Conceiving of Pain

Brendan O'Sullivan, Peter Hanks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In this article we aim to see how far one can get in defending the identity thesis without challenging the inference from conceivability to possibility. Our defence consists of a dilemma for the modal argument. Either "pain" is rigid or it is not. If it is not rigid, then a key premise of the modal argument can be rejected. If it is rigid, the most plausible semantic account treats "pain" as a natural-kind term that refers to its causal or historical origin, namely, C-fibre stimulation. It follows that any phenomenon that is not C-fibre stimulation is not pain, even if it is qualitatively similar to pain. This means there could be phenomena that feel like pain but are not pain since they are not C-fibre stimulation. These possible phenomena can be used to explain away the apparent conceivability of pain without C-fibre stimulation. On either horn of the dilemma, the identity theorist has ample resources to respond to Kripke's argument, even without wandering into the contentious territory of conceivability and possibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-376
Number of pages26
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008


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