Get access

Unpleasantness, Motivational Oomph, and Painfulness



    Corresponding author
    1. The Pain Project Philosophy, University of Glasgow
    • Address for correspondence: Philosophy, School of Humanities, University of Glasgow, 67-69 Oakfield Avenue, Glasgow G12 8QQ, Scotland, UK. Email:

    Search for more papers by this author

  • The present work was developed thanks to funding from the John Templeton Foundation and the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame through the particular support of the ‘Problem of Evil in Modern and Contemporary Thought’ project administered by Sam Newlands and Michael Rea. I am also thankful for discussion and comments on an earlier draft from Murat Aydede, David Bain, Michael Brady, Robert Cowan, Dan Shargel, an anonymous referee, and to participants in the Pain, Unpleasantness, and Motivation workshop at the University of Glasgow sponsored by the above funders.


Painful pains are, paradigmatically, unpleasant and motivating. The dominant view amongst philosophers and pain scientists is that these two features are essentially related and sufficient for painfulness. In this article, I first offer scientifically informed characterizations of both unpleasantness and motivational oomph and argue against other extant accounts. I then draw on folk-characterized cases and current neurobiological and neurobehavioral evidence to argue that both dominant positions are mistaken. Unpleasantness and motivational oomph doubly dissociate and, even taken together, are insufficient for painfulness.