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goes on I am conscious of my breathing and of a tension in my facial
muscles “ is that to say that I ¬nd these feelings frightful? Might they not
even be a mitigation?” (Zettel, 499). Wittgenstein is surely right that our
emotions are not reducible to bodily feelings nor to any mere sensation;
emotions instead involve a whole context of behavior and a background
of language games, a whole form of life in which the emotion plays a part.
Bodily feelings, Wittgenstein claims, are also incapable of explaining
will. Here again James is the target of critique. In the chapter on will
in Principles of Psychology, James argues that our voluntary movements
rely on more primary bodily functions and are guided by “kinaesthetic
impressions” of our proprioceptive system that have sedimented into a
“kinaesthetic idea” or “memory-image”: “whether or no there be anything else in
the mind at the moment when we consciously will a certain act, a mental conception
made up of the memory-images of these sensations, de¬ning which special act it
is, must be there.” James goes on to insist that “there need be nothing else, and
that in perfectly simple voluntary acts there is nothing else, in the mind, but the
kinaesthetic idea, thus de¬ned, of what the act is to be” (PP, 1100“1104).
Though James™s kinaesthetic theory might be criticized as “in¬‚ation-
ary” in positing the need for a special conscious feeling to explain and
accompany every act of will, he actually intended his theory to be a de¬‚a-
tionary challenge to the still more bloated account of will proposed by
philosopher-scientists like Wundt, Helmholtz, and Mach. In addition to
the kinaesthetic feelings, they posited a special active “feeling of innerva-
tion,” that accompanies the “special current of energy going out from the
brain into the appropriate muscles during the act” of will, while James
maintained that the more passive “kinaesthetic images” he described were
enough to induce the action (PP, 1104, 1107).
Though appreciative of James™s efforts of theoretical economy, I pre-
fer to economize further by endorsing Wittgenstein™s claim that speci¬c
kinaesthetic ideas or other conscious visceral feelings constitute neither
the suf¬cient nor necessary cause of voluntary action and cannot ade-
quately explain the will. Recall Wittgenstein™s famous posing of the prob-
lem in Philosophical Investigations (which clearly evokes James): “what is
left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I
raise my arm? ((Are the kinaesthetic sensations my willing?)) . . . When I
raise my arm I do not usually try to raise it” (PI, 621“622).
Voluntary action does not typically involve any conscious effort of
“trying” nor any related conscious kinaesthetic impressions of “willing,”
whether actual or remembered. Most voluntary action is produced spon-
taneously or automatically from our intentions without any attention at
Body Consciousness

all to any visceral feelings or bodily processes that could occur when
initiating the action. “Writing is certainly a voluntary movement and yet
an automatic one. And of course there is no question of a feeling of each
movement in writing. One feels something, but could not possibly analyse
the feeling. One™s hand writes; it does not write because one wills, but one
wills what it writes. One does not watch it in astonishment or with inter-
est while writing; does not think ˜What will it write now?™” (Zettel, 586).
In fact, Wittgenstein adds, such attention to one™s movements and feel-
ings can hinder the smooth execution of willed action: “self-observation
makes my action, my movements, uncertain” (Zettel, 592).
Like our emotions, then, acts of the will cannot be explained by or iden-
ti¬ed with the particular kinaesthetic feelings that may sometimes accom-
pany them. Voluntary action (just like emotion) can only be explained
in terms of a whole surrounding context of life, aims, and practices, “the
whole hurly-burly of human actions, the background against which we see
any action.” “What is voluntary is certain movements with their normal
surrounding of intention, learning, trying, acting” (Zettel, 567, 577).
There is also a third important area where Wittgenstein challenges the
use of visceral feelings as essential to understanding key concepts of our
mental life. This area concerns the concept of self and self-knowledge of
one™s bodily state or position. Once again, James is the explicit target. He
is attacked for identifying the self with basic somatic sensations that can be
discerned by introspection, for “the idea that the ˜self™ consisted mainly
of ˜peculiar motions in the head and between the head and throat™”
(PI, 413).8 This, unfortunately, is an ungenerous distortion of James™s
concept of self, which indeed includes a vast variety of dimensions “ from
the body parts, clothes, property, and diverse social relations that form
our material and social selves to the various mental faculties of what he
calls our “spiritual self.”9
What James described in terms of bodily feelings in the head (ascer-
tained through his own personal introspection) is only one, though
allegedly the most basic, part of the self, which he called “the central
active self,” “the nuclear self,” or “the Self of selves.” The full concept of

8 Wittgenstein adds that “James™ introspection shewed, not the meaning of the word ˜self™
(so far as it means something like ˜person,™ ˜human being,™ ˜he himself,™ ˜I myself™), nor
any analysis of such a thing, but the state of a philosopher™s attention when he says the
word ˜self™ to himself and tries to analyse its meaning. (And a good deal could be learned
from this.)” (PI, 413).
9 For more details on James™s account of the self, see Chapter 5 of this book.
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 119

self, as both James and Wittgenstein realize, is not reducible to any kind
of basic sensations in the head or anywhere else. A whole background of
social life and practices is needed to de¬ne it. Most of the time, as James
himself asserts, we are entirely unaware of these “head feelings” “ which
typically “are swallowed up in [the] larger mass” of other things that claim
more conscious attention than these primitive background motions of the
self (PP, 288“289) “ yet, we are not therefore most of the time unaware
of ourselves and unconscious of where we are and what we do. Wittgen-
stein, however, is far clearer than James about this, and he wisely avoids
the positing of a nuclear self that would be identi¬ed with or identi¬able
by particular head sensations, for such homuncular theories can encour-
age many essentialist confusions. One is much more than one™s head,
and even one™s mental life extends far beyond one™s head sensations.10
Wittgenstein, moreover, emphatically insists (much like Merleau-
Ponty) that knowing one™s bodily position does not require paying special
attention to somaesthetic feelings of one™s body parts and then infer-
ring from them the particular location and orientation of the body and
its limbs. Instead, we have an immediate sense of our somatic position.
“One knows the position of one™s limbs and their movements . . . [with]
no local sign about the sensation” (Zettel, 483). In performing ordinary
tasks like washing or feeding ourselves, climbing stairs, riding a bicycle,
or driving a car, we do not usually need to consult the separate feelings of
our body parts in order to calculate the necessary movements to achieve
the action we will (e.g., what parts need to be moved, in which direc-
tion, distance, speed, articulation, and degree of muscle contraction).11

10 In his early masterpiece, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein deploys the body to
argue against the very idea of “the philosophical self” or “subject” as something in the
world that can be investigated by psychology. “If I wrote a book called The World as I found
it, I should have to report therein about my body and say which members are subordinate
to my will and which are not, etc., this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of
showing that in an important sense there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned
in that book.” “The philosophical self is not the human being, not the human body, or
the human soul, with which psychology deals, but rather the metaphysical subject, the
limit of the world “ not part of it.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,
bilingual edition, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (London: Routledge, 1969),
sections 5.631, 5.641 (translation of the ¬rst citation slightly revised).
11 In fairness to James, we should recall that he, too, insisted that we typically do (and

should) perform our ordinary bodily actions through unre¬‚ective habit without any
explicit attention to our body feelings or any thematized awareness of the location of our
body parts. See, for example, PP, 109“131, and my more general discussion of his views
on habit and somatic re¬‚ection in Chapter 5.
Body Consciousness

Wittgenstein™s refutes the thesis that “My kinaesthetic sensations advise
me of the movement and position of my limbs” (PI, p. 185) by engaging
in some somaesthetic introspection of his own:

I let my index ¬nger make an easy pendulum movement of small amplitude.
I either hardly feel it, or don™t feel it at all. Perhaps a little in the tip of the
¬nger, as a slight tension. (Not at all in the joint.) And this sensation advises
me of the movement? “ for I can describe the movement exactly.
“But after all, you must feel it, otherwise you wouldn™t know (without
looking) how your ¬nger was moving.” But “knowing” it only means: being
able to describe it. “ I may be able to tell the direction from which a sound
comes only because it affects one ear more strongly than the other, but I
don™t feel this in my ears; yet it has its effect: I know the direction from which
the sound comes; for instance, I look in that direction.
It is the same with the idea that it must be some feature of our pain
that advises us of the whereabouts of the pain in the body, and some fea-
ture of our memory image that tells us the time to which it belongs. (PI,
p. 185)

In short, our knowledge of bodily location and movement is typically
immediate and nonre¬‚ective. It is not always accompanied by conscious
kinaesthetic feelings that we attend to; nor is it usually derived from such
feelings when they are in fact present. Nor does successful voluntary
action require the mediation of attention to somaesthetic feelings. Such
feelings may also be absent from much of our experience of will, emotion,
and self. It is tempting, therefore, to conclude that they are unimportant
for these topics of philosophy of mind and that a behaviorist skepticism
about their role in mental life might be appropriate.
But that would be a mistake, even from Wittgenstein™s perspective.
Such feelings, despite their inadequacy for explaining mental concepts,
remain a real part of the phenomenology of mental life that philoso-
phy should describe. Kinaesthetic sensations are not theoretical noth-
ings like phlogiston, but elements of experience that can be properly or
improperly described. “We feel our movements. Yes, we really feel them;
the sensation is similar, not to a sensation of taste or heat, but to one
of touch: to the sensation when skin and muscles are squeezed, pulled,
displaced.” And we can also, though we don™t always have to, feel the posi-
tion of our limbs through a distinct “body-feeling” (“K¨rpergef¨ hl ”), for
o u
example, “˜the body-feeling™ of the arm . . . [in] such-and-such a position”
(Zettel, 479“481). Indeed, in certain circumstances we can even learn of
our movements and position through the mediation of feelings, as when a
perceived tension in the neck informs us that our shoulders are hunched
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 121

up near our ears. Though Wittgenstein rightly insists that we typically
neither require nor use such somaesthetic clues to know about our bodily
position, he recognizes that they can, on occasion, provide such knowl-
edge and he provides his own characteristically “painful” example: “A
sensation can advise us of the movement or position of a limb. (For exam-
ple, if . . . your arm is stretched out, you might ¬nd out by a piercing pain
in the elbow.) “ In the same way the character of a pain can tell us where
the injury is” (PI, p. 185).
I want to go further by insisting that, in the same way, attention to
somaesthetic feelings can sometimes usefully inform us about our emo-
tions and our will. It is a commonplace that a person may be angry,
upset, anxious, or fearful before he is consciously aware of it. He often,
however, becomes aware of his emotional state when someone else, notic-
ing his movements, gestures, breathing, tone of voice, inquires whether
there is something bothering him. Behaviorism ¬nds support in this phe-
nomenon for claiming that emotions are not de¬ned by what we are
aware of feeling and that introspection is not the true arbiter of our emo-
tional state. Observers from “the outside” can inform us of an emotional
state of which we are not yet consciously aware. But we should realize
that introspective attention to our somaesthetic feelings (shortness of
breath, clenching in the chest or jaws) can also provide us with such
In certain situations, where I am not initially aware of my anxiety or
fear and when I am still unconscious of their having a speci¬c object,
I can learn that I am anxious or fearful by noticing my shallow, rapid
breathing and the heightened muscle contraction in my neck, shoul-
ders, and pelvis. Of course, different people have somewhat different
patterns of muscle contraction and of breathing-change when undergo-
ing emotional stress. But this does not negate the fact that an individual
can know her own pattern and infer from it that she is in a heightened
emotional state (and often which emotional state it is), even before she is
conscious of that state having a speci¬c object “ the particular thing about
which she is angry or anxious or fearful. Wittgenstein admits: “My own
behaviour is sometimes “ but rarely “ the object of my own observation”
(Zettel, 591). Somaesthetic feelings provide us with helpful tools for such
self-observation through which we can better attain philosophy™s classic
goal of self-knowledge. Of course, one often needs a sustained effort of
training to learn how properly to read one™s own somaesthetics signs, but
disciplines of somatic education such as the Feldenkrais Method or yoga
can provide such training.
Body Consciousness

The role of somaesthetic feelings and discipline goes still further, once
we realize that attention to these feelings can give us not only knowledge
of our emotional states, but, through that knowledge, the possible means
to cope with them better. Once emotions are thematized in conscious-
ness, we can take a critical distance and thus both understand and man-
age them with greater mastery (which does not mean with greater repres-
sion). Moreover, because emotions are (at least empirically) closely linked
with certain somatic states and feelings, we can in¬‚uence our emotions
indirectly by changing our somatic sensations by consciously exercising
somaesthetic control. We can regulate our breathing to make it deeper
and slower, just as we can learn to relax certain muscle tensions that rein-
force a feeling of nervousness by their long-conditioned association with
states of nervousness. These strategies are familiar from ancient practices
of meditation but are also employed in more modern strategies of stress
The effective understanding of the will and voluntary action can also
be enhanced through disciplined attention to somaesthetic feelings. Suc-
cessful willed action depends on somatic ef¬cacy, which in turn, as we
have seen, depends on accurate somatic perception. Recall the strug-
gling golfer example from Chapter 1. She ardently wants to perform the
voluntary action of keeping her head down and her eyes on the ball while
swinging the club so as to hit the ball properly, yet she nonetheless always
lifts her head and fails in her swing. She even fails to notice that she is
lifting her head and therefore cannot correct the problem, because she is
insuf¬ciently attentive to her head positions and eye movements, which
she could indeed sense if she were more somaesthetically disciplined and
skilled. This golfer™s head goes up against her will, though no external
force or internal instinct is forcing her to lift it, just the force of uncon-
scious bad habits that are reinforced in their blindness through insuf¬-
cient somatic self-consciousness and what F. M. Alexander described as
“debauched kinaesthetic systems” with faulty “sense-appreciation.”12 This
failure to do what she consciously wills and is physically capable of doing
could be overcome if she had a better grasp of her body position and
movement through more attention to somaesthetic feelings of proprio-
ception and kinaesthesis. The same kind of impotence of will is evident in

12 F. M. Alexander, Man™s Supreme Inheritance, 2nd edition, (New York: Dutton, 1918), 22, 89.

He elaborates the case of the head-lifting golfer in The Use of the Self, (New York: Dutton,
Wittgenstein™s Somaesthetics 123

the insomniac who wants to relax but whose blindly effortful striving to do
so serves only to aggravate his state of tension and insomnia, because he
does not know how to relax his muscles and breathing just as he cannot
feel how they are tense.
But doesn™t such attention to bodily feelings and movements distract
the golfer from hitting the ball or the insomniac from fully relaxing?
Experience (with proper training) shows the contrary.13 In any case,
somaesthetic attention does not need (nor is meant) to be a permanent


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