Research & Publications

I. Pain: The General 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.

Research Question

The guiding aim of my previous research project has been to investigate whether there exists a certain type of property common to all pains and pains only; and if not, which consequences we need to draw from such insight.

Synchronic Properties

Synchronic properties concern internal processes related to pains, such as psychological properties and their neural implementation in the activities of the central nervous system.

Diachronic Properties

Diachronic properties concern the external relations of pains to preceding and succeeding entities, such as their causal embeddedness in the world and their (evolutionary) biological function.

Pain 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 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 whether such a phenomenal pain quality exists and which implications a positive or negative answer would have. I develop a consistent dimensional interpretation of a possible phenomenal pain quality 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. (under submission): paper on the phenomenal quality of pain, its status as a primitive subjective expierence, and the resulting implications for science and philosophy

Coninx, S. (forthcoming): 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.

 

 

Pains, Bodily Sensations, &        Strong Intentionalism

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), 104-126.   Publication   Draft

Coninx, S. (forthcoming): Strong Representationalism and Bodily Sensations: Reliable Causal Covariance and Biological Function. Philosophical Psychology.

 

Pain & Family Resemblance

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 in particular against accounts of scientic pain eliminativism, although I agree with many of their basic assumptions.

Related Publications

Monography

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

Research Article

Coninx, S. (under submission): 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

Blog Post

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

II. Suffering: Situated & Social

In my recent research, I adress the more general phenomenon of human 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 and psychiatry, whereby the influences of enactive theories come into play concerning concepts of affordances and scaffolds.

In cooperation with Peter Stilwell I address the question of how pain affects the perception of our body, ourselves, and the environment. For this purpose, we apply the concept of a dynamically changing field of affordances that allows us to account for the intimate relation between pain and action.

Moreover, in my posdoctoral project, I address the question of the extent to which environmental conditions can be actively used to enable emotional regulation. My focus is thereby on virtual realities as affective scaffolds.

Related Publications

Research Article

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

 

III. 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.

IV. Social Understanding

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. A corresponding paper is currently under submission.

 

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


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

3. Coninx, S. (forthcoming): Strong Representationalism and Bodily Sensations: Reliable Causal Covariance and Biological Function. Philosophical Psychology.

4. 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

5. Coninx, S. (forthcoming): 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.

Others

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.