Embodied Subjectivity Workshop, Dublin 25-27 May 2010


'Husserl and the Body Politic', Timo Miettinen (University of Helsinki)

For the part of our Western philosophical tradition that has aimed at establishing a theory of community, the image of the human body has served as one of the most important points of departure. This tradition, often discussed under the heading of body politic, is still a decisive feature in our understanding of communities. In this presentation I wish to elucidate the Husserlian theory of community by examining its critical relation to the tradition of body politic. For even though Husserl’s analyses on “We-subjectivity” and “personality of a higher-order” drew heavily on his reflections on individual consciousness, especially in his texts of the 1930s he often accentuates the antithetical relation to the established tradition of body politic – especially the organic and naturalist implications that were inherent to the early twentieth-century crisis-debate. As I argue, despite Husserl’s insistence of interpreting communities as essentially “spiritual wholes” (eg. HuaVI: 320), he never abandoned the idea of collective corporeality. In his manuscripts on intersubjectivity, Husserl often accentuates the corporeal character of communities, attributing them a form of “collective bodily existence (kollektive Leiblichkeit)” (Hua39: 181), as well as spatial orientation (Hua14: 206). Thus by elucidating some of the central concepts of Husserl’s communal theory, I hope to enlighten his twofold relation to the Western tradition of body politic.

'Chronic pain in phenomenological-anthropological perspective', Katherine J. Morris (Mansfield College, Oxford University)

‘Chronic’ pain (as opposed to ‘acute’ pain, although the distinction is both vague and contestable and this is in itself important) has been seldom discussed by philosophers – be they analytic philosophers of mind or more phenomenologically oriented philosophers. It has, however, for a variety of reasons, become a significant research topic within medical anthropology. It raises epistemological, metaphysical and ethical issues that acute pain does not, e.g., ‘If there is a single experience shared by virtually all chronic pain patients it is that at some point those around them… come to question the authenticity of the patient’s experience of pain’ (A. Kleinman, 1988: The Illness Narratives. Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition. New York: Basic Books, p. 57); again, 'Severe chronic pain... can so deeply affect the sufferer's existence as to erode personal identity' (J. E. Jackson, 2000: Camp Pain: Talking with Chronic Pain Patients, Philedelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, p. 2). What I want to try to do here is to bring the medical anthropology literature on chronic pain into dialogue with phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty in particular) – or rather, since much of the medical anthropology literature on this topic is already relatively phenomenologically informed, to sharpen and deepen some of their formulations. Conversely, the phenomenological literature on pain and more generally on the phenomenology of the body might gain from a consideration of chronic pain as well as from the social and cultural perspectives that anthropology can bring to bear. Thus such a dialogue could be mutually illuminating.

'Husserl on the Second-level Sensibility: Dynamics of Activity and Passivity and the Embodiment of Spiritual Meaning', Simo Pulkkinen (University of Helsinki)

In this paper I will explicate Edmund Husserl’s notion of “second-level sensibility” and its roots in dynamical relationship of activity and passivity. By this explication I will clarify how Husserl can claim that the environing world, taken in its full experiential concretion, is never given as a world of “mere things” but rather always “embodies” various levels of “spiritual meaning” ranging from merely personal characteristics of familiarity to various culturally shared layers of meaning. By employing the notion of “embodiment” when speaking of spiritual meaning, Husserl wants to stress that this broadly speaking subjective meaningfulness is in no way a mere separate or subsequent clothing given to otherwise meaningless material things. Rather it forms an intimate and seamless unity with the material reality: in our everyday dealings with the world we are faced with a reality that as such embodies various levels of subjective meaning. Husserl also claims that we don’t have to exercise any kind of conscious activity in order to come to terms with these higher levels of meaning but that they are rather something simply and straightforwardly perceived – and for the most part even passively pregiven before any such activity could take place. This idea nevertheless seems to become problematic when compared with Husserl’s own recurring conviction that all such meaning has to have a subjective and active constitution: only the sensible characteristics of the environment can be received purely passively through the senses while all other meaning has to be somehow actively conceived and formed by the subjectivity. In this paper I will show how Husserl solves this seeming problem by reworking the distinction of “active meaning-formation” and “passive pregivenness of content” and by developing the notion of “second-level sensibility” that reveals the reciprocal and dynamical relationship of these seemingly separate dimensions activity and passivity.