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Bodily Relational Autonomy

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Abstract

Conceptions of autonomy in western philosophy and ethics have often centred on self-governance and self-determination. However, a growing bulk of literature also questions such conceptions, including the understanding of the autonomous self as a self-governing independent individual that chooses, acts, and lives in accordance with her or his own values, norms, or sense of self. This article contributes to the critical interrogation of selfhood, autonomy, and autonomous decision making by combining a feminist focus on relational dimensions of selfhood and autonomy with phenomenological philosophy of the embodied self as being-in-the-world. It offers a philosophical investigation of different dimensions of bodily relational autonomy by turning to phenomenological accounts of the lived body as self-reflexive. When so doing, we hope to contribute to bridging the gap that sometimes exists between discussions of autonomy in analytic moral philosophy and of freedom and facticity in phenomenological philosophy. We see this gap as unfortunate, and hold that a nuanced understanding of autonomy and autonomous decision making can be reached if these strands of philosophy are brought into dialogue.
SCIENTIFIC CONTRIBUTION
Bodily Relational Autonomy
Lisa F. Käll1 and Kristin Zeiler 2
1. Center for Dementia Research (CEDER) and Philosophy, Department of Culture and
Communication, Linköping University, Sweden.
2. Corresponding Author. Department of Thematic Studies: Technology and Social Change,
Linköping University and The Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala
University, Sweden.
Please quote only from the published article: Lisa F Käll and Kristin Zeiler. Bodily Relational Autonomy.
Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 21, Numbers 9-10, 2014, pp. 100-120.
Published version is available at:
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/imp/jcs/2014/00000021/F0020009/art00005
Abstract
Conceptions of autonomy in Western philosophy and ethics have often centered on self-
governance and self-determination. However, a growing bulk of literature also questions such
conceptions including the understanding of the autonomous self as a self-governing independent
individual that chooses, acts and lives in accordance with her or his own values, norms or sense
of self. This article contributes to the critical interrogation of selfhood, autonomy and
autonomous decision-making by combining a feminist focus on relational dimensions of
selfhood and autonomy with phenomenological philosophy of the embodied self as being-in-
the-world. It offers a philosophical investigation of different dimensions of bodily relational
autonomy by turning to phenomenological accounts of the lived body as self-reflexive. When so
doing, we hope to contribute to bridging the gap that sometimes exists between discussions of
autonomy in analytic moral philosophy and of freedom and facticity in phenomenological
philosophy. We see this gap as unfortunate, and hold that a nuanced understanding of autonomy
and autonomous decision-making can be reached if these strands of philosophy are brought into
dialogue.
Keywords: autonomy, autonomous decision-making, embodiment, feminist theory, selfhood,
relationality, phenomenology of the body.
1
Introduction
Conceptions of autonomy in Western philosophy and ethics have often centered on self-
governance and self-determination. A growing bulk of literature also questions such
conceptions including the understanding of the autonomous self as a self-governing
independent individual that chooses, acts and lives in accordance with her or his own
values, norms or sense of self. What is needed, critics hold, is both an acknowledgment
of the social dimension of selfhood and a detailed analysis of the implications of a
relational conception of the self for autonomy and autonomous decision-making.i
This article contributes to the critical interrogation of selfhood, autonomy and
autonomous decision-making by combining a feminist focus on relational dimensions of
selfhood and autonomy with phenomenological philosophy of the embodied self as
being-in-the-world. Our starting point is an understanding of the self or subjectivity as
embodied and situated in a world and in relation to others. This means that any
independent agency is inherently dependent on the situation in which it is articulated.
Relational autonomy conceptions examine how the self is formed in relations and how
these relations can constitute selfhood, but they often leave out the role of embodiment.ii
In contrast, we ask what it might mean to consider the notion of autonomy in terms of
the body and thus extend and somewhat refocus the discussion of relational autonomy.
The article offers a philosophical investigation of different dimensions of bodily
relational autonomy by turning to phenomenological accounts of the lived body as self-
reflexive. It is our hope that such a move will contribute to bridging a gap between
discussions of autonomy in analytic moral philosophy and of freedom and facticity in
phenomenological philosophy, thereby enabling a different understanding of autonomy
and autonomous decision-making than those dominating analytic moral philosophy, and
also enrich phenomenological discussions with the language of autonomy. First we
situate our claims in recent discussions, mainly in analytic moral philosophy, on
relational dimensions of autonomous decision-making. Second, we turn to
phenomenological philosophy, focusing on the way in which individual subjects are
formed in expressive and meaningful interrelation with one another, bracketing given
conceptions of the autonomous subject as self-sufficient and with fixed boundaries, and
examining bodily dimensions of autonomy. Following Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s
account of the lived body as a self-reflective structure possessing its own operative
intentionality,iii we discuss a basic bodily autonomy inherent in the lived body, thereby
allowing for a rethinking of the meaning of autonomy beyond a focus on cognitive
2
rationality and independence. Third, we examine the autonomy of habituated decisions,
actions and ways of being in the world, and how particular modes of acting and
interacting with others and the world are sedimented in the subject’s lived body. Finally,
we examine how autonomous choice may be hampered, how sedimented social
injustices may feed into choice and decision-making, and how someone’s bodily style
of being can form what she or he sees as choices in the first place.
II. Towards a more comprehensive and tenable conception of autonomy
A first basic distinction in analytic moral philosophy is the one between autonomous
subjects and autonomous choices, decisions or actions; an individual may be
autonomous and yet not be able or have the opportunity to make autonomous decisions
in all situations.iv In line with this distinction some scholars combine analyses of what it
means to be an autonomous self with those of conditions for autonomous decision-
making while others choose either to examine the meaning of autonomous selfhood or
conditions for the autonomous decision-making or action.
In contrast to the latter approach, we see an examination of selfhood, as
embodied, situated and intersubjective as an important first step in investigating
conditions for autonomous decision-making. This approach allows a discussion of how
habituated modes of acting can come to function as taken-for-granted parts of
someone’s existence and whether such habituated modes of action can qualify as
autonomous. It furthermore draws attention to the structures of subjectivity, inquiring
into the constitutive role of its situatedness.
A second distinction can be made between formal, procedural and substantial
accounts of what is required for someone to be able and have the opportunity to make
autonomous decisions. Formal accounts of autonomous decision-making only require
that we have the capacity and opportunity to decide to perform a particular act and to
execute that decision.v No specific reflection is deemed necessary prior to the act,
whereas this is the case in procedural accounts where a certain kind of reflection or the
capacity for a certain kind of reflection is a condition for a decision to qualify as
autonomous.vi Substantial accounts, finally, require that the result of the autonomous
decision is of a particular kind, has a particular substance or that the individuals who
perform the autonomous decision have a certain normative competence enabling them
to embrace certain values. Irrespective of whether the account of autonomous decision-
making is formal, procedural or substantive, a growing number of critics argue that
3
many of these accounts are underpinned by a problematic individualistic understanding
of selfhood, that they fail to acknowledge intersubjective aspects of selfhood, and that
they fail to examine implications of social dimensions for conceptions of autonomy.vii
Some relational approaches to autonomy focus on the way in which social
relations and particularly asymmetrical power relations may enhance or hamper
autonomy, whereas others examine how the self, who is involved in autonomous
decision-making, is constituted through, in and by interactions with others.viii However,
and despite the heterogeneity within this field, relational approaches to autonomy
typically share a conviction that individuals and individual agency are formed within
social relationships and by intersecting aspects of identity, such as race, class, gender,
age, sexuality, ethnicity and ability; demonstrate the need to acknowledge and take into
consideration how social, cultural and historical conditions impact individuals’ sense of
themselves (such as sense of self-esteem, self-value, self-trust); and emphasize that
personal autonomy is inconceivable in isolation from the social context of the
autonomous agent. Along such lines, autonomy has been conceptualized as something
that is achieved as a person comes into being in relation to others, rather than as an
inborn quality or entitlement.ix
In accordance with our phenomenological starting-points, the self engaged in
decision-making is not only formed in relations with others. Rather, intersubjectivity is
understood as a constitutive dimension of selfhood, and not an optional extra that we
may or may not develop over time. In short, selfhood is intrinsically intersubjective and
any understanding of selfhood in isolation from its intersubjective properties is always
an abstraction.
Three more features of contemporary autonomy discussions are useful by way of
introduction for our account of bodily relational autonomy. First, relational accounts of
autonomy have brought out the social and intersubjective aspects of subjectivity, and
dismissed any ideas of autonomy in terms of autarchic independence (in the sense of
self-sufficiency) in favor of understanding autonomous agents as living and making
reflective decisions situated within and dependent on a social context. While
recognizing the importance of carefully considering the relational dimensions of
selfhood, many contemporary accounts of autonomy also stress the capacity to reflect
on one’s own motivational structures and to change these in response to reflection.x
Most often, reflection is understood (or assumed) in terms of a cognitive operation of
the mind, following a traditional understanding of autonomy in terms of freedom of
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reason. Even though relational accounts of autonomy commonly reject any idea of
reason as disembodied in so far as they stress the situatedness of subjectivity, there is
nevertheless insufficient analysis of one of the key components of this situatedness,
namely that of the body.
Second, much of the critical discussion of relational autonomy accounts is
targeted against two connected conceptions of the autonomous agent, namely, on the
one hand, the idea(l) of an independent atomistic individual and, on the other hand, the
idea(l) of a (moral) self-legislator guided by impartial and abstract principles of reason.
We not only reject both of these ideals by stressing the intersubjectivity and situatedness
of the autonomous agent and her decision making, but also contest the idea that the
autonomous agent is necessarily a morally autonomous agent and that personal
autonomy implies moral autonomy. Even though personal and moral autonomy are
interconnected, we contend that they must be understood separately albeit not
completely isolated from one another. The account of bodily relational autonomy we
develop in this article does not necessarily entail moral autonomy. Our account would
grant personal autonomy on a basic bodily level to for instance infants, persons
experiencing dissociation, psychosis or suffering severe cognitive and communicative
impairments, while not necessarily conceiving of these individuals in terms of moral
autonomy and agency. This implies an enlarged and multifaceted conception of
autonomy.
Third, phenomenologists typically do not talk about autonomy, but about situated
freedom and the interplay between freedom and facticity. Such terms draw attention to
the situated character of the autonomous agent, disrupting any clear distinction between
autonomy and heteronomy. In much the same way as proponents of relational
approaches to autonomy, phenomenologists are critical of the conception of the self as
an independent atomistic individual. In contrast to at least some relational approaches to
autonomy, phenomenologists have furthermore sought to re-formulate the very
understanding of subjectivity in ways that acknowledge embodiment, intersubjectivity
and embeddedness in the world. They provide thorough accounts of how we are born
into a world already inhabited, shaped and made meaningful by others, and how human
existence is characterized by a basic openness to others and the world.
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III. Bodily autonomy
The lack of consideration of bodily autonomy is in Catriona Mackenzie’s view due to a
general neglect of the notion of embodiment. In so far as bodily autonomy has been
discussed it has to a great extent been in a Lockean tradition of considering one’s own
body in terms of ownership and often in a way that equates bodily autonomy with
control over the body and bodily processes.xi In contrast to this view, Mackenzie argues,
drawing on Paul Ricoeur, that a person’s body belongs to her in the sense of being
constitutive of her selfhood and that bodily integration, rather than the separation
involved in ownership and control, is constitutive of bodily autonomy. She develops the
idea of what she calls an integrated bodily perspective, which “marks the point of
intersection of biological capacities, attributes and processes, social and cultural
representations of these, and, an individual’s particular history, projects, desires, and
relations with others” and which “is enmeshed with our self-conception and structures
our bodily experience, our relations with others and our interactions with the world”.xii
One’s bodily perspective is not in any way static but is rather continuously and actively
constituted as the expression of one’s embodied agency.
Mackenzie strongly stresses that an integrated bodily perspective is not enough
for the achievement of bodily autonomy, which must also involve normative critical
reflection. Bodily autonomy, she writes, “involves not merely identifying with one’s
bodily perspective […] but doing so on the basis of a normative assessment of one’s
perspective”.xiii The reflection that Mackenzie has in mind would thus seem to be on a
rather high level of cognitive capacity and this goes along with her claim that autonomy
is an achievement. This form of critical reflection would also seem to require a certain
degree of distancing and whether, and if so, how, such distancing is or can be present in
one’s integrated bodily perspective unfortunately remains rather unclear in Mackenzie’s
account. Since one’s integrated bodily perspective is something that develops
throughout a lifetime, it would seem plausible that critical reflection could become
habituated as part of this perspective even though it may not at a later stage be
expressed in terms of critical distancing.
This relation between a critical perspective and an integrated bodily perspective as
the expression of one’s embodied agency deserves further explication. We will
approach this relation with reference to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writings on the lived
body as self-reflective and the sedimentation of higher forms of reflection in habituated
and immediate ways of being in the world. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological
6
descriptions of the lived body and its comportment in the world and relation to others
offer a rich account of bodily integration. His account also opens for a possibility of
approaching the relation between embodiment and reflection in new ways. By
disrupting any easy dualistic distinction between mind and body, the phenomenological
notion of the lived body provides a way of challenging both the idea that bodily
comportment is guided and controlled by reason or consciousness and the idea that
spontaneous bodily comportment is simply a matter of mechanistic or automatic
movement or behavioral dispositions. The lived body, its comportment, habits and
routines, is instead characterized by intentionality and is projectively directed and open
to the world in which it finds itself and of which it forms part. The intentionality of the
lived body constitutes it as fundamentally open to new possibilities and to forming its
own style of being in interconnection with its conditions.
In the language of bodily autonomy, it is the intentionality of the lived body that
constitutes it as autonomous. The lived body is a self-governing system in so far as it
possesses intentionality not on the level of cognitive reflection, but, rather, a so-called
corporeal or operative intentionality.xiv The operative intentionality of the embodied
subject reflects its kinaesthetic freedom, i.e. its freedom to move in the sensible world in
which it is situated and is both a matter of reaching out into the world through this
kinaesthetic freedom and of being open to the world and incorporating elements of the
world, such as tools, values and relations. This kinaesthetic freedom is thus thoroughly
situated and expressed in relation to the facticity of a specific situation. It is in this
situated freedom that we locate a basic bodily autonomy, in terms of free movement in
the world and in relation to others.
Keeping in mind how some autonomy accounts require a certain form of
reflection, it is noteworthy that a basic reflection, although not in traditional terms of
rational cognition, also operates in the lived body: within this philosophical perspective,
the lived body is a self-reflexive structure in so far as it holds the capacity for so-called
double sensation. This capacity allows us to approach the requirement of self-reflection
on a bodily level rather than on a level of cognitive reflection. With reference to
Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty invokes the figure of two hands touching to illustrate
the phenomenon of double sensation, as a distinguishing characteristic of the lived body
in relation to things. He writes,
7
[I]n this bundle of bones and muscles which my right hand presents to
my left, I can anticipate for an instance the integument or incarnation
of that other right hand, alive and mobile, which I thrust towards
things in order to explore them. The body catches itself from the
outside engaged in a cognitive process; it tries to touch itself while
being touched, and initiates ‘a kind of reflection’ which is sufficient to
distinguish it from objects.xv
What Merleau-Ponty terms a “kind of reflection” here is not one in which the body is
taken as an external object for consciousness; the intentional constitution of the body as
an integrated unity cannot be located in any separate operation of an autonomous mind
and the experience of double sensation is not to be understood in terms of a subject-
object relation where the body appears to the self in any relation of ownership. Albeit
not in terms of subject and object, the bodily reflection nevertheless involves an element
of distance. As Renaud Barbaras argues, an actual coincidence between touching and
touched in terms of a pure subjectivity would in fact result in the complete splitting of
one’s body in so far as “this subject would not have a body” and “would not be its own
body”. The body would instead, he continues, “emigrate to the side of the objective
world” and we would find ourselves in a strictly dualistic framework in which the body
could potentially be conceptualized as an object of ownership and control.xvi
Furthermore, Merleau-Ponty characterizes the self-reflective structure of double
sensation as a cognitive processstressing that the lived body cannot be reduced to
materiality and that cognition cannot be reduced to processes of a disembodied mind.
What is at stake is thus a rethinking of both materiality and cognition, which has
implications for how we conceive of subjectivity in relation to its own embodiment.
Such rethinking forms the starting point for our account of bodily relational autonomy.
The cognitive capacity of the lived body should be understood in terms of a bodily
know-how that allows us to perform everyday activities and engage with others in
meaningful ways. Through its intentionality, the lived body grasps, creates and relates
to the world as a world of meaning.
What is brought out here is the insufficiency of reinstating the body in the order of
the subject while not at the same time also reconceptualizing subjectivity in terms other
than those of atomistic self-coincidence. Indeed, we are not suggesting an understanding
of the body as a pure subject but, rather, in terms of an incarnate sensibility uniting
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interiority and exteriority.
xviii
xvii The self-sensing of the lived body is an experience in
which the self encounters her body as exteriority and in which it becomes clear that in
order for her to be an experiencing subject, she must also be experiencable to herself as
well as to others. Merleau-Ponty puts this point nicely when saying that “to feel one’s
body is also to feel its aspect for the other” namely that it is perceivable as an object in
the world. The self experiences herself in a way that anticipates both the way she can
experience another and the way another can experience her.
This way of conceptualizing the lived body establishes an understanding of
subjectivity as inherently relational and intersubjective, which has implications for how
to conceptualize the autonomous agent and opens up for a rethinking of what qualifies
as reflection. However, we cannot be content with accounting only for reflection on a
bodily level but must also ask how rational reflection is related to the self-reflective
structure of the lived body. Here, we will turn to the phenomenological notion of
sedimentation and inquire into the structure of the habitual body. This will also provide
a way of addressing autonomy as it is expressed and made manifest on an everyday
level of habitual comportment and action in the world.
IV. Sedimentation and the autonomous habitual body
Merleau-Ponty uses the concept of sedimentation in order to describe how past
experience can feed into, form and restrict, our bodily becoming. Sedimentation is the
result of the fact that an “attitude towards the world, when it has received frequent
confirmation, acquires a favoured status for us”.xix As expressed and enacted beliefs,
norms, values and behaviour through repeated practice become incorporated and
sedimented into our lived body and acquire such “favoured status” that is not easy to
change, they thereby also become part of our habitual mode of existence and co-
existence.
The phenomenon of habit, however, is not simply a recurring way of acting,
thinking or feeling, but a bodily know-how. Habit, writes Merleau-Ponty, “prompts us
to revise our notion of ‘understand’ and our notion of the bodyxx as it resides neither in
the mind nor in the objective body, but, rather, in the body as lived operative
intentionality. The bodily intentionality is a bond by which the embodied subject is
“tied to a certain world”xxi and this involves the capacity to incorporate elements of the
world so fully that they become part of one’s lived body and as such do not need
cognitive reflection in order to be actualized. In fact, while embodiment is a necessary
9
condition for interaction with the world, one’s own lived body and all that has been
incorporated within it would hinder interaction if it were to become an object for
reflection. Directly focusing on and objectifying each move one makes when for
instance running down a flight of stairs would most likely hinder one’s movements to
such an extent that one might risk falling.
Incorporation and cultivation of habit also involve the acquisition of character and
a specific style of being, through sedimentation of beliefs, norms, values and behaviour
in which a person recognizes herself and which eventually come to be those traits by
which a person is recognized by others.
xxiii
xxii Here it is important to distinguish between
acquisition of habit that is the result of deliberate choice and reflective self-cultivation
on the one hand and acquisition of habit that simply happens through repeated action
without conscious reflection on the other hand, such as for instance the habitual way of
putting one foot in front of the other when walking or of focusing the eyes when
reading. If such unreflective bodily habits are disrupted in one way or another they can
become objects for reflection and lead to reflective rehabituation. These different forms
of habituation raise the question of whether habitual modes of being can qualify as
autonomous. When making an autonomous decision, there is, as Mackenzie and Stoljar
point out, a difference between aspects of our motivational structures that we simply
find ourselves with and aspects that we regard as our own after having reflected on
them.
With regard to habituation of character traits as a result of deliberate decision
making, Wim Dekkers argues for an understanding of bodily autonomy that takes into
consideration and grants authority to remnants of previously made decisions that once
were subjected to critical reflection and have been sedimented in the body as individual
preferences. Discussing the case of severe dementia, Dekkers suggests that behavioral
patterns of persons suffering from dementia “may be interpreted as a remainder of what
once has been ‘real’, that is, rational autonomy.”xxiv Dekkers does not provide any
straightforward definition of rational autonomy but his discussion strongly suggests that
what he has in mind is rationality in terms of a cognitive process of deliberation and
reflection. He puts forth an account of bodily autonomy which combines a
phenomenological approach and understanding of the lived body with a biomedical
notion of automatism and which is able to account for sedimented behavioral patterns as
autonomous. He suggest a use of the term bodily autonomy “analogously to the
meaning of the term ‘autonomic nervous system’” on the basis of the autonomic
10
nervous system not being directly accessible to voluntary control even though higher
brain centers can control autonomic functions. From this follows that, “some body parts
possess an autonomy that can only indirectly be controlled by higher brain centres.”xxv
Such body parts would include for instance vital organs that possess a different form of
autonomy than the one we have been discussing in relation to operative intentionality.
Furthermore, while recognizing an autonomy of the lived body, independent of
conscious deliberations, he nevertheless seems to base his argument on an idea of “real”
autonomy as a cognitive achievement that through habituation can be incorporated into
one’s own lived body as a certain character or style of being. “Tacit bodily knowledge,”
he writes, “is based on the sedimentation of life narratives.”xxvi
In cases of severe dementia, that Dekkers discusses, it seems fairly unproblematic
to speak of a bodily habituation of one’s own past reflections, preferences and deliberate
decisions in so far as symptoms of dementia develop in ages where they disrupt and
alter an already formed identity and relatively long life history. However, while it may
make perfect sense to speak of the tacit bodily knowledge of a person suffering from
dementia as based on sedimentation of his or her life narratives, it does not immediately
follow that these life narratives reflect rational autonomy in the sense of a cognitive
achievement or deliberately and reflectively made decisions. We can well imagine
cases, such as ones of extreme oppression, severe psychosis or grave illness, in which
the sedimentation of habits may have followed lines deprived of “real” or “rational”
autonomy. In fact, the habitual body does not only refer to sedimentation of conscious
acts of deliberation but also to sedimentation of undeliberated responses to situations,
objects and others in the world. Such sedimentation may be articulated as a specific
style of being, which we will discuss in the next section. Further and as discussed
above, residing in the body as lived operative intentionality, habitual actions have what
Merleau-Ponty refers to as “motor significance;the acquisition of habit, he writes, “is
indeed the grasping of a significance, but it is the motor grasping of a motor
significance.”xxvii We can also imagine cases, such as the case of infancy, in which no
rational autonomous decisions have been made and were such decisions have therefore
left no remnants to be habituated.
Thus, with reference to Merleau-Ponty’s account of operative intentionality and
the self-reflexive structure of the lived body described earlier, we suggest that a notion
of bodily autonomy does not require “a remainder of what once has been ‘real’, that is,
rational autonomy”, to speak with Dekkers, but can in fact be developed further beyond
11
the habituation and sedimentation of rational autonomy and deliberate decision making.
As we have seen, the lived body possesses its own operative intentionality, reflecting its
kinaesthetic freedom that cannot be reduced to a bodily automatism, in terms of mere
biomedical functioning or mechanical behaviourism. In fact, the phenomenological
notion of the lived body resists a conventional opposition between automatism and
autonomy. Merleau-Ponty does discuss cases, predominantly the case of the WWI
veteran Johann Schneider, in which motor intentionality and bodily habits take on a
mechanical character but these are, according to Merleau-Ponty, pathological ways of
being in the world where a basic bodily autonomy in different ways is arrested,
inhibited and rehabituated.
V. Bodily relational autonomy
Thus far we have established that the lived body is inherently relational and
intersubjective; its operative intentionality and reflective structure are directed towards
and open to the physical, social, cultural and historical world in which it is situated and
of which it forms part. We have further discussed two forms of bodily autonomy,
namely, on the one hand, the autonomy inherent in the lived body itself through its
operative intentionality and self-reflective structure of double sensation and, on the
other hand, the autonomy of habituated actions, decisions and ways of being in the
world, both previously reflected upon as well as unreflected. Here we will discuss the
latter and in addition to focusing on the role of the body, we also highlight how
interactions between self and others can become sedimented and integrated parts of an
individual person’s style of being.
A bodily style of being refers to a certain manner of engaging with others and the
world, which emerges from the body’s capacities, from habituated expressive postures,
and ways of feeling, thinking, acting and responding to others. It is the result of habitual
modes of being which, as discussed above, acquire “a favoured status for us” through
gradually feeding into our bodily existence. Merleau-Ponty exemplifies with the case of
a man who has built his life upon an inferiority complex for many years; he has made
“an adobe” in certain attitudes and patterns of action and being that can form
perception, emotion and action. The man may come to see certain social situations as
intimidating and feel intimidated by and shy away from them.xxviii In this sense, having
a style is a matter of “being a body and having a history,” as put by Linda Singer.xxix
12
The notion of style and Merleau-Ponty’s example of the man embodying an
inferiority complex allow us to better understand how the self’s sedimented bodily way
of being-in-the-world can express remnants of experiences and decisions made in the
past. Past experiences of intimidating social gatherings – where others respond to him in
a way that he experienced as threatening may make the man in question avoid similar
situations again. In many cases this may not be the result of an explicit choice and even
in cases where a choice is made, it is not enough to note that it has been made; past
experiences of interaction with others including experiences of others’ past responses
need also be brought to light. This is not to psychologize behaviour; the point is rather
that if social gatherings are repeatedly avoided, then this mode of non-interaction can
become an integrated part of habitual ways of acting and interacting i.e. a style of
being – in which social encounters are perceived as frightening or intimidating. In this
way, a style of being can put restrictions on the subject in terms of what actions,
gestures etc. that will be or come easily; future possibilities are transformed into more
or less likely probabilities.
This case highlights that a bodily style of being is intersubjectively formed and
indeed constituted in relation between the self, others and the world. The man who has
built his life on an inferiority complex has not done so in a social vacuum: his action
and others’ responses to him are intertwined in a way that makes it pointless to seek to
define what is “his” and what comes from “others” in his style of being. In other words,
his mode of being-with others is forming and constituting his bodily style of being.
The notion of a bodily style of being that we have just discussed is often brought
in to keep the notions of freedom and facticity together. While there is no determinism
in a style of being, according to Merleau-Ponty, and we may act unexpectedly and
contrary to that style, such contrary action is nonetheless less probable. Freedom needs
to be understood against the backdrop of the idea that we are born into a world already
constituted with meaning. The subject’s freedom is furthermore bound up with her or
his bodily existence and co-existence. Insisting that to be “born is both to be born of the
world and to be born into the world,”xxx Merleau-Ponty captures how human beings
exist in the double way of being both already constituted with a certain meaning and at
the same time themselves constituting meaning. He thereby offers an account of the
situatedness of the subject that recognizes how specific situations form the conditions
for free choices, without completely determining these choice and eliminating freedom
altogether. In the “exchange between the situation and the person who takes it up,”
13
Merleau-Ponty argues, “it is impossible to determine precisely the ‘share contributed by
the situation’ and ‘the share contributed by freedom.’”
xxxii
xxxi Freedom is thus situated in
such a way that “there is no freedom without a field” and since the embodied subject is
of the world with which it is in constitutive relation, it is not outside herself that she is
able to find a limit to her freedom.
Merleau-Ponty’s account of the situatedness of freedom serves as key for our
conception of choice and decision-making as well: there is no dichotomous and sharp
division between influences and limits on decision-making from the “inside” and
“outside” in this perspective. The possible limits to our choices need to be understood
differently: there are choices to make, but that which stands forth as a choice is
thoroughly formed by our bodily modes of acting and interacting with others and the
world. Our very perception of something as a choice needs to be understood against our
whole situation including our bodily capabilities, our goals and plans, as well as our
perceptions of ourselves, others and the world.
Let us take the case of rock-climbing as an informative example.xxxiii
xxxiv
A certain
rock may appear to an individual as a challenge for climbing or a hindrance depending
on what she wants to do. Also, if she wants to climb, certain rocks will stand forth as
insurmountable depending on their size in relation to her lived body, in relation to her
physical condition and how she has been taught to climb. More aspects can be added: it
will matter whether someone else has already climbed here and left helpful signs of
where to go, if the person wanting to climb has a long history of past rock-climbing
family-members and friends who encourage her and support her in this practice.
Furthermore, while climbing, she may find new routes and new moves that allow her to
see rocks that previously looked scarily steep as calling for adventures. The attributes of
the rock are conferred upon it by this person as the particular lived body that she is
in the context of her climbing project. Arguably, the shape of her body and its way
of being in the world can also inform whether signs left by others are perceived as
helpful or not for her.
As another example, we may perceive a dark parking lot differently depending on
for instance the way our bodies are sexed. The parking lot may be a public space that is
constituted as off-limits and dangerous even though it is open and appears to be
accessible. Ann Cahill argues that the threat of sexual assault is “a constitutive and
sustained moment in the production of the distinctly feminine body.”xxxv How we
perceive the dark parking lot is not only informed by our own past experiences of
14
walking on empty sites at night but also on sedimented social and cultural sanctions of
how different bodies are allowed to move in different spaces without being at the risk of
assault. There is a social dimension to the emotion of fear and to perception of particular
public spaces as threatening enough to avoid them, something that may happen without
conscious reflection. While we are free to take the short cut across this empty place,
there are nevertheless certain habituated favoured modes of withdrawing or reaching
forward in particular spaces. With the words of Merleau-Ponty, our freedom does not
destroy our situation, but gears itself to it.”xxxvi As discussed above, freedom is always
situated but this is not to say that it is fixed, rather it continuously forms the situation in
which it is formed. There is thus a double movement between freedom and facticity.
While the way we are situated frames the way in which we perceive the world, others
and ourselves, our situation is, as Merleau-Ponty puts it, also “open” and we may act in
unexpected and non-habituated ways. Furthermore, the openness of our situation
implies that the situation as a whole cannot bring itself into being by itself, just as the
embodied subject cannot bring herself into being by herself. This is to say that by being
intrinsically open, our situation is always and necessarily tied to other situations. By
stressing this openness, Merleau-Ponty points to the ever present possibilities of
choosing otherwise while at the same time stressing the finitude of such possibilities,
turning them into more or less likely probabilities. He also brings out the relationality of
situations and the impossibility of isolating situations from one another.
Examinations of how sedimented injustices can inform the self’s perception,
choice, and action, also bring out the intersubjective dimensions of one’s bodily style of
being. If an individual has lived with social injustices for a longer period of time, they
may be sedimented into her lived body and she may not see them as injustices in
everyday situations until something happens that changes her perspective and lets her
see them in this way. If she makes a decision under such circumstances, she may neither
be forced nor manipulated into a particular decision. This situational whole informs
what she perceives as possible alternatives in the first place in a way that does matter for
autonomy discussions. Such an understanding of the situatedness of perception of
alternatives can be contrasted with formal accounts of autonomy where subjects are
understood as autonomous with regard to a certain decision if they have the ability and
the opportunity to make and execute it. Such formulations down-play how perception,
affect, intentionality, and intersubjectivity constitute part of the bodily subject’s
situational whole in which she or he perceives something as a choice or possibility for
15
her- or himself; they gloss over the difference, relevant for autonomy discussions,
between decisions I make in a cloistered situation and those I make in a less restricted
one.
Autonomous choice may be hampered in various ways. Others may seek to make
us live, act, choose in particular ways that we may not want ourselves; we may feel that
we cannot act differently because of these others even if we are not de facto forced to
act in one way or the other. While freedom, to return to the formulation earlier, may
“gear” itself to our situation rather than turn it over, it is not at all given how freedom
will gear itself towards any one specific situation. If for example, someone has
“‘geared’ their freedom to an oppressive situation one that effectively denies the
possibility of action that opens onto the future, then freedom may be said to have been
suppressed. In such a situation, there may not be any perception of other
alternatives.xxxvii However, we may well imagine other situations in which there is no
actual perception of other alternatives but that we may describe in terms of expressions
of freedom rather than of inhibited freedom. Such an example may be the case of an
individual sacrificing herself for a higher political goal, such as for instance suffragette
women struggling for the right to vote.
In other cases, it may be that the situation is experienced as radically changing
and perhaps forcing non-habituated action and movement. Even if my bodily style of
being makes certain choices and decisions more likely for me than others, there is room
for creativity, change and reflection. Phenomenological analyses have examined the
often painful experience of no longer being able to live assumptions, norms or values
about one’s own bodily existence, previously deeply rooted within and expressed or
enacted with one’s body, and how this makes reflection possible. As an example, an
individual identified as female who in adolescence comes to know that she has no
womb or vagina will most likely come to experience her own bodily situation
differently than before, and such an experience of radical change can trigger reflection
on norms and values regarding sexed bodies.xxxviii
xxxix
Another angle is offered by Elena
Cuffardi in her work on “habits of transformation.” Starting from the
phenomenological insight that habit holds together stability and plasticity,
sedimentation and change, Cuffardi turns to the pragmatist John Dewey’s analysis of
“flexible habit” as the “mark of moral character.” In Dewey’s view, habits are always in
play and “part of the moral activity is judging what to focus on and what to leave up to
habit.”xl Cuffardi combines Dewey’s focus on remaining open to new impulses that can
16
make us see things differently and that are crucially employed in “giving habits
pertinence and freshness,” with Simone de Beauvoir’s focus on how the self as a mode
of being can form herself by reaching for that which is not yet present, thereby reaching
beyond the self. Through these combined perspectives, she argues for the importance of
making reflection and questioning an embodied habit. Conscious cultivations of bodily
habits, she suggests, can offer a “situated practice of resistance to stagnation.”xli For the
discussion of a bodily relational autonomy, this can be seen as a way to acknowledge
the bodily dimension of perception, choice and action while also if we successfully
manage to make a questioning mode a habit expanding the space of reflexivity and
allow the development of skills for future decision-making together with others.
Finally, and since much of the autonomy literature discusses whether and, if so,
what kind of reflection is required for a decision to qualify as autonomous, one more
phenomenological insight is noteworthy. Merleau-Ponty suggests that we commonly are
misled to think that voluntary deliberation precedes decision-making and is a matter of
freely examining one motive after the other in search for the weightiest or most
convincing. On his account, deliberation instead follows a pre-formed tacit decision,
which draws attention to certain motives that forcefully either confirm or counter the
latently present decision.xlii
VI. Concluding remarks: what difference does it make?
We have argued above that bodily autonomy, which is always relational in a very basic
sense, is expressed in at least three ways. First, when we act in habitual ways that once
were the result of thought-through choices. Second, such habitual actions can be
contrasted with actions that we have never perceived as open to choice: they may have
become habituated and part of our lived body by mimicking and they may be
detrimental, liberating or strengthening for the self and the other. Such actions are what
we have discussed in terms of bodily style of being and they qualify as articulations of
autonomy in so far as they are expressions of situated freedom. Even though such
actions may be carried out without any reflection and may never actually change, the
freedom in situation implies the possibility and potential of acting differently. Third, we
have furthermore argued that actions can qualify as autonomous through the operative
intentionality of the lived body. This is to broaden the scope of autonomous actions to
include some of those that we “simply do,and to allow for a differentiation between
dimensions of bodily relational autonomy.
17
The account of bodily relational autonomy put forth here highlights how relational
aspects are present in the formation of a bodily style of being and in the perception of
something as a choice in a given situation. Freedom and subjectivity in this reasoning
becomes situated, embodied and intersubjectively formed, as is also autonomy. To
connect to a point we made in the beginning, we do not conceptualise autonomy in
opposition heteronomy; rather, autonomy is inherently heteronomous in so far as it is
situated. Thus, while we follow a tradition of arguing for freedom as a necessary
condition for autonomy, we stress that freedom is always situated and only becomes
meaningful as freedom in relation to facticity. The freedom conditioning autonomy is
thus grounded in situations that are always relational and involve social, historical and
cultural dimensions. To act autonomously is not to presume that one acts independently
of others; instead, autonomous decisions are made in the midst of social relations, as
responses to others, whose perceptions and actions inform mine. Independence can only
be expressed and experienced as independence against the background of taken for
granted dependencies, such as embodiment and situatedness.
A further important aspect, taking seriously sociality, is that autonomy to a great
extent is something that is ascribed to a person from an outside perspective. There are
many examples of how marginalized individuals and groups have been and are denied
autonomy in different ways. Our discussion of a situated bodily relational autonomy,
involving bodily reflection, open for the possibility of ascribing other forms of
autonomy to such individuals and groups. At the same time, acknowledging bodily
relational autonomy as situated and bound to facticity can also resist tendencies to
ascribe in equal measure to all human beings what might be called a “neutral” non-
situated rational autonomy. Ascribing such a detached disembodied autonomy to
everyone without differentiation may lead to the serious consequence that oppressive
situations are not made visible in their formative force. This may also lead to quite
unreflective attitudes that a person could at any time have changed her situation or that
staying in an oppressive situation is ultimately a matter of free choice. Such attitudes are
founded in a rather groundless ideal of autonomy that does not take the facticity of
situation and embodiment into consideration.
By bringing a phenomenological focus on the lived body into dialogue with a
discussion on autonomy, we have articulated an account of bodily relational autonomy
that can help us better understand how expressions of autonomy take place in different
ways. This can contribute to both phenomenological and analytical discussions of
18
autonomy. Further, our account has broader implications for how we conceive of
subjectivity. By taking the facticity of situation, embodiment and sociality into serious
consideration we have argued for an understanding of subjectivity as inherently
relational and constituted in relation to its whole situation, including its relation to
others, its own bodily conditions and habituated ways of being in the world. Such an
understanding challenges conceptions of subjectivity in terms of self-coincidence and
atomistic independence, opening for further investigation into the constitutive relations
between self, other and world, as well as the material and social conditions of
consciousness.
Acknowledgements
The article is part of Käll’s work within the research program CEDER, financed by
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, and of Zeiler’s work as Pro Futura Scientia Fellow. The Pro Futura
Scientia Program is a collaboration between the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study,
Uppsala University and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. We thank all these institutions for
financial support for this research.
Endnotes
i See McLeod, C., Self-trust and Reproductive Autonomy (Cambridge, Mass and London: the
MIT Press, 2002). See also Donchin, A., “Understanding Autonomy Relationally:
Toward a Reconfiguration of Bioethical Principles,” Journal of Philosophy and Medicine
26 (2001): 365-386; Mackenzie, C and N. Stoljar (eds) Relational Autonomy. Feminist
Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self (Oxford and New York: Oxford
University Press, 2002); Christman, J., “Relational Autonomy, Liberal Individualism and
the Social Constitution of the Selves,” Philosophical Studies 117 (2004): 143–164;
Mackenzie, C., “On Bodily Autonomy,” in Handbook of Phenomenology and Medicine,
ed. S.K. Toombs (Dordrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2008), 417-
440.
ii For an exception to this tendency, see Mackenzie, “On Bodily Autonomy.”
iii Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception (London and New York: Routledge, 1962).
iv Compare Beauchamp and Childress, The Principles of Biomedical Ethics.
v E.g. Nordenfelt, L. Action, Ability and Health: An Action-Theoretical Approach (Dordrecht:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000).
19
vi E.g. Dworkin, G. The Theory and Practice of Autonomy (Cambridge and New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1996); Frankfurt, H. “Freedom of the Will and the Concept
of the Person,” The Journal of Philosophy 68 (1971): 5-20.
vii Freeman, L., “Reconsidering Relational Autonomy: A Feminist Approach to Selfhood and the
Other in the thinking of Martin Heidegger,” Inquiry 54 (2011): 361-383; Friedman, M.,
“Autonomy and Social Relationships: Rethinking the Feminist Critique,” in Feminists
Rethink the Self, ed. Diana Tietjens Meyers (Boulder and Oxford. Westview Press, 1997),
40-61; McLeod, Self-trust and Reproductive Autonomy; Donchin, “Understanding
Autonomy Relationally: Toward a Reconfiguration of Bioethical Principles;” Mackenzie
and Stoljar (eds), Relational Autonomy. Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and
the Social Self; Christman, J. “Relational Autonomy, Liberal Individualism and the Social
Constitution of the Selves;” Sherwin, S (ed), The Politics of Women's Health: Exploring
Agency and Autonomy (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998).
viii See Mackenzie and Stoljar, Relational Autonomy. Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy,
Agency, and the Social Self.
ix Mackenzie, C., “On Bodily Autonomy,” 432; Oshana, M.A.L., “The Autonomy Bogeyman,”
Journal of Value Inquiry 35 (2001): 209-226; Friedman, “Autonomy and Social
Relationships: Rethinking the Feminist Critique;” Friedman, M., “Autonomy, Social
Disruption, and Women,” in Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy,
Agency, and the Social Self, eds. Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar (Oxford and
New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 35-51; Freeman, L, “Reconsidering
Relational Autonomy: A Feminist Approach to Selfhood and the Other in the thinking of
Martin Heidegger;” Stoljar, N. “Informed Consent and Relational Conceptions of
Autonomy,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 36 (2011): 375-384.
x Mackenzie and Stoljar (eds), Relational Autonomy. Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy,
Agency, and the Social Self, 13.
xi Mackenzie, “On Bodily Autonomy,” 419.
xii Mackenzie, “On Bodily Autonomy,” 427.
xiii Mackenzie, “On Bodily Autonomy,” 432.
xiv The idea of the body as a self-governing system has been developed for instance in terms of
the idea of autopoiesis, originally introduced by Humberto Maturana and Francisco
Varela to explain the autonomous self-creative nature of living systems. See Maturana, H
and F. Varela. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Boston Studies
in the Philosophy of Science, volume 42 (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1980). The notion of
autopoiesis has further been explored in a number of different areas and has recently been
taken up by Joel Krueger and Dorothée Legrand in a discussion of relational autonomy.
20
Following Maturana and Varela, Krueger and Legrand suggest that autopoiesis in terms
of structural coupling provides a way of enabling and securing autonomy by insisting on
its relationality. They characterize the body as constitutively open on both an organic and
an intersubjective level in order to establish the embodied self as “neither fully enclosed
“inside’ […] nor fully dissolved in or determined by what’s ‘outside.’” Instead self and
other (inside and outside) are co-constitutive of one another through the structural
coupling of their open bodies. The idea of autopoiesis resonates in several ways with
Merleau-Ponty’s characterization of the lived body in terms of operative intentionality
and double sensation, holding its own “kind of reflection”. See Krueger, J. and D.
Legrand, “The Open Body,” in Enacting Intersubjectivity: Paving the Way for a Dialogue
Between Cognitive Science, Social Cognition, and Neuroscience, eds. Antonella Carassa,
Francesca Morganti, and Guiseppa Riva (Lugano: Universita della Svizzera Italiana,
2009), 111.
xv Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 93.
xvi Barbaras, R., The Being of the Phenomenon (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana
University Press, 2004), 154f.
xvii In The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty in several places describes the body as “a
sensible for itself” and “an exemplar sensible”.
xviii Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, 245.
xix Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 441.
xx Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 144.
xxi Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 148.
xxii See Ricoeur, P., Oneself as Another (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press,
1992).
xxiii Mackenzie and Stoljar (eds), Relational Autonomy. Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy,
Agency, and the Social Self, 13.
xxiv Dekkers, W., “Persons with Severe Dementia and the Notion of Bodily Autonomy,” in
Supportive Care for the Person with Dementia, eds. Julian Hughes, Mari Lloyd-Williams,
and Greg Sachs (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 258.
xxv Dekkers, “Persons with Severe Dementia and the Notion of Bodily Autonomy,” 257.
xxvi Dekkers, “Persons with Severe Dementia and the Notion of Bodily Autonomy,” 258.
xxvii Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 143.
xxviii Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 442.
xxix Singer, L., “Merleau-Ponty on the Concept of Style,” Man and World 14 (2001): 161.
xxx Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 453.
xxxi Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 453.
21
xxxii Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 439.
xxxiii Sartre, J-P., Being and Nothingness (New York: Washington Square Press, 1992); Merleau-
Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception; Chisholm, D., “Climbing Like a Girl: An
Exemplary Adventure in Feminist Phenomenology,” Hypatia 23 (2008): 9-40.
xxxiv For a discussion of gendered dimensions of rock-climbing, see Chisholm, D., “Climbing
Like a Girl: An Exemplary Adventure in Feminist Phenomenology.”
xxxv Cahill, Ann. Rethinking Rape (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 161.
xxxvi Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 442.
xxxvii Weiss, G., Challenging Choices: An Ethic of Oppression, in The Philosophy of Simone de
Beauvoir: Critical Essays, ed. Margaret Simons (Bloomington: Indiana University Press,
2006), 241-261.
xxxviii Zeiler, K. A Phenomenology of Excorporation, Bodily Alienation and Resistance.
Rethinking Sexed and Racialized Embodiment, Hypatia. A Journal of Feminist Philosophy,
28(1): 69-84.
xxxix Cuffardi, E. Habits of Transformation. Hypatia. A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 26
(2011): 536.
xl Cuffardi, “Habits of Transformation,” 538.
xli Cuffardi, “Habits of Transformation,” 536.
xlii Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 435.
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24
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Most philosophical discussions of psychopathy have centered around its significance in relation to empathy, moral cognition, or moral responsibility. However, related questions about the extent to which psychopaths are capable of exercising autonomous agency have remained underexplored. Two central conditions for autonomous agency that are highlighted by many existing accounts include (1) reasons-responsivity, and (2) authenticity. However, available evidence indicates that psychopaths are inadequately responsive to reasons in general and other-regarding reasons in particular, and also seem to lack a set of enduring concerns that might reveal which desires and attitudes are truly theirs. This leads them to behave impulsivity and to disregard the interests and concerns of others. Drawing from the enactivist approach in philosophy of mind and the notions of habit and affordance, I argue that both their prudential deficits and apparent moral failings are rooted, at a deeper level, in a lack of well-developed affective framing patterns and a corresponding disruption to selective attention.
Book
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This groundbreaking text interrogates the constructed boundary between therapy and violence, by examining therapeutic practice and discourse through the lens of a psychologist and a survivor of sexual abuse. It asks, what happens when those we approach for help cause further harm? Can we identify coercive practices and stop sexual abuse in psychology, psychiatry, and medicine? Tosh explores these questions and more to illustrate that many of the therapies considered fundamental to clinical practice are deeply problematic when issues of consent and sexual abuse are considered. The book examines a range of situations where medical power and authority produces a context where the refusals and non-consent of oppressed groups are denied, dismissed, or ignored. Arguing that key concepts and discourses have resulted in the production and standardisation of a therapeutic rape culture in the helping professions. Tosh uses critical intersectionality theory and discourse analysis to expertly highlight the complex interrelationships between race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in our understanding of abuse and how we define survivors. Drawing on a wide range of comprehensive examples, including experiences and perspectives from cisgender and transgender men and women, as well as nonbinary and intersex people, this is essential reading for students and researchers of critical and queer psychology, gender studies, as well as mental health practitioners and social workers.
Chapter
According to the mind-shaping thesis, humans minds are necessarily and completely embodied; that is, they are neither merely brains, nor extended minds, yet all social institutions saliently frame and partially determine the social-dynamic patterns of essentially embodied consciousness and agency. Such literal mind-shaping is causal, partially determined by means of self-reflexive feedback loops, and irreducibly normative. According to the collective sociopathy thesis, many contemporary social institutions literally shape our essentially embodied minds and lives in destructive and deforming ways. Inside neoliberal social institutions, in particular, shared practices, enculturated expectations, and language work together to solicit habits of mind that impede human flourishing. Nevertheless, according to the collective wisdom thesis, some institutions are constructive and enabling in the sense that they make it really possible for us to self-realize, connect with others, liberate ourselves, and be deeply happy. To unpack these ideas, we look to insights from the enactivist approach in philosophy of mind and to the notions of affective framing, participatory sense-making, habit, and affordances. And on the emancipatory political theory side, we look to early Marx’s notion of social production and Ashley Taylor’s notion of robust solidarity.
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This article examines how people who are shorter than average make sense of their lived experience of embodiment. It offers a sociophenomenological analysis of 10 semistructured interviews conducted in the Netherlands, focusing on if, how, and why height matters to them. It draws theoretically on phenomenological discussions of lived and objective space, intercorporeality and norms about bodies. The analysis shows that height as a lived phenomenon (1) is active engagement in space, (2) coshapes habituated ways of behaving and (3) is shaped by gendered norms and beliefs about height. Based on this analysis, the article challenges what we label as the ‘problem-oriented approach’ to discussions about growth hormone treatment for children with idiopathic short stature. In this approach, possible psychosocial disadvantages or problems of short stature and quantifiable height become central to the ethical evaluation of growth hormone treatment at the expense of first-hand lived experiences of short stature and height as a lived phenomenon. Based on our sociophenomenological analysis, this paper argues that the rationale for giving growth hormone treatment should combine medical and psychological assessments with investigations of lived experiences of the child. Such an approach would allow considerations not only of possible risks or disadvantages of short stature but also of the actual ways in which the child makes sense of her or his height.
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Generally, dementia is a long-lasting and gradual process. While the body often remains strong for a number of years, mental capacities as well as the accumulated competencies and memories of a lifetime gradually slip away. Late stage symptoms include an inability to recognize familiar objects, surroundings, or people, increasing physical frailty, difficulties in eating and swallowing, weight loss, incontinence, and gradual loss of speech and movement control. Reflexes become abnormal and muscles grow rigid. In the end stage, people with dementia lie in bed in a foetus-like position seemingly living as a vegetative organism, being totally dependent on the care of others. This chapter focuses on people with severe dementia, answering the question of what supportive care could contribute to the well-being of these people. It argues that people with severe dementia cannot entirely be denied a (rudimentary) form of selfhood or personhood. They definitively are not persons in the strict sense of moral agents who are self-conscious and rational and demonstrate a minimal moral sense, but at least they can be called persons in a weaker sense.
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The article examines how some culturally shared and corporeally enacted beliefs and norms about sexed and racialized embodiment can form embodied agency, and this with the aid of the concepts of incorporation and excorporation. It discusses how the phenomenological concept of excorporation can help us examine painful experiences of how one's lived body breaks in the encounter with others. The article also examines how a continuous excorporation can result in bodily alienation, and what embodied resistance can mean when one has undergone or undergoes excorporation. Elaborating on the work of, among others, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, Drew Leder, and Sarah Ahmed, I discuss incorporation and excorporation of beliefs and norms regarding sexual difference, such as beliefs and norms regarding female and male embodiment, through a reading of Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex. I also suggest that it is useful to understand the postcolonial scholar Frantz Fanon's narrative of how he could not but attend to his own skin color while living in France in the 1940s and 1950s, in terms of excorporation. Whereas these are different narratives in many ways, I regard them as helpful for clarifying what excorporation implies and what analytic work this concept can enable.