CFP: Philosophical Marathon 2019 - Philosophy and the Body

Submission deadline: October 7, 2019

Conference date(s):
November 18, 2019 - November 22, 2019

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

The Student Philosophical Society , Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Topic areas


For many years, the Student Philosophical Society has been organizing the traditional Philosophical Marathon, a week-long series of whole-day lectures that accompany UNESCO's World Day of Philosophy. The marathon goes on as an uninterrupted weekly series of lectures and takes place on the premises of the Faculty of Arts. In 2019 it will take place between 18th and 22th of November. This year's subject is Philosophy and the Body. Throughout its history, the philosophical thought often stumbled upon and whirled around the body, but it rarely made the body the core of its enquiry.

Therefore, the Student Philosophical Society invites philosophical researchers and students of various levels of philosophy studies to present their papers to a wider audience. Applications have to be submited until the 7th of October at and should include a 250 word abstract of your future contribution. Abstracts will be collected and published in the brochure and on the Society’s website. The best contributions will be published in a scientific collection of lectures that the Society will publish in the year after the event.

Throughout its history, the philosophical thought often stumbled upon and whirled around the body, but it rarely made the body the core of its enquiry. The body came into the foreground as a philosophical object in contemporary philosophy (e.g. in the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty and Foucault; or in somaesthetic), but that does not mean it was never conceptualised before that. This year’s Philosophical marathon aims to bare bodies that had always been present, but obscured in philosophy and philosophical questions (the mind/body dichotomy in consciousness disputes, physicalism/idealism, externalism/interiorism etc.). You can also theorize about the body in Leibniz’s or Newton's mechanics, question what the body of the sovereign implicates in modern political philosophy or retrace your steps back to the medical legacy of Galen. If none of the alternatives pique your interest, you can always return to the stubborn dualism of soul and body – the body that is (often) degraded and (rarely) elevated. After all these centuries, the most philosophically elegant elucidation might still seem to be Spinoza's, who tries to disprove said dualism via attributes. It is no wonder, that in the 20th century Foucault proclaims the body as the prisoner of the soul.

To help you find your path among the twists and turns of the philosophical body, we have decided to include a short summary of main philosophical schools and approaches, but do not let that hinder your inspiration.

In ancient philosophy, the concept of the body is inseparably tied to the soul as the ultimate underlying principle (arché) that gives life to the body. Life is understood as movement, which encompasses the ultimate underlying principle and that is the soul. Plato, e.g. in the second part of Timaeus, meticulously explains bodily functions and their correlation with states of the soul, stemming from his idea of an equilibrium between parts of the body and the souls. Plato’s disciple Aristoteles in his essay On the Soul criticizes theories on the soul and the way it is tied to the body of his predecessors. With regard to his metaphysical theory of potentiality and actuality he explains the soul as the first realisation of the body that has organs. With that conceptualisation, he tries to clearly determine the connection between the soul and the body. The question of how to understand said connection is still open to interpretations. In late ancient philosophy of Plotinus, the relationship between the body and the soul once again comes to the foreground, as he tries to reinterpret Plato who in that time serves as the basis of Christianity. Plotinus confronts the peripatetic lesson of the relationship between the body and the soul, and he strives to explain how the soul can be present “everywhere” in the body. In the platonic system, that question is analogous to the question of the relationship between One and the mind, One and the soul while One over many is the underlying principle of a bodily world, as it is the principle of the mind and the soul.

Despite all the different approaches in ancient philosophy in the relation between the body and soul, the ratio is always in the foreground, as we can see in Aristoteles definition of a human as zoon logon echon, radicalised in the history of philosophy into animal rationale. Because of said rupture, a common critique of “western philosophy” from ancient philosophy on is that it does not regard a human being holistically, but fragmentary, as it centres on the mind. On the other hand, Asian philosophies try to regard a human holistically – e.g. through interlacement of thought with meditation and an immediate (mystical) experience. The way to Truth cannot be achieved without disregarding thought at one point and immersing in pure experience. We can observe two different methods here. Method of the closed circle is typical for “western” philosophy: it is a discursive-logical method, with the intention of encapsulating the existing into a total whole. The typical method for Asian philosophies, is the method of an open circle: it makes use of the logical and rational deduction, but it refutes it at a certain point, as the world is too chaotic to be perceived in a logical way. The Truth can thus only be experienced. The mind and the bodily immediateness need to be intertwined if we wish to discover the relation between the human and the Truth or the nature of a human in general. The presence and the involvement of the body in philosophy is a necessity in Asian philosophies.

Early modern philosophy overlooks the Asian tradition – which gains popularity in European intellectual circles in the time of Romanticism – and it returns to the Aristotelian dilemma of the connection between the soul and the body. In Cartesian or early modern philosophy said dilemma falls under the concept of “the problem of interaction between the soul and the body”. The efforts to elucidate the dilemma deepens through the solutions like Descartes’s theory of the pineal gland, Malebranche’s’ occasionalism, Leibniz’s presumed harmony between the body and the soul or Spinoza’s parallel relation between the body and the mind. During the transition from ontology to epistemology, the perception of reality becomes problematic as wall, as it is dependent on the body that enables emotional perception. Different answers to the question of perception of reality or the origin of human ideas splits philosophy into two clans: rationalists and empiricists. The question of the body also occupied thinkers of the Age of Enlightenment. The most obvious example of this is Diderot’s D'Alembert's Dream where a feverish D’Alembert deludes of the workings of the body, developing a theory of the matter as a process of evolution. The last stop in this evolution is the unfolding of a unified consciousness of the whole matter.

A century after Diderot, we can observe a return to Cartesian meditations and their critique – in Husserl’s phenomenology, the question of body is perceived as a part of the problem of lifeworld (Lebenswelt). The body is doubled – on one hand we have the body as a biological system, and on the other, the body as the centre of the lived, essential experience and the receptive field (Leib/Körper). In the field of hermeneutic phenomenology the subject of physicality is connected to spatiality as one of the constituting elements of being-in-the-world. In Being and Time, Heidegger explains spatiality of Dasein (therefore the body) as constituted by time, as far as temporality is an essential structure of Dasein. In contemporary phenomenology, the body was at the forefront of French phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, The Visible and the Invisible), in connection with the later works of Husserl on one hand, and with the hermeneutical analysis of being-in-the world on other. In contemporary literature (Pavel Kouba, Hans Reiner Sepp, Jeff Malpas), we can find arguments against the position of Heidegger in Being and Time on reducing spatiality to temporality. They try to separate spatial or topological questions, often referring to Heidegger’s later works (from Contributions to Philosophy on).

If through phenomenology we can discern a move away from the Cartesian positions and the continuation of the ancient tradition of inaugurating ratio, psychoanalysis represents the crucial cut with said tradition. The birth of psychoanalysis is strongly tied to the body. The first patients of Freud were hysterics, suffering from different psychical symptoms. The psychoanalytical treatment of those symptoms was unusually for the end of the 19th century, as Freud sought the cause of their illness in their mentality. The problem of the interaction between the mental and the physical is therefore at the centre of psychoanalytical research – and not as a problem anymore, but as treatment. We can perceive symptoms only through expression or language – language thus becomes the focal point of Lacan’s return to Freud. In the Lacanian interpretation, the physical and pleasure (jouissance) are presented as the real, which we can only approach through language – in the symbolic register. The language and thus mentality are intertwined with the body. We cannot separate the body from language and think about it independently, as well as the language cannot be separated from the pleasure on the side of the body. The aim of psychoanalysis is confronting the subject with the influence of language on his body.

Charcot, Freud’s mentor and predecessor retained the symptoms of hysteria on the level of the physical. Unlike him, Freud let his female patients speak and listened. For Charcot, the female patient was the body itself, which is not really an anomaly in the philosophical canon, as the category of the soul belongs to men, while the body is female. The metaphors of femininity and masculinity are of the core metaphors in philosophy: throughout the history of philosophy, there have been many metaphors of masculinity, spirit, form and reason on one side; and femininity, matter, emotions on the other. The most prevalent metaphor was tying activity to the side of men and passivity to the side of women. Metaphors and analogies are an organic part of philosophy, as they have an explanatory power. Through feministic approaches, the soul and body dualism is criticised as gender binarism (soul/man, body/woman), which does not only have implications in the philosophical metaphysics, but is also noticeable in the everyday conventions. We can observe it as a disciplinary practice with the aim of achieving beauty ideals and regulating the biological qualities of the female body, tied to reproduction. The efforts of overpowering the hierarchical difference between the soul and the body are political efforts – they can be displayed on the streets during protest marches against prohibition of abortion; or in theory, trying to rewrite the excluded femininity back into philosophy.

The hysterics of the 19th century were confined to the same institutions as not only women with epilepsy and other mental illnesses, but also unwed mothers and old and poor homeless women. “The great incarceration” and the differentiation and the development of total institutions (psychiatry, hospitals, prisons), that are the bedrock of the modern state, is one of the great subjects of Michel Foucault. Through the analysis of said institutions, Foucault developed the concepts of power, discipline and surveillance. Tied to all three concepts is the body. Madness and Civilization illuminates the attitude towards people with mental illnesses and their bodies when the concept of mental health was not yet developed; and in Discipline and Punish, where we observe the practice of torture and the developments of prison, the body is the core concept connected to discipline. As Foucault reveals through his research, power needs bodies, it needs docile bodies that are obedient and easy to control. Using historical sources, Foucault takes us through the history of bodies: from the times, when bodies were an object, subjugated to different methods of causing pain; to the age of first military drills, used to train the bodies to repeat certain movements; and finally to the years, when bodies became an object and the target of surveillance, used to create obedient individuals. For Foucault, the history of the body is thus interlaced not only with an individual’s mentality and his way of think, but also with the non-physical concept of power, not a body by itself, but inseparably tied to it.

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