Essay 13: Can Philosophy Educate Us? Somebody as a Some Body

The German philosopher Husserl (died 1938) educates us by positing two levels of “having a body.”

You can get a slightly strange sense of this when you see that “being somebody” could be written as “being some body.”

Husserl raises this issue of the body and in particular one’s own body. 

In his masterful book Husserl, David Bell writes:

“In one sense my own body is a physical object, a material, spatio-temporal object like any other: it has a weight, a size, a chemical composition, a history, and so forth. Husserl’s term for the human body viewed merely as a physical object is “Der Koerper.” Quite clearly, however, there is also a sense in which my own body is not given to me in that way: it is experienced and known by me in ways quite different from those in which I experience or know other physical objects. I do not, as it were, stumble across my body in the course of experience in anything like the way in which I come across a building, say, or another person. It is not simply that my own body is very familiar to me, nor even that it is ‘always there,’ like some substantial shadow from which I can never ‘escape.’ It is rather that, at a certain level, my ‘relation’ to my body is not strictly speaking a relation at all: it is not, at least, a relation between me and some other object.

“Although my body is certainly a physical object, and is, moreover, the intentional object of many acts of perception, conception, and memory, there is also a sense in which my own body is a subject. And in this sense my body is unique amongst intentional physical objects in that it belongs, also, on the subjective side of the intentional relation.

“My body can feel tired, my legs can feel stiff, my hands can feel the warmth of the fire, and so forth. My own body is an object-subject, or a body-subject.

“Husserl calls the human body viewed in this way ‘der Leib,’ a term which I shall translate as ‘the living body.’ My ‘living body’ is immediately expressive: when I am tired, or amused, or in pain, it is that object which yawns, smiles or cries out.”

(David Bell, Husserl, Routledge, 1991, page 208)

Gabriel Marcel, who taught at Harvard in the 50’s, wrestles with this Husserl point when he (Marcel) writes in his “metaphysical diary” that he has been perplexed for decades over the fact that “I both have a body while I am a body.” Having and being are entwined in a way that I can’t separate.” I have and I am are coiled around each other.

We have an intuitive sense of these entwinings when we say of a person, “he’s a busybody” (busy body/busybody) or “I am somebody” (some body) and not a nobody (no body).

Husserl restates this thesis this way:

“A human being is not a mere combination or aggregation of one thing, called a body, and another called a mind. The human body is through and through a conscious body: every movement of the body is “full of mind”–coming, going, standing still, laughing, dancing, speaking, etc.”

“When I put my hand too close to the fire, it is, when all is said and done, my hand that hurts.”

(David Bell, Husserl, Routledge, 1991, page 209)

In other words, you have a body and your body has you and you have each other. The body you weigh on the scale in the bathroom is one among several “players” and cannot be understood only as a mechanism.

In daily life, we do glimpse this a bit when we use worlds like psychosomatic.

Husserl was Heidegger‘s teacher and mentor.