When, How, and Why Did “Pain” Become Subjective?

Beecher, Operationalization, and Its Problems


  • Charles Djordjevic Department of Philosophy, Lorain County Community College, Lorain, OH; Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland, OH https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4638-9838




pain-assessment, subjectivity of pain, operationalization, Henry Beecher


The pain-assessment literature often claims that pain is subjective. However, the meaning and implications of this claim are left to the reader’s imagination. This paper attempts to make sense of the claim and its problems from the history and philosophy of science perspective. It examines the work of Henry Beecher, the first person to operationalize “pain” in terms of subjective measurements. First, I reconstruct Beecher’s operationalization of “pain.” Next, I argue this operationalization fails. Third, I salvage Beecher’s insights by repositioning them in an intersubjective account. Finally, I connect these insights to current pain-assessment approaches, showing that they enrich each other.


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How to Cite

Djordjevic, C. (2023). When, How, and Why Did “Pain” Become Subjective? : Beecher, Operationalization, and Its Problems. Philosophy of Medicine, 4(1). https://doi.org/10.5195/pom.2023.146



Original Research Articles (health, disease and illness)