South African Journal of Philosophy

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Die sin van pyn. (The meaning of pain)

Abraham Olivier


Most contemporary discussions about pain take place within the frame work of materialistic theories. Their general point of departure is an attempt to explain mental pain in terms of physical pain. In this article I address two major problems, which materialistic theories deal with, from within a phenomenological perspective. The first problem is to find a physiological explanation of pain that leaves space for mental pain experience. The second problem, which I focus on, consists in the attempt to offer a description of the physiological basis (which I call embodiment) of mental pain, which does not reduce the mental to the physical. I thereby present the thesis that pain can be understood either as the body's revolt against the mind or the mind's revolt against the body. With this thesis I want to show that pain means a rupture which in a paradoxical way mediates to us an understanding of the unity of body and mind. The purpose is to explain the meaning of pain, as a key to our understanding of our bodily existence.

‘Der Schmerz selbst hat das Wort.'
– Martin Heidegger

S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.19(3) 2000: 235-254
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