- Ethics Embodied: Rethinking Selfhood through Continental, Japanese, and Feminist Philosophies
Ethics Embodied: Rethinking Selfhood through Continental, Japanese, and Feminist Philosophies by Erin McCarthy is a concise, clear beginning to a discussion that has recently been gaining interest: comparative feminist philosophy. In this book McCarthy ably lays much of the groundwork necessary for such a discussion and also makes a good argument for its importance. On McCarthy's account, comparative feminist philosophy, and ethics in particular, fills problematic holes in the dominant Western (and arguably masculine) ethical framework. These holes are highlighted by the framework's difficulty accounting for subjects and situations in which embodiment, the emotions, and interpersonal relationships play a primary role. That is to say, by overly emphasizing public verifiability, detached knowledge, and external relationships, the dominant ethical framework has missed the significance of personal objectivity, affective knowledge, and intimate relationships. McCarthy's introduction of comparative feminist ethics is not intended to usurp this dominant framework, but to highlight its insufficiencies and offer a complementary perspective. [End Page 101]
McCarthy introduces her book within this wider framework, but her discussion focuses on the idea of the embodied self as it is elucidated by the Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō (1889-1960) and contemporary feminist philosophers, including Virgina Held and the French philosopher Luce Irigaray. McCarthy's discussion is based on the premise that Watsuji's idea of the relational self and Irigaray's emphasis on feminine embodiment are both intimacy-oriented accounts (to use Thomas P. Kasulis' terminology). An intimacy-oriented account contrasts with the integrity-oriented account that characterizes much of Western philosophy, focusing on the self as a "bodymind" rather than as a disembodied rational mind. The benefit of turning to the intimacy-oriented account is its inclusion of voices and perspectives that have historically been silenced by the integrity-oriented account, including women, the body, the emotions, and (one might argue) non-Western cultures.
The first half of this work is dedicated to an examination of the relational, embodied self of Watsuji Tetsurō, especially in terms of how it differs from better-known continental accounts. This is needed both to clarify Watsuji's position and to explain why Heidegger's or Husserl's idea of the self is not the best one for McCarthy's project. In relation to Heidegger, McCarthy argues that while Heidegger "moved toward a recognition of the importance of relations for the self . . . his concept of self still remained largely individual" (p. 20). She writes that although Heidegger defined the self as in the world, he also defined the self as solitary, which "makes it difficult to see how authentic being-with plays out" (p. 21). Therefore, the authenticity of the solitary self is an independent authenticity, one determined by the self's own being-toward-death. In other words, Heidegger's concept of the self is that of a self in the world that nevertheless runs along its own independent, temporal axis.
Watsuji's idea of ningen, or human being, responds to this by stressing the spatial nature of the self's being in the world, and therefore the relations with others that occupy this space and help to determine the self. McCarthy notes that while Watsuji developed his idea of ningen using Heideggerian concepts, he goes beyond Heidegger's account by addressing both the temporal and spatial aspects of the self. Thus, Watsuji considers the way in which the self is characterized not just by solitary independence, but also by interrelated "betweenness." This preserves the relationality of the self with others at the same time that it recognizes the temporal dimension that conditions the self's individuality.
McCarthy argues that while this account of the self brings Watsuji closer to Edmund Husserl, there are important differences between the two. Namely, despite Husserl's recognition of the role of the community in the...