The Enactive Philosophy of Embodiment: From Biological Foundations of Agency to the Phenomenology of Subjectivity

In Miguel García-Valdecasas, José Ignacio Murillo & Nathaniel Barrett (eds.), Biology and Subjectivity Philosophical Contributions to Non-reductive Neuroscience. Springer Verlag. pp. 113-129 (2016)
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Abstract

Following the philosophy of embodiment of Merleau-Ponty, Jonas and others, enactivism is a pivot point from which various areas of science can be brought into a fruitful dialogue about the nature of subjectivity. In this chapter we present the enactive conception of agency, which, in contrast to current mainstream theories of agency, is deeply and strongly embodied. In line with this thinking we argue that anything that ought to be considered a genuine agent is a biologically embodied (even if distributed) agent, and that this embodiment must be affectively lived. However, we also consider that such an affective agent is not necessarily also an agent imbued with an explicit sense of subjectivity. To support this contention we outline the interoceptive foundation of basic agency and argue that there is a qualitative difference in the phenomenology of agency when it is instantiated in organisms which, due to their complexity and size, require a nervous system to underpin their physiological and sensorimotor processes. We argue that this interoceptively grounded agency not only entails affectivity but also forms the necessary basis for subjectivity.

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Mog Stapleton
University of Edinburgh