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From the Body to the Body Politic

Mensch, James R.

Publication Year: 2009

How does the body politic reflect the nature of human embodiment? To pursue this question in a new and productive way, James Mensch employs a methodology consistent with the fact of our embodiment; he uses Merleau Ponty’s concept of "intertwining"—the presence of one’s self in the world and of the world in one’s self—to understand the ideas that define political life.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy

Front Matter

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pp. ix

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pp. xi

Socrates taught that philosophy begins with conversation, with the questioning and response that marks dialectic. This book also developed through a series of conversations. Thus, acknowledgment is above all due to those with whom I shared and developed the themes of the present work. I am grateful, first of all, to Dr. Barbara Weber of the University ...

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pp. 3-16

One of the striking paradoxes emerging from the war in Iraq was the initial failure of the military to provide its troops with adequate body armor.1 Few activities of men are more physical than the practice of war: from Homer’s description of a spear being thrust “into the nose next to the eye” to contemporary accounts of the wounds caused by roadside ...

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1. The Intertwining: The Recursion of the Seer and the Seen

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pp. 17-23

Perhaps the most difficult task for a reader of The Visible and the Invisible is to understand what Merleau-Ponty means by the “intertwining.” The brevity and scattered nature of his comments on this concept and the fact that this work remains unfinished contribute to this difficulty. Because of his untimely death, we cannot know with any certainty what the final ...

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2. Artificial Intelligence and the Phenomenology of Flesh

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pp. 24-31

A. M. Turing argued that there was “little point in trying to make a ‘thinking machine’ more human by dressing it up in . . . artificial flesh.” We should, instead, draw “a fairly sharp line between the physical and the intellectual capacities of a man.” For over fifty years, drawing this line has meant disregarding the role flesh plays in our intellectual capacities. Correspondingly ...

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3. Aesthetic Education and the Project of Being Human

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pp. 32-42

The attempts to describe intelligence apart from embodiment are part of a long philosophical tradition, one that, at least implicitly, seems driven by the fear of death. As I noted in the introduction, such fear seems to be behind the attempts to prove the immortality of the soul by showing its separation from the body. Thus, Socrates, at the beginning of his proofs ...

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4.The Intertwining of Incommensurables: Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

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pp. 43-56

In the author’s note that introduces the Life of Pi, Yann Martel claims that he first heard of Pi in a coffee shop in India. A chance acquaintance tells him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God” (LP, vii).1 The story concerns the life of an Indian boy who grows up surrounded by the animals of his father’s zoo. When Pi is sixteen, his family decides ...

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5. Flesh and the Limits of Self-Making

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pp. 57-71

A constant theme in human self- reflection has been our ability to escape the control of nature. As Sophocles remarks in his Antigone, “Many are the wonders, none is more wonderful than what is man. He has a way against everything.”1 A list follows of the ways in which man overcomes the limits imposed by the seas, the land, and the seasons. We do this by ...

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6. Violence and Embodiment

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pp. 72-80

One need not accept Hegel’s view of history as a “slaughter bench” to see violence as a pervasive factor of human experience. As history teaches, a good part of the diplomatic and political activities of humankind have been dedicated to dealing with the collective and individual consequences of violence. The necessity of such action can be read from the ...

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7. Excessive Presence and the Image

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pp. 81-88

Daily the television confronts us with scenes of human suffering. In the news, starving children stare vacantly through listless eyes, weeping storm victims survey the ruins of their lives, the casualties of the latest terrorist bombing regard us from their hospital beds. We are also confronted by documentary films with their images of victims of previous catastrophes, ...

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8. Politics and Freedom

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pp. 89-98

The role of freedom in political life is often taken for granted. Were one limited to the daily news, one would think that politics had largely been absorbed by economics, that its chief function was promoting the growth of the economy. Even when this is broadened to include society’s collective interests in the health, education, and welfare of its citizens, ...

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9. Sovereignty and Alterity

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pp. 99-109

Europe was in crisis when Husserl gave the lectures sponsored by the Wiener Kulturbund. In 1935 her democracies were weakened by the economic depression, while fascism and communism seemed triumphant. Everywhere there was a sense of menace, of the impending renewal of the European civil war whose first stage had ended in 1918. Husserl said ...

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10. Political Violence

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pp. 110-128

The violence that has always marked European history reached a culminating point in the first half of the last century. The two world wars the period witnessed were extraordinarily violent. In the First World War, the combatants were subject to an industrial- scale slaughter by being systematically exposed to machine gun fire, artillery bombardments, and poison ...

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11. Public Space

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pp. 129-140

“Public space” is the space where individuals see and are seen by others as they engage in public affairs. It is thus the space of the town hall meeting, the legislative assembly, or any of the other venues where public business is done. In her book On Revolution, Hannah Arendt links this space with “public freedom.” This freedom, she notes, is distinct from “the ...

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12. Sustaining the Other: Tolerance as a Positive Ideal

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pp. 141-147

The modern conception of tolerance grew out of the exhaustion occasioned by the endless religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The various “edicts of tolerance” that brought this period to a close were formulated to permit the practice of sects that were distinct from the officially approved religions. As a result, tolerance, understood ...

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13. Forgiveness and Incarnation

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pp. 148-156

Even if we do not accept Arendt’s position that without forgiveness, political action is impossible, the question of forgiveness still has a political aspect. The end of wars, the breakup of empires, and the termination of internal conflicts all leave unfinished agendas of reconciliation behind. How do the Ukrainians forgive the Russians for the famines they caused? ...


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pp. 157-180


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pp. 181-186


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pp. 187-190

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780810163676
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810125605

Page Count: 204
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy