, p < 0.001; General Form, χ 2(1, N = 904) = 12.14, p = 0.001.

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Sytsma, J., Reuter, K. Experimental Philosophy of Pain. J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. 34, 611–628 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40961-017-0121-y

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Keywords

  • Pain
  • Folk theory
  • Mental state view of pain
  • Bodily view of pain
  • Unfelt pain
  • Corpus analysis