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Is the folk concept of pain polyeidic?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Emma Borg, Richard Harrison, James David Stazicker, Tim Salomons

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-47
Number of pages19
JournalMind & Language
Issue number1
Early online date3 Feb 2019
Accepted/In press7 Oct 2018
E-pub ahead of print3 Feb 2019
PublishedFeb 2020


King's Authors


Philosophers often assume that folk hold pain to be a mental state – to be in pain is to have a certain kind of feeling – and they think this state exhibits the classic Cartesian characteristics of privacy, subjectivity, and incorrigibility. However folk also assign pains (non-brain-based) bodily locations: unlike most other mental states, pains are held to exist in arms, feet, etc. This has led some (e.g. Hill 2005) to talk of the ‘paradox of pain’, whereby the folk notion of pain is inherently conflicted. Recently, several authors have rejected the paradox view, arguing instead that folk hold a univocal, bodily view (i.e. pains are properties of various body parts, not of minds). This paper presents six objections to the bodily view of the folk concept of pain. We then outline a direction for future research – the ‘polyeidic approach’ – whereby the folk notion of pain is held to encompass various divergent (potentially conflicting) strands and we suggest that certain problems surrounding the treatment and communication of pain might be usefully be viewed through the lens of the polyeidic approach.

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