A Scientific and Philosophical Analysis of Meanings of Pain in Studies of Pain and Suffering

  • Bustan SmadarEmail author


Carefully weighing three major constraints for elucidating pain and pain-related suffering, I argue that the study of their meanings in experimental and clinical research is necessary. This research program can further the understanding of pain self-report observable pain behavior in addition to physiological signals of pain, thus combining subjective and objective measures for better assessing the pain experience. Much of the information is derived from the encountered difficulties during the ongoing development of pain and related suffering questionnaires, in both the laboratory context conducting experimental studies with healthy volunteers and in the clinic with chronic pain patients. The chapter exposes the challenges of meaning acquisition while proposing, following Eric Cassell, that the study of pain recognizes both objective and personal meaning types. The chapter also explains why the ambition of science to obtain an exhaustive picture of pain is impossible, and that a continuous revision of pain meanings is necessary, especially for clinical studies of chronic pain patients. The methodological dilemma however remains, whether a direct approach is the most appropriate for understanding the state of the patient or is it rather an indirect gathering of information that may best depict individual pain and suffering.


Pain Suffering Meaning acquisition Experimental studies Chronic pain Clinical studies Questionnaire Dilemma Direct or indirect approaches 



I wish to thank Herta Flor, Caroline Casey, Nir Shalev and Simon van Rysewyk for comments and revisions, as well as to Didier Bouhassira, Nadine Attal and Jean-Marc Benhaiem for stimulating discussions and remarks.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.INSERM Research Unit U-987Boulogne-BillancourtFrance
  2. 2.SND (Sciences Norms and Decisions) Research Unit, Philosophy DepartmentSorbonne Paris IVParisFrance

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