Somaesthetics of Freedom:The Dialectic of Spontaneity and Reflection

Richard Shusterman

“Philosophy is paradigmatically a reflective discipline, with the injunction of “know-thyself” as its founding Socratic challenge. Self-reflection, however, can be a dangerous enterprise, and philosophers have often warned of its dangers. Reflection on one’s bodily dimension has been especially criticized, even by body-friendly philosophers who insist, against Plato and others, that one’s bodily dimension is an essential part of oneself and crucial to our action. Many argue, for example, that explicit consciousness of our somatic feelings and of our bodily actions harmfully distract from the aims of those actions and thus hinders or paralyzes their effective performance. Reflection is thus seen as imprisoning the freedom of action. Most psychologists and philosophers have followed this line of argument endorsed by William James and Merleau-Ponty, insisting on free spontaneity as the key to smooth and successful performance of actions. In my presentation, I will critically examine this view from both Western and Asian sources, considering both arguments for and against it. This will involve an exploration into the notion of spontaneity and its relation both to habits (which have their own imprisoning and emancipatory features) and to reflection.”