Pain is not a Natural Kind

Edelstein Colloquium 2016-2017

7.6.2017, At the Edelstein Center 19:00

Jennifer Corns, University of Glasgow

Pain is not a natural kind

In this talk, I argue that neither pain nor any purported type of pain is a natural kind. Natural kinds are taken to be those kinds usefully referred to for explanation and prediction in scientific generalizations. Philosophers and scientists alike often appear to implicitly assume that pain is a natural kind in virtue of their explicit assumption that there is a pain mechanism, or pain system. Through attending to pain science, I first argue that each token pain is instead explained by the idiosyncratic convergence of multiple mechanisms. While one might initially suspect that the identified heterogeneity is negligible for the explanatory or predictive utility of at least some scientific generalizations, I further argue that this is not the case. The idiosyncratic mechanistically heterogeneous explanations of each token pain are such that generalizations about either pain as such or purported pain types are rendered inadequate for scientific purposes. In particular, they are inadequate for treatment. I close by noting implications of the non-natural kind thesis both for leading philosophical theories of pain and for clinical practice.