Publication Date: 21 July 2020

 

“The idea ‘body’ is by no means one word for one thing”, wrote Gabriel Marcel in his Metaphysical Journal. Hence “Bodies”. However, in line with the philosopher’s penchant for the twofold over the manifold, this issue focuses on two fundamental aspects of the body: 1) as an organ of perception (“The Lived Body”), and 2) as an object of perception (“The Living Body”).

 

2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Drew Leder’s classic study embodiment, The Absent Body. In the opening essay of this issue, Leder offers a wonderfully clear overview of the lived body as “the subject of experience, that which opens up a world of observable objects, and people, and meanings, and desires”, while at the same time being largely absent from our experience – ecstatic, recessive, obscured, forgotten.

 

But absence is a luxury of the pre-pandemic body. As Havi Carel puts it, “Our bodies have become a site of concern”. The body is no longer the transparent medium through which we effortlessly navigate the world, and this emergence of the body to the foreground marks a profound shift in our sense of belonging. Similarly, Luna Dolezal notes that “all bodies have become dislodged from the usual taken-for-granted fabric of embodied social relations”. The consequence is a repertoire of interaction rituals increasingly dominated by fear and distrust.

 

While the opening section on “The Lived Body” focuses on the body as experienced from the inside, the second section on “The Living Body” considers the object body, the biological body, that body which can be seen, measured, dominated. Sara Brill’s analysis of “natural” hierarchies of bodies in the ancient world opens up questions about who “owns” or “holds” the body in ways that are chillingly relevant in light of the recent spectacles of racist violence in the United States.

 

But not all questions about the body are overtly political. What we mean by “the body” is changing rapidly, as new views on its relationship to technology, its brain, and its cells emerge. Peter Wolfendale offers us a glimpse of the promises of artificial embodiment, while Ellen Clarke questions the philosophical implications of the finding that the average human body includes up to ten times as many microbial cells as human ones. Finally, Lauren Slater aims to convince us that Descartes had some better tricks up his sleeve regarding the relation of body to mind than he gets credit for in our post-dualist age.

 

Other highlights in this issue include: Maria Baghramian considers why both ends of the political spectrum find relativism so compelling, while Catherine Wilson explores relativism in relation to our shifting moral judgements; Chiara Ricciardone offers a cross-disciplinary overview of the concept of the virus; and Moya Mapps explores the interplay of technology and testimony in the Black Lives Matter Movement. Once again, it has been a pleasure to work with the hugely talented artist Megan Diddie.

 

Summer 2020: Bodies

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THE PHILOSOPHER

Published since 1923