Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Colombetti, Giovanna. the Feeling Body

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Colombetti, Giovanna. the Feeling Body

Article excerpt

COLOMBETTI, Giovanna. The Feeling Body. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2014. xviii + 270 pp. Cloth, $42.00--It is tempting to locate our thoughts and feelings strictly inside our brains (as opposed to, say, the whole body or outside the body altogether). Many succumb to temptation and even identify people with their brains. But a growing number of cognitive scientists and philosophers dissent. Their research programs take as their starting point alternative hypotheses that locate cognition, perception, and feeling within the human body as a whole.

Colombetti takes these programs one step further. The central thesis her book develops, explores, and defends is that affect is pervasive--throughout the human body, and throughout living things in general. This is the sort of thesis one might expect a writer to propose only to--through a series of qualifications--eventually deny. Colombetti is not in that business. She means what she says here, and her thesis is as bold as it sounds. It implies, for example, that even single-celled organisms enjoy affect appropriate to their lowly station; as she puts it, "Life is thus always 'minded' or 'mindful,' and the richer a living form, the richer its mind."

The reader may be startled to learn that all living things have minds; indeed, this is just the sort of thesis that gamers incredulous stares. Interestingly, Colombetti does not address this kind of worry head-on. But she does give the ingredients to cook up a reply. It would go as follows. The mind is constitutively affective. Affectivity is a lack of indifference and a sensibility or interest for one's existence. And even the simplest living things "have a capacity to be sensitive to what matters to them" because they have a (possibly nonconscious) "perspective or point of view from which the world acquires meaning." These capacities and perspectives are, in turn, a matter of an organism's propensity toward self-organization and the ability to generate and maintain structured order. Organisms engage with their environments and their own parts in complex, purposeful, and patterned ways. These dynamical patterns of self-organization sometimes suffice for emotion, but in all cases suffice for sense-making and affect. …

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