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23.06.2018 | Original Article Open Access

Pain as the Perception of Someone: An Analysis of the Interface Between Pain Medicine and Philosophy

Health Care Analysis
Emmanuel Bäckryd


Based largely on the so-called problem of “asymmetry in concept application”, philosopher Murat Aydede has argued for a non-perceptual view of pain. Aydede is of course not denying basic neurobiological facts about neurons, action potentials, and the like, but he nonetheless makes a strong philosophical case for pain not being the perception of something extramental. In the present paper, after having stated some of the presuppositions I hold as a physician and pain researcher, and after having shortly described Aydede’s critique of perceptual theories of pain, I make a constructive proposal centred around the concept of pain as the perception of some-one, not some-thing. In doing so, I propose that there often is a problematic duality at work when we think about pain, namely the mental/extramental duality. This pre-reflective mindset creates difficulties when reflecting over pain. Instead, I propose the body/world duality as being more helpful. Two neologisms, cosmoception and egoception, are presented as an alternative to the twin concepts of exteroception and interoception. It is argued that the new concepts have the advantage of not pushing our thought into a mental/extra-mental dichotomy. Hence, when in pain (which is an instance of egoception), I get epistemic access to the body that is I, to how I fare in this world. From that perspective, pain is not the perception of something, but of someone–namely, the self. In the final part of the paper, this proposal is discussed in dialogue with a paper from phenomenological thinker Jennifer Bullington.

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