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In German discussions over the last twenty years of the difference between what it is to be a body (in German: Leibsein) and what it is to have a body (Körperhaben), many have been concerned to remind us that we owe this conceptual distinction to the philosophical anthropologist Helmuth Plessner. He introduces the distinction in an essay from 1925—written in collaboration with the Dutch behavioral researcher Frederick Jacob Buytendijk—“Die Deutung des mimischen Ausdrucks. Ein Beitrag zur Lehre vom Bewusstsein des anderen Ichs” (“The Interpretation of Mimetic Expressions: A Contribution to Understanding One’s Consciousness of Other Subjects”). Buytendijk later explained that it was Plessner who worked out the philosophical sense of this distinction, while Buytendijk merely helped with the examples illustrating its behavior-theoretical context (Boudier 1993). In contemporary English and French discussions, Plessner and Buytendijk are virtually unknown (Krüger 1998). One rather assumes that the difference between lived body (Leib) and mere (physical) body (Körper) stems from Merleau-Ponty, despite the fact that he (1966, 1976) [End Page 256] dutifully makes reference to Buytendijk, Plessner, and Max Scheler in his main works on behavior and perception. But German discussions in the last two decades do not stop short at reminding us of the true source of this distinction; they also purport to give reasons why we cannot follow Plessner, or can follow him only in part, in his use of it.

For example, in his book Leibsein als Aufgabe (Being One’s Body as a Task), Gernot Böhme writes that Plessner only works out this distinction within the framework of an anthropological comparison of animals and humans. This comparison is, however, inconclusive, Böhme claims, because Plessner at once claims that the Leib/Körper (lived body/body) distinction should already manifest itself in higher animals while at the same time maintaining that such animals do not recognize this distinction but live it as a unity. Clearly, Böhme (2003, 25–29) continues, humans develop a reflexive distance to this unity of Leib and Körper, which is why that unity is experienced as a distinction, albeit in an unclear way. A similar view is to be found even earlier, in the writings of Hermann Schmitz. Since the mid-1960s, Schmitz has held that Plessner is missing a positive account of what it is to be one’s body in living it (Leib). Rather, Plessner always characterizes what it is to be one’s body only indirectly, by reference to the phenomenon of having a body (Körper), according to Schmitz. By doing so, Plessner falls back into the tradition of the Philosophy of Reflection, where one might as well endorse something like Fichte’s concept of self-consciousness, which Schmitz (1965) himself does. Similarly, Jürgen Habermas claims, in his series of lectures Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne (The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity [1985, 368–69]), that this phenomenological anthropology simply leads us back to a philosophy of the subject rather than conceptualizing the social by means of language. Nevertheless, in his late work (after 2000) Habermas (e.g., 2001) does employ the distinction between being a body (Leibsein) and having a body (Körperhaben)—with a favorable reference to Plessner—so as to put himself in a position to so much as thematize the role of the body in leading a life within the realm of linguistic communication. Finally, to conclude this little survey of the philosophical secondary literature, Bernhard Waldenfels, despite his high estimation of Plessner, nevertheless recommends an incisive critique of him in his multivolume Phenomenologie des Fremden (Phenomenology of the Foreign). For Waldenfels (1999, 164), the body—in the sense of the functioning body (Merleau-Ponty)—is the transitional point, the Umschlagstelle (Husserl), where mind merges into nature and [End Page 257] nature merges into mind. The principle error that has plagued nearly all philosophers and sociologists, including Plessner, according to Waldenfels, has been to conceive of the distinction between being one’s body and having a body in terms of the role of some “third”—that is, the role principally occupied by experts and judges. The role of the third, however, leads us...


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