By Manolo Martinez
In my last post I was assuming familiarity with something not many people is familiar with. I apologise. Let me say a quick thing about the imperative content strategy to defend representationalism about pain.
Before that, representationalism: this is the idea that the phenomenal character of experiences (what it is like to undergo them, in a popular turn of phrase) supervenes on (or is identical to, depending on the flavour of representationalism) its representational content. So, for example, an experience as of red instantiates phenomenal reddishness -the characteristic what’s-it-likeness of seeing red stuff- in virtue of having a content along the lines of “There is a red patch there”. This is an elegant way of combining realism about qualia and naturalism and, although I’m not sure I would marry the theory for good, I sure like it a lot.
One problem with representationalism is that it seems to be ill-suited to accounting for affective phenomenology, such as that of pains, pleasures or the phenomenal component of emotions such as fear or hope. For example, it looks as if representationalism goes hand in hand with the acceptance of illusory experiences (those with non-veridical content). But pains cannot be illusory: phantom-limb pain, it seems, is as genuine as real-limb pain. Also, it doesn’t seem as if pains or orgasms have representational content at all: experiences as of red seem to be about redness, but what’s an orgasm or a headache about?
Some have proposed -that I know of, Colin Klein’s ‘An Imperative Theory of Pain’ and my own ‘Imperative Content and the Painfulness of Pain’– that affective phenomenology should be accounted for in terms of imperative content. For example, in my version of the idea, the content of pain experiences is something like “Don’t have that bodily disturbance!” or, anyhow, an imperative with the satisfaction conditions that I don’t have that bodily disturbance anymore -where the bodily disturbance in question is, e. g., a cut or a burn. Note that these cuts or burns need not exist -witness phantom-limb pains.
Now: It’s no wonder that we cannot have illusory pains: the affective phenomenology of pain is neither true nor false. Also, it’s no wonder that the painfulness of pain does not look representational at all: this was assumed to mean that it doesn’t seem to have indicative representational content (which indeed it doesn’t), but our intuitions about painful phenomenology are compatible with (and indeed congenial with) the idea that it has imperative representational content, that painfulness compels us to move away from the disturbance in question, for it to be no more.
This kind of prposal is the one Tye criticises in the paper I discuss in my earlier post.