19 January 2007

Dissertation coda

A friend liked this bit of my dissertation. So I'm sharing it with you. It's the very last section of the whole thing. It says what I've done and why I think my view isn't crazy.



I admit that many of my conclusions in this dissertation are radical and counterintuitive. I have claimed, inter alia, that pains are not what we think, that all existing accounts of their intrinsic badness are wrong, that they have two distinct intrinsic values, that a privation theory of their intrinsic badness is correct, that this privation is found in their phenomenology, and that intrinsic value can have properties no one has thought to combine. Radical and counterintuitive are usually okay in small doses, but in this dissertation the dosage may seem lethal.

I suspect that much of what is worrisome here is due to the shadow of the kernel view. All of these conclusions flow from the rejection of the kernel view. If pain kernels [the raw sensation of pain] are not what we care about from the normative standpoint, then we can take a much more capacious view of what pains are and what we are referring to when we say that a pain ‘hurts’. That opens the door to progress and the conclusions of this dissertation.

Several years ago, in the middle of a judo match, I broke my collarbone. As is often the case with severe trauma, the immediate pain was surprisingly mild. In many parts of this dissertation I have been painting a picture of what I felt for just a few moments when I later attempted to get out of the car in the hospital parking lot. It’s true that my memories may be tainted by theory; and it has been several years since the accident. But it was not me whose body twisted and crumpled or me who shrieked.

As philosophers we must follow our arguments where they take us. But we must also be conscious of when they’ve taken us over a cliff. I, of course, believe my arguments. But it is my reflections on countless stubbed toes, headaches, and memories of pains past, as well as my research into pain science and the depictions of pain in literature, which convince me that we are still on the right side of the precipice.

Finally, even if some of my arguments have taken us astray, I hope that this dissertation’s approach has been suggestive. Working on pain, and just pain, can, I think, keep us close to the foundations of normative theory and illuminate many of their joints and fissures. Pain is both a window into and a microcosm of much of value theory. After all, if anything is intrinsically bad, pain is.