Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pain isn't intrinsically bad

  1. If many of the worst kinds of pains are good, then probably pain isn't intrinsically bad.
  2. Many of the worst kinds of pains are good.
  3. So, probably, pain isn't intrinsically bad.
The argument for (2) is based on two different thoughts. The first is a remark that Paul Draper made which was something like that the worst pains we suffer are psychological pains. The second is my thought that many of the worst of the psychological pains are good. For instance, it is good to be pained at the loss of those we love and it is good to feel the pain of guilt for wrongs done (in both cases, it would be terrible not to be pained!).


Heath White said...

If we take “intrinsically” to mean “essentially” then there is a very quick argument that a given pain cannot be both good and intrinsically bad. Surely nobody is making that mistake. So maybe they mean that although the painfulness of pain is bad, it can be good in some other respect, e.g. as an expression or evidence of love. That seems compatible with the painfulness of pain being intrinsically or essentially bad.

It would be more interesting if one argued that some things which are intrinsically good are also intrinsically painful. Is that the idea?

SMatthewStolte said...

By “x is intrinsically bad,” I take it you mean something like,

(i) “x would be bad in any given context”,
rather than,
(ii) “x would be bad when considered apart from its context but might be good when considered as a part of some larger, appropriate context.”

By (ii), the pain of losing a loved one is only good in the context of having lost a loved one. Maybe it is analogous to a proposition expressing a bad state of affairs. The proposition, “Susy has died” is something we ought to assent to just in case Susy has died, and so in that case would be a ‘good’ proposition. But it wouldn’t be a good proposition apart from that context.

Another thought:
Is despair a worse psychological pain than grief? It’s hard for me to know how to rank these, except by recognizing that despair is always bad and grief is (or can be) good. But if that’s how I’m going to rank psychological pains, then I will be stacking the deck against your proposal: the worst psychological pains must be bad (I would say), because bad pains are one and all worse than good pains.
The response to that proposal might be to rank pains based on something like the intensity with which something is felt. I think I can make sense of this when it comes to physical pains. Certain kinds of exercise produce pains that should be sought and yet clearly have a greater degree of intensity than other pains that would be bad. But I feel less comfortable ranking psychological pains in this way.

Sleety Dribble said...

What if we consider not pain, but suffering? Is suffering intrinsically bad?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

While none of us like pain, either psychological or physical, pain is necessary to our well being. I remember seeing a TV show featuring a Christian doctor working with people suffering from leprosy in India. Because these people could not feel pain, they have worn their limbs down to stumps. The doctor wished that he could give his patients the gift of pain.

My horse, Storm, had developed an atypical ringbone in his pastern joint. He was a very high-powered animal. The problem was such that there was not much to be done except surgery to fuse the joint. The problem with an animal that high-powered was that he would have to be kept drugged out of his gourd for 10 straight months or he was going to destroy the joint. I inquired about firing the nerves in the leg to get rid of the pain. I was told that this was dangerous to me, because Storm would no longer feel his foot. That if he was to run with me on board, he could fall on me because he cannot feel what his foot is doing. One particular boarder in my barn who was adamant that I not fire Storm's nerves was a former police officer who had a severed nerve from a bullet wound to his arm. He has full use of the arm, but no feeling in his hand. He told me that the danger of not feeling his hand was when he used power tools and showed me a finger he had sliced with a saw because he could not feel pain.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I recall at a time I wished that I could fearlessly not feel any pain. Now looking back at the purpose for pain, it is good thing that I can feel it. There is a rare condition of congenital analgesia where a child is born with pretty much normal physical touch except for the ability to feel pain. While at first the inability to feel pain may sound great, it is in fact a nightmare for the child, the parents and the teachers. Toddlers basically learn not to do certain things because they hurt, such as touching a burner on the stove. Also pain stops them from injuring themselves further because it hurts. The difficulty becomes in teaching these kids when to know that they are damaging themselves. One has to think of a control system where a key feedback mechanism is missing. Here are two links to this condition:

Alexander R Pruss said...


I think the same cases of psychological pain are also cases of suffering, and it seems to be good that one suffer in those cases.


I fully agree. But it could be that pain is intrinsically bad and yet instrumentally useful.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


And according to Millie Jackson and John Mellencamp there are some things that "hurt so good". :-)

Dagmara Lizlovs said...


One of my co-workers is in the Marines. To him pain is intrinsically good because "Pain is weakness leaving the body." :-)

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I just came across this article on pain:

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I just came across this article on pain: