Embodied Cognition at the Crossroads of
Philosophy, Linguistics, Psychology and Artificial Intelligence

May 13-15, 2021, Cluj-Napoca, ROMANIA

Panel 4

Embodied Cognition and the Living Body (1)



Friday 14/5, 12:00-13:30


Cristian Bodea


Stefan Sebastian Maftei

Affiliation: Department of Philosophy, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Title: A Critical Analysis of Mark Johnson’s “aesthetics of meaning and understanding”
Abstract: The paper discusses some of the theoretical challenges that the „embodied meaning” approach brings to well-established views in the field of traditional aesthetics. The main focus of our research will be on Mark Johnson’s theory of the “aesthetics of meaning”. Johnson has been among the first authors to open the debate, several decades ago, about cognition’s “embodied” development. Accordingly, his newer “embodied aesthetics” hypothesis, an approach that has surfaced throughout his latest works as an offshoot of the discussion pertaining to the issue of the “meaning of meaning”, as he puts it, is based on two major claims: first, that the concern of (embodied) aesthetics is our „visceral engagement with meaning”; second, that „aesthetics” goes beyond our experience with the arts and even beyond the notion of “aesthetic experience” as we currently define it, encompassing „all the processes by which we enact meaning through perception, feeling, imagination and bodily movement” (Johnson). In sum, this extension (or, better yet, this re-conceptualizing) within the field of aesthetics presents new theoretical challenges to the already battered fortress of traditional aesthetics. The final issue here is whether this apparent radicalization undermines or, actually, assists and strengthens the conceptual legitimacy of the “aesthetic experience”, a notion which was and still is pivotal nowadays to the field of aesthetics as such.


Jan Halak

Affiliation: Palacky University
Title: Higher Cognition Embodied: Merleau-Ponty’s Account of Body and Speech as Diacritical Operators
Abstract: The current paper aims to explain how Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of experience as a “diacritical operation” offers an original and promising strategy to interconnect his phenomenology of embodiment with an enactivist philosophy of higher cognition and language use. Merleau-Ponty’s work has inspired enactivists from the very outset, but little attention has yet been paid to the topics which became prominent in the specialized Merleau-Ponty scholarship over the last twenty years. In particular, Merleau-Ponty’s works on language from around 1947–1953, including his first two courses from the Collège de France (The Sensible World and the World of Expression, 2011; The Problem of Speech; unpublished), represent fundamental development of his classical account of embodiment from the Phenomenology of Perception, a work that is most often referred to by enactivists. Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical appropriation of Saussure’s structuralist linguistics in the late 1940s allowed him to reinterpret his earlier phenomenological account of perception and the body in terms of “diacritical operations” or processes of structuring the environment into meaningful ground-figure units. This shift led Merleau-Ponty to better theorize how the vehicle of these operations, the “body schema,” is subject to transformations that can negatively affect its structuring capacity, such as in the cases of prolonged immobility (sleep) or corporeal pathologies (apraxia). More importantly, it also helped Merleau-Ponty to describe how the structuring capacity is affected positively, through the process in which the body incorporates perceived elements of the environment and relies on them as on second-order diacritical operators. (For example, if circumstances call for it, my visual perception of my own body can guide me in the process of tactually controlling my body.) Building on this interpretation of the body, as a dynamic diacritical system with various levels of organization (e.g., tactile and visual), Merleau-Ponty took up Saussure’s structuralist linguistics and interpreted speech as another level of organization of the body-schematic diacritical activity. Unlike other perceived elements of the environment, language signs contract all previous efforts for diacritical operations into the evidence of a single word, phrase or formula. In this way, the sedimented nature of the diacritical system of language founds the abstract, subject-independent nature of symbolic experiences, but also requires the symbolic meaning to be (re)enacted by someone in speech. In my view thus, Merleau-Ponty’s works inspired by structuralism articulate both a fundamental continuity and a qualitative difference between embodied experiences in a narrower sense and “higher” cognitive operations such as the use of symbolic systems, abstract thinking or mathematical reasoning. Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of cognitive processes as “diacritical” operations supports enactivist intuitions on higher cognitive processes as doings (e.g., Gallagher’s or Hutto’s recent takes on mathematical thinking). However, Merleau-Ponty’s works also add another element to the enactivists accounts by articulating several levels on which such operations take place and by clarifying why the “higher” levels ought to be considered as relatively invariable starting points for actions, not merely results or correlates of actions.


Dominic N Ekweariri

Affiliation: University of Wuppertal
Title: Affectivity and World disclosure: Heidegger and Richir
Abstract: It is a philosophical truism that Heidegger has the credit of developing an all-encompassing idea of world-relatedness in his existential analytic of Dasein, though relatedness is here never to be understood in terms of intentionality. One of Dasein’s manners of being in the world is developed in Findingness (Befindlichkeit) and its ontical correlate of affectivity (Stimmung understood as 'mood'). In this paper I will show that Heidegger’s account of affectivity - which as his programmatical determination showed included an ontical dimension or otherwise lived, personal experiences - was overshadowed by a dense ontology that could not make way for real phenomenal experiences of the said world. Besides, in that account we are lost when we seek to answer the question of whether moods are “one” or “many”. This is not without a hard consequences of lumping background feelings and emotions together. I seek to point how the deficiencies in Heidegger’s account of the affective life could be overcome in Richir’s account of affectivity. However, after identifying two major aspects of affectivity (affection and affects) which are necessarily rooted in the body as a conferer of meaning - using Richir to elucidate how Heidegger’s ontical and ontological dimensions of Affectivity could be successfully separated - I would mildly criticize Richir (against phenomenal solipsism) for falling into the same pit for which he reproached Heidegger of falling into: existential solipsism. In the end I would suggest a way in which these two core aspects of affectivity belong to the same reality and develop a philosophical theory of how contraries could be compatible with each other, which has as its motivation the explanation of the relationships that hold between one and many in Heidegger, ie. between occurent emotions and background feelings.


Cristian Bodea

Affiliation: Dept. of Social and Human Sciences, Romanian Academy, Cluj-Napoca Branch
Title: The Phenomenology of the Living Body. Towards a Theory of Bodies
AbstractThe aim of this paper is to offer an in-depth analysis on the concept of embodiment. From a Husserlian phenomenological perspective, there are two ways in which the body can be conceived: 1. the body as object (i.e. corpse), or the anatomical body (Körper); 2. the body as animated, living and lived – thus, capable of subjectification (Leib). The latter take on the body indicates a holistic approach, considering the body in its complexity: feelings, affects, language, cognition, and so on. At this point, there is no distinction between subject and object; in other words, there is no distinction between mind and body. A body capable of subjectification (i.e. of being a subject) is a body whose materiality is deconstructed, since other immaterial elements are included in its structure. This idea is expressed by the concept of chair (body of flesh), in Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Later on, another French phenomenologist, Marc Richir, will use the same concept in connection with the one of embodiment. For him, being embodied means to have flesh. And flesh is for him, language. What Marc Richir succeeds, is to displace the mind-body / subject-object dilemma to a particular theory of meaning. For Richir, the meaning itself is a mixture of bodily sensations, gestures, affects, and so on. This means that there is a phenomenological substratum for any symbolical institution. I propose to understand by symbolical institution the act of cognition. Using this hypothesis, we can infer that the very act (of cognition) represents the embodiment of meaning. Thus, embodied cognition and the living body became involved in a relation of reciprocity.


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