09 November 2004

Nagel and the objectivity of pain's badness

After several months of intermittent banging of my head against this point from Nagel, I still can't decide whether I think he's deeply right, or deeply wrong. Anyway, its worth drawing attention to because it is extremely important for how we understand impersonal (agent-neutral) reasons for alleviating pain and the source of the reasons each has to alleviate her own pains.
When the objective self contemplates pain, it has to do so through the perspective of the sufferer, and the sufferer's reaction is very clear. Of course he wants to be rid of this pain unreflectively -not because he thinks it would be good to reduce the amount of pain in the world. But at the same time his awareness of how bad it is doesn't essentially involve the thought of it as his. The desire to be rid of the pain has only the pain as its object. This is shown by the fact that it doesn't even require the idea of oneself in order to make sense: if I lacked or lost the conception of myself as distinct from other possible or actual persons, I could still apprehend the badness of pain immediately. So when I consider it from an objective standpoint, the ego doesn't get between the pain and the objective self. My objective attitude toward pain is rightly taken over from the immediate attitude of the subject, and naturally takes the form of an evaluation of the pain itself, rather than merely a judgment of what would be reasonable for its victim to want: "This experience ought not to go on, whoever is having it." To regard pain as impersonally bad from the objective standpoint does not involve the illegitimate suppression of an essential reference to the identity of its victim. In its most primitive form, the fact that it is mine -the concept of myself- doesn't come into my perception of the badness of my pain. View from Nowhere, p.161

No comments: