International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Journal | Volume


The experience of pain

Volume 32 (1)

edited byLuca Vanzago


Reflection on the complex phenomenon called pain goes back to the beginnings of humanity and has certainly been alive since the inception of philosophical thought. But this theme is now gaining new attention from scholars – not only from philosophers, but perhaps especially from cognitive scientists, biologists, psychologists and physicians, who are usually less directly concerned with ‘subjective’ or ‘qualitative’ issues. To be sure, epistemological reflection on medicine has long been addressing the problem of how to understand pain, and indeed this renewed interest in this universal but certainly unpleasant aspect of human existence may well be motivated to a large extent by the growing concern of doctors for the fact that suffering is turning from being an inevitable fallout of the disease to being an autonomous pathology, especially in connection with the aging of the population. The International Association for the Study of Pain, which publishes the leading international journal Pain, was founded in 1973 and now has more than 7,000 members from 133 nations, 90 national offices, and 20 special interest groups dedicated to as many topics related to general research on pain. It is clear that the question of understanding pain reopens a chapter in the more general debate on what experience is, and in particular on whether consciousness plays a role in it or not. But the communication of pain experience, which is not necessarily linguistic, is another aspect that should be considered. Many questionnaires for the assessment of personal pain experience involve an evaluation of facial expressions or gestural behaviour, for instance when a meaningful verbal exchange with the suffering person is precluded. In this sense the body ‘speaks’ even if it does not use language. These two issues are clearly interconnected, leading to an epistemological debate on the more general problem of what experience is, and in particular of how its phenomenal aspect, in this case connected to suffering, should be understood in relation to a more or less clearly conceived bodily or material substrate. In the end, the experience of pain reopens the Pandora’s box of the contrast between dualism and monism and therefore the big question of the relationship between mind and body. Perhaps, however, the investigation of pain can offer a different perspective on these traditional issues. This issue of Discipline filosofiche aims to address the wide and complex issues relating to the experience of pain by bringing to it multiple, and sometimes very different, approaches, in order to bring out the variety of the forms of suffering, as well as to probe the philosophical significance of pain, in the light of the common belief that it represents a crucial subject of investigation for its epistemological and ontological value. Suitable topics for submission of manuscripts include but are not limited to: 1) Epistemological issues relating to the qualitative and/or quantitative assessment of the pain experience; 2) Issues relating to the status of corporeality as the experiential basis of pain; 3) Issues concerning the relationship between phenomenal consciousness and its unconscious (cognitive and/or psychoanalytic) substrate in the experience of pain; 4) Issues concerning the relationship between philosophy and the natural sciences (in particular biology and medicine) with respect to the treatment of pain; 5) Topics concerning the narrative dimension of the experience of pain in its connections with the epistemological status of biomedical sciences.

Official Call for Paper:

Deadline: Friday 31 December 2021