Corporeality and Practice

What an intolerable thing a body is: it feels pain, it twitches, it experiences all kinds of itches. Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have a body at all? How about if we existed as pure consciousness, without being tied to our painful, ignoble bodily existence? Is this all just a dream? The answer is more prosaic than the question: Yes, indeed: it is just a dream – a dream that is made possible by a traditional philosophical notion. Ever since Descartes, the division of humanity into an extended and a thinking part, into the body (ephemeral, finite, all-too-human) and the consciousness (everlasting, infinite, almost divine) has been an integral component of the philosophical repertoire. No wonder that many have dreamed of finally ridding themselves of this unpleasant burden.

In the Philosophy III department, we are researching why we simply cannot delete the body from the realms of our experience and why Cartesian dualism is wrong – or at the very least, not particularly helpful. In the process, we make use of phenomenological terms and descriptions, especially those of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, but also draw on the reflections of Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Iris Marion Young, and Judith Butler. One key finding of this research is: Our existence is characterized by a “corporeal difference.” That is, we are always two separate things: The body as the animate receptacle of our being (Leib) and the objectified body as mere physical matter (Körper) – to designate both, we can speak of the “lived body” or “corporeal body” (Leibkörper). When we speak of the “body,” we view our corporeal body like other objects in the world (tables, chairs, television sets) from a third-person perspective. On the other hand, my body is also my gateway to the world – in this first-personal perspective, I then refer to my corporeal body as Leib.

These concepts are then applied to a variety of topics in the department’s research: In relation to the political (see also Phenomenology of the Political), we ask ourselves what role our corporeal body plays in political processes – for example, in protests or civil disobedience. But also in a more general sense: What role do emotions (which are always bodily emotions) play in the political? In an interplay with the cognitive sciences, we are trying to gain new insights into the relationship between body and mind (although we should perhaps not describe them in these terms at all) based on body-phenomenological research, and to juxtapose this with previous research, e.g., in enactivism. In this context, linking technology with our corporeal body is an important field of our research. Merleau-Ponty already used the example of the blind man’s cane, which, by extension, becomes part of his body. Now, as a result of the digitization of our lives, the interaction between body and technology has reached an unprecedented level. Despite these changes, our world remains a bodily one – because: without a corporeal body we have no experience, and without experience no world.

In the research field Corporeality and Practice, the following works have been published so far (selection):

  • Selin Gerlek: Korporalität und Praxis. Revision der Leib-Körper-Differenz in Maurice Merleau-Pontys philosophischem Werk. Paderborn: Fink 2020.
  • Ulrich Dopatka: Phänomenologie der absoluten Subjektivität. Eine Untersuchung zur präreflexiven Bewusstseinsstruktur im Ausgang von Edmund Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Henry und Jean-Luc Marion. Paderborn: Fink Verlag 2019
  • Thomas Bedorf und Selin Gerlek (Hg.): Philosophien der Praxis. Ein Handbuch, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2019 (= UTB).
  • Thomas Bedorf und Selin Gerlek (Hg.): Phänomenologie und Praxistheorie (Gastherausgeber Schwerpunkt), in: Phänomenologische Forschungen (2017), Nr. 2, 3-184.
  • Ulrich Dopatka: Diesseits von Leib und Körper. Die Phänomenologie Michel Henrys und die Praxistheorie. In: Phänomenologische Forschungen 2017, Bd. 2, 147-159.
  • Thomas Bedorf und Tobias Nikolaus Klass: Leib – Körper – Politik. Untersuchungen zur Leiblichkeit des Politischen, Weilerswist: Velbrück 2015 (= Kulturen der Leiblichkeit, Bd. 2), 2., verb. u. erw. Aufl. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2018 (= UTB).
  • Emmanuel Alloa, Thomas Bedorf, Christian Grüny und Tobias Nikolaus Klass (Hg.): Leiblichkeit. Geschichte und Aktualität eines Konzeptes, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2012, 2. verb. u. erw. Aufl. 2018.
Chair of Philosophy III | 04.12.2023