Research & Publications

I. Pain Project

The phenomenon of pain is commonly understood in terms of a corresponding phenomenal quality: there is a certain subjective feeling of what it is typically like for us to experience pain in contrast to, for example, hunger, itches, anger, or sadness. This phenomenal character fixes the class of those phenomena to be considered pains. However, this is merely the starting point of the actual scientific inquiry. Most researchers ultimately aim to explain and predict the circumstances under which pains occur. In order to do so, they search for a certain type of property that is common to all pains and at the same time specific to pains besides their phenomenal quality. Depending on the respective field of research different types of properties  are under consideration. The guiding question of my research project has been to investigate whether there exists a certain type of property, synchronic or diachronic, that is common to all pains and pains only; and if not, which consequences we need to draw from such insights.

Phenomenal Quality & Memory

Pain is one of the most unique experiences we undergo in life. In most cases, we can  identify pains as pains in a straightforward manner from a first-person perspective. The corresponding subjective feeling has been addressed in the philosophical literature with different commitments under different labels – phenomenal quality, qualitative character, or quale. In a subproject, I address the question of how to analyze said feeling. I develop a consistent multidimensional interpretation of a possible phenomenal quality for pain and put it to the test with regard to conceptual and empirical challenges. Moreover, in a commentary on the work of Barbara Montero, I address the question of which conditions need to be met in order for us to plausibly assume the lack of a qualitative memory for pain.

Related Publications

Research Articles

Coninx, S. (forthcoming): A Multidimensional Phenomenal Space for Pain: Structure, Primitiveness, and Utility. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.

Coninx, S. (2020): Pain, Amnesia, and Qualitative Memory – Conceptual and Empirical Challenges. Commentary on Barbara Montero’s paper “What Experience Doesn’t Teach: Pain-Amnesia and a New Paradigm for Memory Research.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 27(11-12), 126-133. Publication   Draft

 

 

Bodily Sensations & Intentionalism: Perception & Action

In due consideration of recent empirical research, I aim to show in different subprojects that there exists no property common to all pains and pains only. This is due to the substantial variation across pains and the systematic similarity between pain and other phenomena, including emotions and other bodily sensations. In particular, I thereby argue against strong intentional theories presuming the existence of a certain type of intentional content necessary and  sufficient for pains. On the one hand, I aim to show that strong representationalist theories of bodily sensations – inlcuding pain, itches, hunger, and sexual feelings – do not provide convincing evidence in terms of causal covariance and biological function. On the other hand, strong imperative theories have clear advantages in highlighting the relevance of action, but cannot tell an overall conclusive story for the introduction of an intentional content satisfying the criteria of necessity and sufficiency.

Related Publications

Research Articles

Coninx, S. (2020): Pain Experiences and Their Link to Action: Challenging Imperative Theories. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 27(9-10), 1104-126.   Publication   Draft

Coninx, S. (2021): Strong Representationalism and Bodily Sensations: Reliable Causal Covariance and Biological Function. Philosophical Psychology, 34(2), 210-232. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515089.2020.1858476   Publication    Draft

 

Family Resemblances:
Eliminativism vs. Pluralism

There is nothing common to all pains and pains only, even if, subjectively, they may appear to us as a phenomenologically unified class of phenomena. This becomes particularly clear when we take a closer look at the neural systems involved in pain processing. Nonetheless, I think that it is possible to develop an empirically adequate and scientifically useful theory of pain that provides a guiding heuristic for future research projects. Such a theory needs to focus on the resemblance relations that hold between the properties of individual pain cases. In my opinion, this allows us to bridge the gap between idiosyncrasy and generalizability. Thereby, I argue against accounts of scientic pain eliminativism and in favor of scientific pain pluralism.

Related Publications

Monography

Coninx, S. (2020): Experiencing Pain: A Scientific Enigma & Its Philosophical Solution. De Gruyter.
Publication   Reading Sample

Research Article

Coninx, S. (under review): paper on the issues of neural pain processing and the attempt to develop a family resemblance theory that provides a pragmatic trade-off between idiosyncrasy and generalizability

Others

Coninx, S. (2018): The Frustrating Family of Pain. iCog.           Blog Post   Draft

II. Situating Affectivity & Suffering

In my recent research, I adress the more general phenomenon of human affectivity and suffering, connecting my previous research on pain with knowledge concerning phenomena, such as grief, loneliness, or depression. This research field is of particular relevance in its application to pathological disorders. I am therefore increasingly concerned with the interface between philosophy, clinical medicine, and psychiatry, whereby the influences of situated approaches come into play concerning concepts of affordances, scaffolds, and niche construction. In particular, I address the question of the extent to which environmental conditions shape our affective lives and can be actively used, for example, in therapeutic contexts.

Affective Scaffolding

I consider the application of concepts of situated approaches to affective phenomena as promising. This requires, however, a detailed understanding of such concepts and their differentiated application to specific subject areas. In cooperation with Prof. Achim Stephan, I argue that the concept of scaffolding can contribute to a better understanding of our affective lives and the complex manners in which it is shaped by environmental entities. We develop a taxonomy along paradigmatic examples of affective scaffolding which emphasizes distinctions that are often conflated and identifies fields of application that are commonly overlooked.

Related Publications

Research Article

Coninx, S. & Stephan, A. (under review): paper on the taxonomy of environmentally scaffolded affectivity


 

Enactivism in Clinical Medicine: The Dynamic Field of Affordances

In cooperation with Peter Stilwell, I develop an enactive approach to chronic pain and its treatment. First, we conceptualize differences between acute and chronic pain, as well as the process of chronification, in terms of changes in the field of affordances. This is, in terms of the possibilities for action perceived by subjects in pain. As such, we aim to do justice to the lived experience of patients as well as the dynamic role of behavioral learning, neural reorganization, and socio-cultural practices in the generation and maintenance of pain. Second, we show in which manners such an enactive framework may contribute to a comprehensive understanding of pain that avoids conceptual and methodological issues of reductionist and fragmented approaches. In particular, we aim to prove the relevance of the enactive framework as a heuristic in treatment.

Related Publications

Research Article

Coninx, S. & Stilwell, P. (under review): paper on pain and its relation to the dynamic field of affordances.

 

III. Social Understanding: Person Models & the Role of Mindreading

Theories of social understanding have moved away from arguing that just one epistemic strategy constitutes our ability of social understanding. In contrast, the empirical evidence seems to support a pluralistic approach. In cooperation with Albert Newen and Julia Wolf, I aim to defend such a pluralistic view. Moreover, we discuss the remaining role ascribed to mindreading within and argue for a central role of the Person Model Theory.

 

Related Publications

Research Articles

Coninx, S. & Newen, A. (2018): Theories of Understanding Others: The Need of a New Account and the Guiding Role of the Person Model Theory. Belgrade Philosophical Annual, 31, 127-153.    Publication

Wolf, J., Coninx, S. & Newen, A. (under review): paper on the role of mindreading in social understanding and the integration of multiple epistemic strategies



IV. Pain Reports & Experimental Philosophy

In collaboration with Kevin Reuter and Albert Newen, I address the question of what pain reports express. Traditonally, the debate is divided into representatives of the mental and bodily view. In recent years, pluralistic approaches have become more popular. We are mainly concerned with the question to what extent (mental and bodily) contexts and other factors, such as wording and personality, can affect our way of interpreting pain reports.

Publications

Monography

1. Coninx, S. (2020): Experiencing Pain – A Scientific Enigma & Its Philosophical Solution.  de Gruyter.    Publication    Cover    Reading Sample

[Based on the PhD thesis of the same name; submitted 2019] 

Peer-Reviewed Research Articles

2. Coninx, S. (2021): Strong Representationalism and Bodily Sensations: Reliable Causal Covariance and Biological Function. Philosophical Psychology, 34(2), 210-232.   Publication   Draft

3. Coninx, S. (forthcoming): A Multidimensional Phenomenal Space for Pain: Structure, Primitiveness, and Utility. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.

4. Coninx, S. (2020): Pain Experiences and Their Link to Action: Challenging Imperative Theories. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 27(9-10), 104-126.   Publication   Draft

5. Coninx, S. & Newen, A. (2018): Theories of Understanding Others: The Need of a New Account and the Guiding Role of the Person Model Theory. Belgrade Philosophical Annual, 31, 127-153. [Special Issue: Trends in Philosophy of Cognitive Science]   Publication

Commentary

6. Coninx, S. (2020): Pain, Amnesia, and Qualitative Memory – Conceptual and Empirical Challenges. Commentary on Barbara Montero’s paper “What Experience Doesn’t Teach: Pain-Amnesia and a New Paradigm for Memory Research.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 27(11-12), 126-133.  Publication   Draft

Others

7. Coninx, S. (2018): The Frustrating Family of Pain. iCog Blog.    Blog Post     Draft

If you have any questions or comments cornerning my research projects & publications, please contact me.