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Bodily Awareness, Imagination and the Self

Smith, Joel

European Journal of Philosophy. 2006;14:1:49-68.

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Common wisdom tells us that we have five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. These senses provide us with a means of gaining information concerning objects in the world around us, including our own bodies. But in addition to these five senses, each of us is aware of our own body in ways in which we are aware of no other thing. These ways include our awareness of the position, orientation, movement, and size of our limbs (proprioception and kinaesthesia), our sense of balance, and our awareness of bodily sensations such as pains, tickles, and sensations of pressure or temperature. We can group these together under the title ‘bodily awareness’. The legitimacy of grouping together these ways of gaining information is shown by the fact that they are unified phenomenologically; they provide the subject with an awareness of his or her body ‘from the inside’. Bodily awareness is an awareness of our own bodies from within. This perspective on our own bodies does not, cannot, vary. As Merleau-Ponty writes, ‘my own body…is always presented to me from the same angle’ (1962: 90). It has recently been claimed by a number of philosophers that, in bodily awareness, one is not simply aware of one's body as one's body, but one is aware of one's body as oneself. That is, when I attend to the object of bodily awareness I am presented not just with my body, but with my ‘bodily self’. The contention of the present paper is that such a view is misguided. In the first section I clarify just what is at issue here. In the remainder of the paper I present an argument, based on two claims about the nature of the imagination, against the view that the bodily self is presented in bodily awareness. Section two defends the dependency thesis; a claim about the relation between perception and sensory imagination. Section three defends a certain view about our capacity to imagine being other people. Section four presents the main argument against the bodily self awareness view and section five addresses some objections.

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26th August, 2009, 23:14:01
Last modified by:
Smith, Joel
Last modified:
20th June, 2012, 08:24:22

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