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Is Pain Representation?

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image of Frontiers of Philosophy in China

The argument given by strong representationalists about phenomenal consciousness usually has two steps. The first is to identify all phenomenal consciousness with representation. The second is to identify all phenomenal aspects of phenomenal consciousness with certain representational content. Pain is often thought to be a counterexample to representationalism. However, current objections from this perspective mostly focus on the second step and try to show that pains have some special qualities that representational content cannot explain. This paper objects to representationalism with regard to pain (that pain is not representation) by way of a focus on the first step. First, it shows that by borrowing the notion of “representation” from the causal co-variation theory of representation, representationalists are not able to demonstrate that pain is representation. Second, by laying out some well-accepted criteria for what counts as representation, it argues that pains do not satisfy them. Thus, pain is not representation.

Affiliations: 1: School of Marxism, Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, Xi’an 710055, China E-mail:


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