Response to Tumulty on Pain and Imperatives

Journal of Philosophy 107 (10):554-557 (2010)
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Maura Tumulty has raised two objections to my imperative account of pain.1 First, she argues that there is a disanalogy between pains and other imperative sensations like itch, hunger, and thirst. Suppose (with Hall) one thinks that an itch says “Scratch here!”2 Scratch the itch, and it dutifully disappears. Not so with pain. The pain of a broken ankle has the content ‘Do not put weight on that ankle!’ Yet the coddled ankle still throbs: obeying the imperative does not extinguish it. Second, Tumulty argues that the imperative account cannot handle certain pains, particularly pains of the deep viscera. On my account, pains proscribe against taking action with the painful body part. Yet some pains are associated with body parts over which we have no control. Kidney stones cause intense pain, but I cannot (voluntarily) control my kidney. What action, then, could that pain possibly proscribe? Lacking such a story, it is hard to say (as I do) that pains are exhausted by their imperative content.



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Colin Klein
Australian National University

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