Sub-thesis 2

Researcher: Line Ryberg Ingerslev

As responsive beings, humans express their existence

There is no understanding without expression. As aspects of responsiveness interpretation and expression are not just activities we occasionally perform, but pervasive modes of our being. It may be helpful to illustrate the intimate link between interpretation and expression at a very basic level. The extraordinary helplessness of the human infant has often been noticed. A significant implication of this observation is that human beings, physiologically speaking, are given to themselves as a challenge they must respond to. The question ‘what does it mean to be a human being?’ poses itself as early as at the level of acquiring basic bodily skills. In short: human beings must incorporate themselves into their body. This predicament, however, paves the way for humans advancing their bodies into unheard of ascetic endurance and athletic performance. It is obvious that this full-scaled physiological mode of self-interpretation is immediately linked to the expressivity of our bodily behavior and gestures. Being expressive beings, we virtually, i.e. corporeally, respond to the project that we are.

Sub-project 2: The Phenomenology of Expression

Our cognitive, volitional and emotional life has numerous expressive aspects. Expressivity thus encompasses a multitude of topics attracting anthropological minded philosophy: pretending, pointing, gesturing, flirting, playing and story-telling to name but a few. If expressivity, however, is not to diffuse into a random collection of interesting phenomena, it must be rooted in an anthropological structure that pervades human expressivity. The aim of sub-project 2 is to show that the notion of responsiveness provides this structure. It allows revisiting what traditionally has been presumed to be the subsidiary role of expressivity, according to which we think, want or feel first and then express our thoughts, volitions or feelings afterwards. But expressivity is not the packaging of a content that is essentially self-sufficient. In expressing thoughts, volitions or feelings we become what we are. Expressivity highlights the engagement in responding to the challenges of one’s existence from the point of view of its bodily appearance.

In carrying out this idea, sub-project 2 will focus on two related questions:

  • Is expressivity necessarily bound to a biological body?
  • What is the relation between corporeal and extra-corporeal expressivity?

The characteristically human way of both being and having a body entails that man is already object to his own techne at the level of his physis; and artifacts can become part of a person’s body and thus mediate their expressive life (i.e. prosthesis). Clothes, tools and equipment are thus personal extra-corporeal expressions. Hence, the traditional distinction between the organic and the technical proves inadequate for conceptualising that between bodily and extra-bodily expressivity. Nevertheless, the latter difference remains important. While expression in both cases is a technical mode of inscription, there is a proprioceptive side to bodily gesturing which is absent when human expressivity becomes extra-bodily. The question of what this difference implies for the constitution of personhood will be addressed. To what extent is ‘becoming oneself’ dependent on the gestures of a living body? To what extend can it be enacted in extra-bodily forms of objectification?

Sub-project 2 will draw upon classical phenomenological and anthropological literature on expressivity (Husserl, Plessner etc.), revisit the predominantly French discussion of externalisation, inscription and power (Leroi-Gourhan, Foucault, Derrida, Stiegler) and compare the latter to recent findings pertaining to the extended mind thesis in analytical philosophy (inaugurated by Clark and Chalmers).