Essay 10

This essay is due Thursday, 11/08. Instructions are as usual.

Begin by considering again our fifth discussion question from last Tuesday:

Much has been written in the philosophical literature subsequent to Wittgenstein's Investigations about the skeptical argument he presents in 293:

If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word "pain" means—must I not say the same of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly?

Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!——Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a "beetle". No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word "beetle" had a use in these people's language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can 'divide through' by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is.

That is to say: if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of 'object and designation' the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant.

What is the skeptical argument here? What is its import?

Now, wholly consistent with the Investigations view that meaning is use, we have as a result of the Beetle in the Box Thought Experiment what amounts to a kind of eliminative behaviorism: Our (private) individual sensations play no role whatsoever in our (public) collective language games beyond the behaviors which exhaust the meaning of sense-terms like 'headache' or 'redness'. It follows that at most what a term like 'pain' means are the behaviors serving as fodder for the relevant language game and the subsequent uses to which we put it.

Consider, however, another thought experiment: The Case of the Super-Super-Spartans. From Hilary Putnam's "Brains and Behavior", (From R. Butler, ed. Analytical Philosophy: Second Series, pp. 1-19. Blackwell, 1968. notes omitted)

To sum up: I believe that pains are not clusters of responses, but that they are (normally, in our experience to date) the causes of certain clusters of responses. Moreover, although this is an empirical fact, it underlies the possibility talking about pains in the particular way it which we do. However, it does not rule out any way the possibility of worlds in which (owing to a difference in the environmental and hereditary conditions) pains are not responsible for the usual responses, or even are not responsible for any responses at all.

Let us now engage in a little science fiction. Let us try to describe some worlds in which pain are related to responses (and also to causes) quite a different way than they are in our world.

If we confine our attention to non-verbal responses by full grown persons, for a start, the matters are easy. Imagine a community of 'super-spartans' or 'super-stoics'-a community in which the adults have the ability to successfully suppress all involuntary pain behaviour. They may, on occasion, admit that they feel pain, but always in pleasant well-modulated voices-even if they are undergoing the agonies of the damned. They do not wince, scream, flinch, sob, grit their teeth, clench their fists, exhibit beads of sweat, or otherwise act like people in pain or people suppressing the unconditioned responses associated with pain. However, they do feel pain, and they dislike it (just as we do). They even admit that it takes a great effort of will to behave as they do. It is only that they have what they regard as important ideological reasons for behaving as they do, and they have, through years of training, learned to live up to their own exacting standards.

It may be contended that children and not fully mature members of this community will exhibit, to varying degrees, normal unconditioned pain behaviour, and that this is all that is necessary for the ascription of pain. On this view, the sine qua non for the significant ascription of pain to a species is that its immature members should exhibit unconditioned pain responses.

One might well stop to ask whether this statement has even a clear meaning. Supposing that there are Martians: do we have any criterion for something being an 'unconditioned pain response' for a Martian? Other things being equal, one avoids things with which one has had painful experiences: this would suggest that avoidance behaviour might be looked for as a universal unconditioned pain response. However, even if this were true, it would hardly be specific enough, since avoidance can also be an unconditioned response to many things that we do not associate with pain-to things that disgust us, or frighten us, or even merely bore us.

Let us put these difficulties aside, and see if we can devise an imaginary world in which there are not, even by lenient standards, any unconditioned pain responses. Specifically, let us take our 'super- spartans', and let us suppose that after millions of years they begin to have children who are born fully acculturated. They are born speaking the adult language, knowing the multiplication table, having opinions on political issues, and inter alia sharing the dominant spartan beliefs about the importance of not evincing pain (except by way of a verbal report, and even that in a tone of voice that suggests indifference). Then there would not be any 'unconditioned pain responses' in this community (although there might be unconditioned desires to make certain responses-desires which were, however, always suppressed by an effort of will). Yet there is a clear absurdity to the position that one cannot ascribe to these people a capacity for feeling pain.

To make this absurdity evident, let us imagine that we succeed in converting an adult 'superspartan' to our ideology. Let us suppose that he begins to evince pain in the normal way. Yet he reports that the pains he is feeling are not more intense than are the ones he experienced prior to conversion-indeed, he may say that giving expression to them makes them less intense. In this case, the logical behaviourist would have to say that, through the medium of this one member, we had demonstrated the existence of unconditioned pain responses in the whole species, and hence that ascription of pain to the species is 'logically proper.' But this is to say that had this one man never lived, and had it been possible to demonstrate only indirectly (via the use of theories) that these beings feel pain, then pain ascriptions would have been improper.

We have so far been constructing worlds in which the relation of pain to its non-verbal effects is altered. What about the relation of pain to causes? This is even more easy for the imagination to modify. Can one not imagine a species who feel pain only when a magnetic field is present (although the magnetic field causes no detectable damage to their bodies or nervous systems)? If we now let the members of such a species become converts to 'superspartanism,' we can depict to ourselves a world in which pains, in our sense, are clearly present, but in which they have neither normal causes nor the normal effects (apart from verbal reports).

What about verbal reports? Some behaviourists have taken these as the characteristic form of pain behaviour. Of course, there is a difficulty here: If 'I am in pain' means 'I am disposed to utter this kind of verbal report' (to put matters crudely), then how do we tell that any particular report is 'this kind of verbal report'? The usual answer is in terms of the unconditioned pain responses and their assumed supplantation by the verbal reports in question. However, we have seen that there are no logical reasons for the existence of unconditioned pain responses in all species capable of feeling pain (there may be logical reasons for the existence of avoidance desires, but avoidance desires are not themselves behaviour any more than pains are).

Once again, let us be charitable to the extent of waving the first difficulty that comes to mind, and let us undertake the task of trying to imagine a world in which there are not even pain reports. I will call this world the 'X-world.' In the X-world we have to deal with 'super-super-spartans.' These have been super-spartans for so long, that they have begun to suppress even talk of pain. Of course, each individual X-worlder may have his private way of thinking about pain. He may even have the word 'pain' (as before, I assume that these beings are born fully acculturated). He may think to himself: 'This pain is intolerable. If it goes on one minute longer I shall scream. Oh No! I mustn't do that! That would disgrace my whole family . . .' But X-worlders do not even admit to having pains. They pretend not to know either the word or the phenomenon to which it refers. In short, if pains are 'logical constructs out of behaviour', then our X-worlders behave so as not to have pains!-Only, of course, they do have pains, and they know perfectly well that they have pains.

We seem to have dueling thought experiments: the Beetle in the Box and the Case of the Super-Super-Spartans. Do they conflict, however? If so, precisely how, and which thought experiment in that case do you find decisive, if either? If not, how does the Beetle evade the Super-Super-Spartans? Finally, in considering the Beetle in the Box and the Case of the Super-Super-Spartans, what role do the facts of subjective experience have in language, if any?