chapter  2
15 Pages

Pragmatism’s Embodied Philosophy: From Immediate Experience to Somaesthetics

ByRichard Shusterman

Pragmatism as I understand and practice it is an essentially embodied philosophy. In today’s academic discourse in which embodiment is a trendy buzzword, the notion of embodied philosophy is not uncommon but it remains vague. In its minimal meaning, it signifies a philosophy that is not (like various forms of philosophical idealism) anti-somatic and that takes the body seriously as a dimension of human experience and knowledge that deserves positive philosophical exploration rather than denunciatory critique as the essential source of our cognitive errors and moral sins. But embodied philosophy can mean something stronger, namely that the body provides the key perspective or at least a principal orientation around which that philosophy is structured. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology would be an excellent example of this stronger sense of embodied philosophy. Embodied philosophy, however, can mean still more, when it is further understood as a philosophy that

is not just elaborated in theory – in the discursive forms of writing, reading, and discussing texts – but also given body in the actual practice of the philosopher’s life. One expresses one’s philosophy through one’s manner of living, thus exemplifying and conveying one’s teaching through one’s somatic appearance, comportment, performance, and action. The Confucian tradition of philosophy is quite clear in affirming this idea by which a philosopher’s (or governor’s) aesthetic self-stylization was a crucial dimension of selfcultivation and teaching. Confucius indeed once informed his disciples that he could cease speaking and simply teach as heaven or nature (tian) does by embodying the teaching in his behavior. In the Western tradition, we can interpret Socrates’ exemplary life and death in the service of philosophy as embodying philosophy in this third way, which is perhaps the most demanding notion of embodied philosophy. Ancient Greek and Roman thinkers frequently advocated this ideal by contrasting true philosophers who lived their philosophy to those who merely wrote philosophy and thus were denigrated as mere ‘grammarians.’1 The American protopragmatist H. D. Thoreau recalls this idea in Walden, where he writes: ‘There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live.’2