Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pleasure and pain

In experiencing a pleasure (or pain, but let's start with the nice side), one is aware. But what is one aware of in the pleasure? We could say that one is aware of the pleasure. However, that seems mistaken. For there is indeed such a thing as being aware of a pleasure--a second order perception--and that second order awareness need not be pleasant at all. One might with horror realize that one is taking pleasure in the sufferings of another, for instance. So an awareness of a pleasure need not be pleasant. But a pleasure is, of course, always pleasant. This suggests that a pleasure is more than the awareness of a pleasure. Now maybe it is a certain kind of such awareness, say a particularly vivid one. But I don't think this is going to work.

Let's try a different tack. Pleasure isn't some kind of unitary mental ingredient. Rather, there are different kinds of pleasure, and there is no single common feel between them. There is the pleasure of solving a difficult mathematical problem and the pleasure of eating a chocolate cake. It would be really odd if one had these two feelings reversed! Moreover, one takes pleasure in something, such as an activity.[note 1] It is quite possible to take pleasure in something unreal, for instance being glad that someone has done one a good turn, when in fact the person has sneakily betrayed one.

So in pleasure we are taking pleasure in something distinct from the pleasure itself, and pleasure comes in different kinds corresponding to the kinds of things we take pleasure in. What, then, are we aware of in having a pleasure? It is the thing we take pleasure in. But to be aware of something is to be aware of it as a something. So in having a pleasure, we are aware of some x as an F. Often, x is an activity. But what is F? If we say "something pleasant", we have gone in a circle in trying to understand pleasure. Rather, I suggest, we are aware of an x as a particular kind of good. When we take pleasure in camping we are aware of the camping as a particular kind of good. Is this the whole story? Maybe not--maybe we need to say something about the sort of awareness this is, the kind of awareness that is involved in perception rather than in figuring out that something has some property. But we've got, I think, at least a part of a story.

Nor is this story very new. It is not very far from Aristotle's account of pleasure as completing a good in the Nicomachean Ethics, and is the view of pleasure that we get by analogy to Socrates' account of fear in the Protagoras.

This story has several merits:

  1. The account is uniform between spiritual or psychological pleasures and physical pleasures. It is clear that spiritual or psychological pleasures are the taking of pleasure in something--that they have intentionality. This is less clear for physical pleasures. But it seems implausible that some pleasures would be intentional mental states and some would be non-intentional mental states.
  2. The account neatly explains what an "empty pleasure" is. An empty pleasure is one divorced from the good being taken pleasure in. I could inject myself with chemicals, perhaps, that will make me feel the satisfaction of having done a job well, but if I do so when I've botched the job, my pleasure will be empty.
  3. The account explains why it is that taking pleasure in bad things (e.g., bad things happening to others) is particularly bad. It is particularly bad because it is self-deceptive: one is having oneself perceive something bad as good. And this kind of deception makes one deficient at love, since love requires getting right what is good and what is bad for others.
  4. The account explains why it is that many instances of pleasure are good. They are good because they are veridical perceptual states.

There is an analogous story about pains: pains are perceptions of something as bad in a particular way. However, some of the advantages of the account of pleasure are harder to see in the case of pain. One consequence of this account of pain is, after all, that veridical pain--i.e., pain in which we see something as bad in a particular way which is indeed bad in that particular way and where we are rightly connected to that bad state of affairs--is intrinsically good. And it might strike us as odd to suppose that some pains are intrinsically good. But observe that this is the right thing to say about many spiritual pains. As Johannes de Silentio says in the Sickness unto Death, the worse sickness is not to have that sickness. Many spiritual pains are such that it would be a defect not to have them. To fail to feel guilt for a bad action and to fail to grieve for a friend's suffering is bad: conversely, to feel guilt when one has done ill and to grieve rightly are intrinsically good. The uniformity between spiritual and physical pains seems a theoretical merit. And for a theist the fact that the question why God allows there to be pain is not intrinsically a problem--that it is good that God allows there to be pain--is definitely an advantage of the account.

But we still need to explain why it seems to be a good thing to relieve even veridical physical pains (pains that correctly represent an injury as bad), even though these pains according to the theory are intrinsically good. At least things can be said on this point. First, even if something is intrinsically good, it can be instrumentally bad. Pains often distract us, drawing our attention to facts that we do not need our attention drawn to. If we have a gaping wound, and have seen a doctor, we don't need further reminder of the wound, though the reminder is veridical. Second, I wonder whether our physical pains are often veridical even in cases where a genuine injury is causing the pain. They might be excessive, disproportionate vis-a-vis the injury, especially in light of our eternal destiny. I suspect that we tend to underappreciate moral bads and overappreciate physical bads, so we tend not to suffer enough spiritually and to suffer too much physically (on the other hand, Christ on the Cross had both a full appreciation of moral bads, and our excessive, fallen pain perceptions, so he suffered doubly). This seems to be a part of the Fall.

I also suspect we tend not to take enough pleasure in things; if we saw God manifested in everything around us, every pleasure would be heightened. But while excess renders a pain non-veridical, shortfall does not automatically render a pleasure non-veridical. This disanalogy is due to the fact that even if we do not see all the good in a state of affairs, the good that we see in it is there, and as far as the pleasure goes, it is veridical--though more pleasure would also be veridical.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alex,

Let's focus on what you say about physical pain. What you say about psychological/spiritual pain I find very congenial. You claim that every physical pain exhibits intentionality: "pains are perceptions of something bad in a particular way." Thus pains can be either veridical or nonveridical. But even if I grant you the intentionality of pain, I think it is false that every pain is the perception of something bad. When I work out with weights or exercise generally I often feel pain, but these pains are not perceptions of something bad. There is nothing bad about moderate lactic acid build-up in the calve muscles, nor is there anything bad about the moderate oxygen debt induced by normal vigorous exercise, even though that oxygen debt can be painful. Even the agonies of the runner at the finish line are not perceptions of anything bad. If there is anything bad here it is the pain itself.

I also have trouble with the notion that every physical pain exhibits intentionality. The perception of an intense unpleasant noise is intentional. But it is not clear that the pain that accompanies the perception of the noise is intentional. That pain is not of or about anything, though it does have a cause.

Bill Vallicella

Alexander R Pruss said...

Bill,

I would say that your examples are examples of non-veridical physical pain. The pain says that something has gone wrong. But nothing has gone wrong.

The pain of the noise represents the excessiveness of the noise.

Anonymous said...

Alex,

It's a difficult topic. I can't see how physical pains can be either veridical or nonveridical. A pain can be caused or uncaused, and claims about that the cause of a pain is can be either true or false. More in my latest post
http://maverickphilosopher.powerblogs.com/posts/1200938078.shtml

Bill V

Alexander R Pruss said...

Phantom limb pain seems an uncontroversial case of a non-veridical pain, no?

peter said...

Alex,
You distinguish between
(a) pains simpliciter, “pains are perceptions of something as bad in a particular way.”
Vs.
(b) veridical pain—“i.e., pain in which we see something as bad in a particular way which is indeed bad in that particular way and where we are rightly connected to that bad state of affairs--is intrinsically good.”
So pain, simpliciter, is an intentional state involving some kind of a “perception” or “seeing” something (what exactly?) as bad (in what sense, moral, psychological, physical?). Pain, then, is a *seeing as* relation between a subject, an entity of some kind, a property of badness, and possibly a time interval.
Veridical pain is (i) a *seeing as* relation (same as pain above); plus (ii) a clause stating that the something is indeed bad; plus (iii) the right (presumably) causal connection to the fact that something is bad.
A non-veridical pain is presumably one where (i) holds but either (ii) or (iii) or both fail.
There is one fact about pain, however, that in my opinion this account will have trouble accommodating:
Take a particularly nasty toothache John experiences. Could John be wrong about having a particularly nasty toothache?
Now, intuitively it is difficult to see how John could be wrong about experiencing a nasty toothache. Could your account accommodate this intuition? One of the properties of intentional attitudes is that it makes sense to say that they are wrong (in a suitable sense of ‘wrong’): e.g., beliefs could be false; hopes could be in vain or inappropriate; desires could be immoral, etc,. What about John’s toothache? Could it be false? What would that mean? Well it may not be veridical pain, in your sense (either (ii) or (iii) or both fail). But that does not capture the intuitive sense in which we said that John could not be wrong about his sensation of the toothache he is having. This account would be right about a belief or an explanation John might have about the causes of his toothache. His belief or explanation could be false and for the reasons clauses (ii) and (iii) state. But, this is quite distinct from the sense in which we intuitively maintain that John simply cannot be wrong about the fact that he experiences a particularly nasty toothache. Could his sensation of a toothache be inappropriate or immoral? Neither of these options appear to be relevant here.
Here is another way of looking at this.
Clearly, a nasty toothache is something bad (in what sense is not a simple thing to characterize). But, what exactly is the some*thing* that John sees as bad here? We can quantify out and say there exist something such that John sees as bad. Well, perhaps it is just the toothache itself; i.e., the pain in the vicinity of his mouth, that is bad. But, then, the account is circular, for the some*thing* experienced is nothing but the feeling of the pain: i.e., the toothache. And what is the *seeing as*, the intentional element here? Is it just the sensation of a toothache accompanied with the natural reaction of undesirability (I do not use the term ‘undesirable’ in a normative sense; it is a dispositional or tendency term)?
But, now, where is the intentional element here? I suspect that the intentional element here is this: when one has a toothache, the sensation of the pain itself, then one naturally concludes from this sensation that
(a) There is something that causes this sensation;
(b) The cause of the sensation is something bad with a tooth, gum or something around there;
(c) I better go to the dentist so as to change the causal conditions that cause the sensation of pain.
Now, these conclusions are indeed intentional and some or all of them could be wrong. But they all emerge from the original sensation of pain, the toothache. And the question was: Is this toothache intentional? That question is still open.
peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

"Could John be wrong about having a particularly nasty toothache?" -- This question seems to be exactly parallel to: "Could you John be wrong about apparently perceiving a red cube?" On standard views, not. He could be wrong about the red cube being there, but not about the fact that he's apparently perceiving it. The nasty toothache is an apparent perception of a bad state in the mouth. John could be wrong that there is something wrong in his mouth (maybe the source of the pain is in the brain), but he can't be wrong about having that apparent perception.

I am not sure the standard views are right--I think one might sometimes misidentify qualia--but in any case, the same issues will come up with respect to apparent visual perception as pain on my view.

peter said...

Alex,

The case of the "apparent perception" of red cube or "bad state" in the mouth is ambiguous between (i) a perception that is merely apparent: i.e., not veridical, but nonetheless object oriented and therefore intentional; and (ii) the sensation or sense-data (in the old language) that is not-intentional.
Pain is the later; or at least so I claim. And the issue was whether the later is intentional. I of course grant that qualia may be intimately linked to certain intentional states (such as belief, explanati0on etc).
peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't believe in any non-intentional sense-data in an apparent perception of red cube. Any data we sense is conceptually articulated. Otherwise, it can't serve as evidence of anything. (That's Sellars' argument.)

peter said...

Re: Seller's Argument,

I do not see how it follows from the fact that a given event is a non-intentional sensation, sense data, or whatever of pain or a red cube or whatever that such an event cannot serve as evidence as long as the subject knows that such and such a sensation, sense data or whatever occurred.
Surely, human body temperature above a certain level (what is it 96 degrees?) is evidence that the body is fighting some kind of infection. But having such a temparature is clearly non-intentional.
peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

Something can only be evidence if it is conceptual in nature--only from a proposition can we derive further propositions. In the relevant sense, it is not the temperature that is the evidence, but the proposition that there is a certain temperature.

Likewise, if pain is non-intentional, it is the second-order perception of having pain that is evidence.

I am puzzled how one can be aware of something without its being brought under a concept--without being aware of it as something.

Maybe you can say that one is aware of a pain as a pain. But I don't really understand what a pain is if it's not a perception of a bad. And then, I think, it is not the pain but the awareness of the pain that ends up being bad.

peter said...

Alex,
1)"In the relevant sense, it is not the temperature that is the evidence, but the proposition that there is a certain temperature."

Of course; and similarly, the proposition "I have a toothache" is evidence. But this does not make either the temperature or the toothache intentional.

2)"Likewise, if pain is non-intentional, it is the second-order perception of having pain that is evidence."

I agree. That was my point.

3)"I am puzzled how one can be aware of something without its being brought under a concept--without being aware of it as something."

But one is aware of it as something; as being under a concept. The concept in this case is *a toothache* or alternatively *a pain in my mouth* etc. The question was whether the toothache itself, that pain in my mouth, is intentional. One can put it in the following way:
Does the individuation (if you will) of the pain itself requires an intentional component like, for instance, the individuation of an attitude such as belief requires for its individuation a truth-value bearing entity such as a sentence, proposition, statement or whatever. Bill and I resisted this thought, although I never denied (nor would Bill, I think) that pains can be described (conceptualized) in many ways and so can be "brought under a concept" (how else could we talk about them?). But that is quite a different matter from maintaining that the individuation of pains et all requires propositional content. And it is the latter that has been, so far as I understood, your official position.

4)"But I don't really understand what a pain is if it's not a perception of a bad. And then, I think, it is not the pain but the awareness of the pain that ends up being bad."

Why not? It is a certain sensation that typically drives one "crazy", just like an itch is a sensation that prompts one to scratch. The pain or itch causes us to react in a certain way (most of it is not intentional, but some of it can be, e.g., I ask someone to scratch my back), while the "perception of a bad" with regards to a pain or an itch is a second-order intentional state that causes us to react in a more complicated ways.
I do not get how it follows from this account that it is the "awareness of the pain" that ends up being bad. The awareness of the pain may contain as its propositional content "this toothache is really a bad one"; But that, of course, does not make the awareness itself bad, just like my belief that this table is blue does not make my belief blue.
peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

But once you allow for the second-order perception stuff, then it seems that an ordinary first-order pain which doesn't have a second-order perception of it is a state we can have without any awareness. For we're not aware of the pain without the second order state. But it is absurd that one can have a pain without any awareness.

I also don't really see much motivation for dividing up conscious states into two categories, the intentional and non-intentional. As far as I can see, the main motivation is that for some states it's hard to say what the intentional object is. But that's pretty normal. You see an object having a weird shape that you can't describe. Your visual perception is intentional. But you can't say what the intentional object is.

peter said...

Alex,

1)"But once you allow for the second-order perception stuff, then it seems that an ordinary first-order pain which doesn't have a second-order perception of it is a state we can have without any awareness. For we're not aware of the pain without the second order state. But it is absurd that one can have a pain without any awareness."

OK. I expected that you are liable to make this move.
You are assuming here that the "second-order perception stuff" is what endows the non-intentional sensation its conscious status. But we need not assume that at all. Being conscious of a toothache does not require any second-order attitudes at all; although, it usually is accompanied by some such second-order intentional states. What non-intentional sensations require is that we should be conscious of them, but such a notion of consciousness need not itself be intentional.
Thus, this position of sensations does not require that "we're not aware of the pain without the second order state." It only requires that we are always conscious of the first-order states. But that, I maintain, does not require intentionality either as part of the individuation of the state itself nor does it require any second-order intentional states, although the later frequently accompany the former.

2)"I also don't really see much motivation for dividing up conscious states into two categories, the intentional and non-intentional."

Well, one such motivation is to capture the intuition that while it makes sense to say about any intentional state that the subject is wrong (in a suitable sense of wrong), it makes no sense to say that one feels a severe toothache, for instance, but they are wrong because there really is no toothache.

3)"As far as I can see, the main motivation is that for some states it's hard to say what the intentional object is. But that's pretty normal. You see an object having a weird shape that you can't describe. Your visual perception is intentional. But you can't say what the intentional object is."

The motivation is not that it is hard to say what the intentional object is. The motivation is the one I have noted in (2) above.
Regarding your example about seeing an object with a weird shape which is difficult to describe. I certainly agree that this will be an intentional state and its content is difficult to specify. But since seeing is an intentional state and therefore is object oriented and has a content, the difficulty you point out is relevant to cases within the class of intentional states. The problem in these cases is precisely that while the state is intentional and thus has a content, it is difficult to specify what exactly is their content.

peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

Peter,

But I can certainly say that one cannot mistaken in thinking one has a toothache. But the toothache itself can be mistaken.

This is just what one says about sensory perception. I cannot be mistaken in thinking I am having an apparent perception of a red cube. But my apparent perception of a red cube can be mistaken.

peter said...

Alex,
1)"But I can certainly say that one cannot mistaken in thinking one has a toothache. But the toothache itself can be mistaken."

What does it mean to say that the toothache "can be mistaken"? Are you saying that the following two propositions can be both true:
(a) I feel a toothache.
(b) I do not have a toothache.
I simply do not understand what would (b) mean when (a) is the case? Clearly, (b) cannot mean: I do not have a sensation of a toothache, since that would be a direct denial of (a). So what could it mean?
Perhaps, it could mean that the cause of the sensation of pain I identify as a *toothache* is not originating with a tooth; perhaps, it is an ear infection that found its way down to the vicinity of my mouth. Still, I do have the sensation of a pain that feels like a toothache in the vicinity of my mouth; i may be wrong about the cause, but not about the presence of the sensation.

2) I have been thinking about the first sentence in the above quotation. I must admit that it is a tricky case. Could the following occur:
(c) I think/believe that I have a toothache.
(d) It is false that I have a toothache.
I maintained throughout this discussions with you that one of the distinguishing characteristics of propositional attitudes, by contrast to qualia, is that while it makes sense to say that the former can be wrong, it makes no sense to say that the later are wrong. But cases such as (c) above appear not to conform to this mold. I am not sure about this, so I need to think this through a bit more.

So were do we stand? Well, i am convinced that your conception of qualia is wrong. You have not offered any arguments that convinced me otherwise. On the other hand, I may be wrong about limping together all propositional attitudes into one mold. Specifically, I may be wrong (I am not sure yet) about my conception of propositional attitudes about qualia.

The second paragraph of your post contains nothing new, so addressing it would be like de-ja-vu all over again. I think you agree.
peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

On my view, a toothache is a state that informs me about something bad happening to my tooth. If there is nothing wrong in my tooth, e.g., because the pain is induced by electrodes in my brain, the toothache is mistaken. We agree on this kind of possibility, but we disagree on how to understand it. You understand it in terms of a mistaken inference about the cause. I understand it as a perceptual error (just as when I apparently see something because there are electrodes implanted in my brain that make me apparently see it).

I am also willing to grant for the sake of discussion that one can't be wrong about having a toothache. (In persona propria, I have some qualms about this, because we can incorrectly conceptualize our experiences, perhaps even confusing pains and pleasures, but I thinkt here is something right about the claim.)

peter said...

Alex,
Your account of our differences is accurate. We both agree about the kind of possibility you mention; we just explain it differently. And I do agree with you that there are circumstances when “we can incorrectly conceptualize our experiences” including perhaps cases of “confusing pains and pleasures”. On my account, the miss-conceptualization occurs not at the level of the sensation itself but at the stage of the inferences we draw from the sensation.
However, perhaps you are alluding here to a deeper issue. There may be indeterminate cases independently of how one conceptualizes a given sensation or qualia (i.e., independently of the kind of inferences one makes, on my account). If that is the case, then the demarcation between types of sensations, say pleasure vs. pain, might have gray or vague corridors or boundaries. This may really be interesting because then it would follow that we can identify a variety of vagueness-paradoxes about qualia, even on a non-intentionalist account such as mine. I am not sure yet how to think about this possibility. Perhaps you might have something to say about this.
My central problem with you account, however, is this. You say “a toothache is a state that informs me about…”. Let us suppose that is right, in some sense. But, now, you must specify the conditions a state must satisfy in order to be a proper value of “x is a toothache”. I claim that a necessary condition for a suitable value of ‘x’ is a conscious state the existence of which we cannot doubt. Only after we recognize this fact can we inquire about what kind of information the existence of this state conveys and how. You, on the other hand, do not require such a necessary condition. OK. But then, what conditions a state must satisfy in order to be proper value of ‘x’ in ‘…x is a toothache’?
peter

Alexander R Pruss said...

Well, I also think a necessary condition for having a toothache is having a conscious state, and, modulo issues of identification, a conscious state we cannot be wrong about having. Perhaps I can't give you a full sufficient condition for being a toothache, but you can't either, I bet.

However, I have at least some hope of giving a story. I might say things like: "A toothache is a direct perception as of its being the case that one ought to remedy something physically wrong with a tooth." I don't know if this precise account is right, but I can at least try. But someone who takes toothaches to be non-intentional cannot, I think, give any informative story about what toothaches are, except in terms of the not-further-analyzable term "pain".

peter said...

Alex,
Two points:
1) “A toothache is a direct perception as of its being the case that one ought to remedy something physically wrong with a tooth."
Leaving aside necessary and sufficient conditions for a moment, let us focus on this story. I am sure you are aware that one can come to the conclusion that there is “something physically wrong with a tooth” without the sensation of pain. For instance, it certainly could happen that one concludes that something is wrong with the tooth on the basis of an X-ray without the benefit of a toothache. What does that show? Well, for one thing it shows that the story is not a sufficient condition. But it shows something else too. It shows that there is an *it*, some event or other, that induces the conclusion that “something is physically wrong with the tooth.” In one case the *it*, the inducing event, is the X-ray (well, the interpretation of a certain image with the right causal properties); in the other the inducing event (the *it*) is the sensation of a toothache. A person who never heard about dentists (say a very young child or some backward person), dental hygiene, and so forth may experience the *it*, the toothache, yet it may never occur to them that “one ought to remedy something physically wrong with a tooth” since the later depends on one’s background knowledge. On my view, the sensation of pain typical of a toothache is independent from our background knowledge. Since “conceptualization” depends upon background knowledge, your view would imply that people with radically different background knowledge will have a radically different toothache: i.e., ”a direct perception as of its being the case that one ought to remedy something physically wrong with a tooth." And I think one of the hallmarks of pains such as toothaches is that they are relatively insulated from differences in conceptualization (or background knowledge); for better or worse, we all have them in more or less the same way.

2)” But someone who takes toothaches to be non-intentional cannot, I think, give any informative story about what toothaches are, except in terms of the not-further-analyzable term "pain".”
True! But how damaging is the fact that a non-intentionalist cannot give an informative story except to plead as follows: I cannot tell you what a toothache is, for you have to experience it in order to know; but I can tell you that *it* is a certain kind of painful sensation you feel in the vicinity of your mouth typically when something is wrong with a tooth. The same holds for the many other sensations such as colors, sounds, etc. Can you tell a color blind person an informative story about what is the experience of seeing the color red (assuming the person cannot see red)? Or a deaf person what it is like to hear the sound of a locomotive passing by? It won’t do to tell them: well, red just is (is identical to) “the direct perception as of its being the case that” there ought to be a red object in one’s visual field…etc. For, of course, that does not tell the blind person what is the experience of red; it simply tells them about the typical causal conditions under which they will see red; but, the problem is that a blind person cannot be in those typical causal conditions.
So, the fact that a non-intentionalist about pain cannot tell an analogous story to yours may be a good thing, for pains may indeed be “not-further-analyzable” because they are, in some sense, primitive. (analysis in this case is to be distinguished from giving a causal story, which of course, an informed non-intentionalist can do just as well as anyone).
peter