Research

    I am currently Principal Investigator (jointly with Michael Brady) of the Value of Suffering Project (VOS), funded by a £362,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The VOS project is a large, international, and interdisciplinary research project investigating the nature, role, and value of pain, suffering, and affective experience more generally. Its core team comprises philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and clinicians, based in Scotland, France, Norway, and the United States. It includes a postdoctoral fellow and an international PhD student. Running from 2013 - 2016, the project will involve numerous workshops and conferences and will result in articles, a monograph, edited collections, and various outreach activities.

    Before the VOS project, I was during 2012-13 Principal Investigator (jointly with Michael Brady) of the Pain Project, funded by a £107,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

    Current work.  Interested in consciousness and perception (particularly somatosensory perception), I am working on pain’s “hedomotive character” (as I call it), i.e. its unpleasantness, in virtue of which it is bad, and its motivational force, in virtue of which it can be good, indeed life-saving.  Hedonic tone -- pleasure as well as pain -- and its normative and motivational significance interest me in other cases too, e.g. smell, taste, touch, and our emotional lives. 

    Other interests include perceptual 'revelation'; externalist views of experience and thought content; recognitional capacities; relations between the primary/secondary quality distinction and differences in how we experience such diverse features as colours, shapes, temperatures, and natural kinds; and, 
    recently, the very ideas of perceptual content and phenomenal character.

    Papers.  Click titles to download.  I have other research pages at academia.edu and philpapers.

    • Pains That Don't Hurt.  Forthcoming in Australasian Journal of Philosophy 2014.  Which philosophical account of pain best makes sense of pain asymbolia? Pain asymbolics claim to feel pain but seem indifferent to it. The challenge, I argue, is to illuminate not only their indifference to pain, but their “non-pain” deficits, e.g. their indifference to visual and verbal threat. One promising explanation is that asymbolics are incapable of caring about their bodies. Unlike other accounts I consider, this explanation illuminates their non-pain deficits, but how does it illuminate their indifference to pain? Evaluativism, I argue, best answers that question.  Our best explanation of asymbolia requires evaluativism.  See here for final (Online First) version.
    • Pain, Pleasure, and Unpleasure.  With Michael Brady.   Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2014.  Compare your pain when immersing your hand in freezing water and your pleasure when you taste your favourite wine. The relationship seems obvious. Your pain experience is unpleasant, aversive, negative, and bad. Your experience of the wine is pleasant, attractive, positive, and good. Pain and pleasure are straightforwardly opposites.  Or that, at any rate, can seem beyond doubt, and to leave little more to be said.  But, in fact, it is not beyond doubt. And, true or false, it leaves a good deal more to be said: about the nature of sensory affect; its relations to perception, motivation, and rationality; its value; and the mechanisms underlying it. In this paper, we map the dialectical landscape, locating areas ripe for further research.  [Review of Philosophy and Psychology 5 (1): 1-14. DOI = 10.1007/s13164-014-0176-5]
    • What Makes Pains Unpleasant?  Philosophical Studies 2013 (Published version available at www.springerlink.com.)  The unpleasantness of pain motivates action. Hence many philosophers have doubted that it can be accounted for purely in terms of pain’s possession of indicative representational content. Instead, they have explained it in terms of subjects’ inclinations to stop their pains, or in terms of pains being constituted by experiential commands. I claim that such “noncognitivist” accounts fail to accommodate unpleasant pain’s reason-giving force. What I argue is needed is a view on which pains are unpleasant, motivate, and provide reasons in virtue of possessing content that is indeed indicative, but also, crucially, evaluative.  [Philosophical Studies 166(1):  60-89.  DOI = 10.1007/s11098-012-0049-7]
    • The Imperative View of Pain.  Journal of Consciousness Studies 2011.  This is my keynote from the Pain Workshop, Birmingham University, 2010.  Abstract.  Pain, crucially, is unpleasant and motivational. It can be awful; and it drives us to action, e.g. to take our weight off a sprained ankle. But what is the relationship between pain and those two features? And in virtue of what does pain have them? Addressing these questions, Colin Klein and Richard J. Hall have recently developed the idea that pains are, at least partly, experiential commands—to stop placing your weight on your ankle, for example. In this paper, I reject their accounts. Against Klein, I use dissociation cases to argue that possession of ‘imperative content’ cannot wholly constitute pain. Against them both, I further claim that possession of such content cannot constitute even pain’s unpleasant, motivational aspect. For, even if it were possible to specify the relevant imperative content—which is far from clear—the idea of a command cannot bear the explanatory weight Klein and Hall place on it.  [Journal of Consciousness Studies 18 (9-10): 164-85.  ISSN 1355-8250.]
    • Philosophical Topics 2009. This paper and others in this special issue derive from a workshop on McDowell held at the University of Canterbury at Kent in 2007.  Abstract.  It can seem natural to say that, when in pain, we undergo experiences representing certain experience-dependent particulars, namely pains. As part of his wider approach to mind and world, John McDowell has elaborated an interesting but neglected version of this account of pain. Here I set out McDowell’s account at length, and place it in context. I argue that his subjectivist conception of the objects of pain experience is incompatible with his requirement that such experience be presentational, rationalising, and classificatory.  [Philosophical Topics 37 (1):  1-24. Posted here with permission of the University of Arkansas Press.]
    • Color, Externalism, and Switch Cases.  Southern Journal of Philosophy 2007 I defend externalism about both color experiences and color thoughts, which I argue is required by objectivism about color. Externalists face the following question: would the wearing of inverting lenses eventually change the color content of (say) those visual experiences a subject reports with the term “red”? From the work of Ned Block, David Velleman, Paul Boghossian, Michael Tye, and Fiona Macpherson, I extract a number of problems for each answer to this question. I show how all these problems can be overcome, making externalism available to the color objectivist.  [Southern Journal of Philosophy 45 (3):  335-362.]
    • The Location of Pains Philosophical Papers 2007.  Perceptualists say that having a pain in a body part consists in perceiving the part as instantiating some property. I argue that perceptualism makes better sense of the connections between pain location and the experiences undergone by people in pain than three alternative accounts that dispense with perception. But I also reject ways in which fellow perceptualists David Armstrong and Michael Tye understand and motivate perceptualism, and I propose an alternative interpretation of the view. This interpretation, I argue, vitiates a pair of anti-perceptualist objections (due to John Hyman) concerning the idea of bodily sensitivity and the meaning of such sentences as ‘Amy has a pain in her foot’. Perceptualism, I conclude, remains our best account of the location of pains.  [Philosophical Papers 36 (2): 171-205.]
    • Private Languages and Private Theorists.  Philosophical Quarterly 2004.   Simon Blackburn objects that Wittgenstein’s private language argument overlooks the possibility of a private linguist equipping himself with a criterion of correctness by confirming generalisations about the patterns in which his private sensations occur. Crispin Wright responds that appropriate generalisations would be too few to be interesting. But I show that Wright’s calculations are upset by his failure to appreciate both the richness of the data and the range of theories that would be available to the linguist.  [Philosophical Quarterly 54 (216): 427-34. ISSN 0031-8094.]
    • Intentionalism and Pain.  Philosophical Quarterly 2003.   The pain case can appear to undermine the radically intentionalist view that the phenomenal character of any experience is entirely constituted by its representational content. That appearance is illusory, I argue. After categorising versions of pain intentionalism along two dimensions, I argue that an “objectivist” and “non-mentalist” version is the most promising, provided it can withstand two objections: concerning what we say when in pain, and the distinctiveness of the pain case. I rebut these objections, in a way that’s available to both opponents and adherents of the view that experiential content is entirely conceptual. In doing so I illuminate peculiarities of somatosensory perception that should interest even those who take a different view of pain experiences.  [Philosophical Quarterly 53 (213):  502-523. ISSN 0031-8094.]
    Editing

    • Pleasure and Pain.  A special issue of Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2014.  Edited with Michael Brady.

    Reviews

    • Murat Aydede (ed.).   Pain: New Essays on Its Nature and the Methodology of Its Study. Mind 2010, 119 (474):  451-456.
    • Matthew Elton.   Daniel Dennett. Philosophical Quarterly 2005, 55 (219):  369-371. ISSN 0031-8094. 

    Commissioned