History of European Ideas 46 (3):227-241 (2020)

Anna Corrias
Cambridge University
ABSTRACTHardly a few people manage to escape big fears without dying [of them]; not so with pains. This statement captures Cardano's understanding of the difference between mental and physical pain. As a physician with a lifelong history of anxiety and alienation, Cardano inquired ceaselessly into the nature of the delicate interaction between the two kinds of pain. It was his belief that the subtle nature of mental suffering makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify, name, and give a meaning to those powerful emotions which cause our inner turmoil. Unable to be ‘named’ and ‘signified’, mental pain eludes understanding and thereby deprives the mind of its identity as a locus of sense. In the experience of physical pain, conversely, the mind can easily decode the signs in the body, keeping its mastery over sense-perception, the imagination, and desire. For this reason, Cardano believed, many people afflicted by sorrow and grief find solace in physical pain, which in its purest form is even able to enhance our cognitive potential.
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DOI 10.1080/01916599.2019.1697941
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