Philosophy of the Body and Mind

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Drawing from both the Western and Chinese traditions, examine philosophical ideas about the nature of the human body: what kind of entity is it, and how does it produce our self-hood as individuals and as a species? We address topic such as: The concept of a healthy body; the body and sexuality; the body and pain; and the concept of ‘deviant bodies’.


  • What is the Human Body? We will begin with an overview of philosophers both Ancient and Modern. We will examine their understanding of what the body is, its role in making us the human beings we are, and its relation to the mind.
  • Chinese Philosophy of the Body: This week we will look at an alternative view to the Western tradition. Chinese Medicine views the body from within its own philosophical framework. We will study the philosophy behind this Eastern view and its relation to the cosmic order.
  • The Body in Representation: We will look at how the body has been represented in various ages and societies, and the cultural, religious and political implications of these representations.
  • Beauty and the Beast: In many societies connections have been made between beauty/virtue/ health, and alternatively between evil/ ugly/ disease: what is the basis for these connections. This week we will also look at the concept of ‘deviant bodies’ and their connection to various ideologies. The French philosopher Foucault has much to say on this issue.
  • The Body and Sexuality: Ideas about how sex works and its relation to virtue and the good life have varied widely over history. We will consider some of the philosophers on this issue and also some contemporary views.
  • The Body and Pain: Where is pain located? We commonly say that it is in the body, but is this an accurate description of how pain works? We look at both ancient ideas about pain and then some very contemporary view on this issue.
  • The Concept of a Healthy Body: There is much contemporary discussion in medicine on what constituted ‘normal’ in terms of health; Is wellbeing the same as being medically healthy?
  • The Phenomenal Body: We will do two weeks on the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty is one of the most significant theorists of the 20th c, his philosophy of the body grounded much of the subsequent work on the issue across medicine and cultural studies.
  • The Phenomenal Body in Space: Merleau-Ponty on perception and movement.
  • Contemporary Philosophy of the Body: We will end with some current philosophers and their theories of the body in the Twenty first century.

PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have an overall idea of the history of ideas about the body.
  2. Understand the philosophy of the body from a phenomenological point of view.
  3. Discuss some of his main concepts of dualism: the relationship between mind and body.
  4. Relate concepts of the body to their personal experience.
  5. Apply concepts of both mind and body to cultural issues.