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too much, kept in a state of inner tension, anticipated the environment,
braced myself to meet and resist it ere it was due (social environment chie¬‚y
here!), left the present act inattentively done because I am preoccupied
with the next act, failed to listen etc, because I was too eager to speak, kept
up, when I ought have kept down, been jerky, angular, rapid, precipitate, let

58 James, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” 666.
Deeper into the Storm Center 179

my mind run ahead of my body, etc, etc., and impaired my ef¬ciency, as
well as ¬‚ushed my head, and made my tissues ¬brous, in consequence. The
everlastingly cumulative effect of his criticisms is sensible to me in an easier
tone, better temper, less involvement of bodily ˜crispations™ in my thought
processes, and in short a better attitude in general. (C3:386“387)

What James discovered, however late and reluctantly, was the unnoticed
but deeply damaging effect of his spontaneous habits of impulsive strenu-
ousness. He ¬nally saw the crucial value of learning better self-use not by
wrenching the will through strenuous activity but by careful, calm atten-
tion to relaxed, unhurried action. Six months before his death, he also
seemed to discover the value of rest, when “a virulent cold” con¬ned him
to four weeks of “sedentary life” at his Cambridge home and left him feel-
ing and working better than he had “for ˜ages.™” But the entrenched habit
of “overtaxing [his] heart” soon had James racing again to Europe, and
to renewed illness. Yet, his very last letter to his brother Henry (written in
June from the German cure resort of Nauheim) ultimately preaches the
principle of moderate, unhurried motion and leisurely repose. Urging
Henry not to “overdo the walking” since “moderation takes one farthest
in the end,” he also implores Henry not to rush hectically to visit him, but
rather to “linger . . . & take the Continent in as broken stages as possible
and each place leisurely. . . . My last word now is ˜do not hurry hither!™”
(C3:407“408, 424“425).
James learned his lessons too late and too imperfectly to reverse the
damage his heart had already suffered. He never regained his health and
died in August 1910. After the autopsy, his wife Alice recorded in her diary
“Acute enlargement of the heart” and concluded “He had worn himself
out.”59 It is useless to speculate to what extent James™s life and work could
have been improved had he more clearly grasped the limits of his somatic
theory and practice and thus better monitored himself through somaes-
thetic re¬‚ection. Our attention is more usefully directed to probing the
exemplary instruction that his texts and life provide, guided by the prag-
matic project of overcoming their limitations. His pragmatist disciple,
John Dewey, advances this project in signi¬cant ways.

59 Cited in Gay Wilson Allen, William James (New York: Viking, 1967), 491“492.
6


Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection
John Dewey™s Philosophy of Body-Mind




I
Though his sober, logical temperament was not prone to fervent hyper-
bole, John Dewey passionately exalted the human body as “the most won-
derful of all the structures of the vast universe.”1 His Experience and Nature
celebrates “body-mind” as an essential unity in which mental life emerges
from the body™s more basic physical and psychophysical functions rather
than being superimposed on the soma by transcendent powers of rea-
son emanating from a spiritual world beyond nature (LW1:199“225).
Contesting the “contempt for the body, fear of the senses, and the op-
position of ¬‚esh to spirit” that sadly dominates philosophy (even in
the sensory ¬eld of aesthetics), Dewey™s Art as Experience insists that
“biological” factors form the “roots of the esthetic” and thus shape
even our most spiritual experiences of ¬ne art and imaginative thinking
(LW10:20, 26).
Dewey, however, was not always so appreciative of the biological body.
He began his career as a neo-Hegelian idealist, af¬rming a transcendent
soul in contrast to the body and giving clear primacy to soul or spirit as
the essential shaping force of life. Rather than understanding mind as
emerging from bodily existence, he viewed the human body as the emer-
gent creation and tool of a transcendent soul that makes itself immanent
in the body in order to use it. In an 1886 essay, “Soul and Body,” he
claims, “The body is [the soul™s] organ only because the soul has made

1 John Dewey, The Middle Works, vol. 11 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press,
1982), 351. References to the published writings of John Dewey will be to the Southern
Illinois University Press editions of John Dewey™s works, whose division of volumes into
Early, Middle, and Later Works will be abbreviated here as EW, MW, and LW. Page
numbers will be separated from volume numbers by a colon.

180
Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection 181

the body its organ . . . The body as an organ of the soul is the result of the
informing, creating activity of the soul itself. In short, the soul is imma-
nent in the body, not by virtue of the body as mere body, but because,
being transcendent, it has expressed and manifested its nature in the
body” (EW1:112“113).
Dewey even advocates this formative primacy of the transcendent soul
with theological rhetoric endorsing ancient Christian doctrine: “Lo, see
what the soul has done. It has tabernacled in the ¬‚esh and transformed
¬‚esh into its own manifestation. The body is the bodying forth of the
soul. . . . Let it be no surprise that physiological psychology has revealed
no new truth concerning the relations of soul and body. It can only
con¬rm and deepen our insight into the truth divined by Aristotle and
declared by St. Paul, and with good reason. Das Wahre war schon l¨ ngst a
gefunden” (EW1:114“115). This backward-looking attitude “ that the truth
has already long been discovered and that Darwinian evolutionary theory
and contemporary physiological research provide nothing to modify or
challenge St. Paul™s vilifying view of the ¬‚esh “ is contrary not only to
Dewey™s subsequent celebration of the body but also to the progressive,
scienti¬c spirit for which he is justly famous.
What changed Dewey™s vision of the body and its import for under-
standing the mind? One crucial factor was William James. Dewey™s “of¬-
cial” biographical sketch (formulated by his daughters with his approval)
clearly af¬rms, “William James™s Principles of Psychology was much the great-
est single in¬‚uence in changing the direction of Dewey™s philosophical
thinking” from its earlier idealism.2 Though insisting his philosophical
inspirations derived from life experience rather than philosophical texts,
Dewey made a special exception for James™s “Psychology,” crediting it as
the “one speci¬able philosophic factor which entered into my thinking
so as to give it a new direction and quality.” In particular, Dewey claimed
that James™s “biological conception of the psyche,” whose “new force and
value [was] due to the immense progress made by biology since the time
of Aristotle,” “worked its way more and more into all my ideas and acted
as a ferment to transform old beliefs” (LW5:157).3

2 Jane M. Dewey, ed., “Biography of John Dewey,” in The Philosophy of John Dewey, ed. P.
Schilpp and L. Hahn (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1989), 23; hereafter JD. I shall refer
to William James, The Principles of Psychology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,
1983) as PP.
3 Dewey further notes how “The objective biological approach of the Jamesian psychology

led straight to the perception of the importance of distinctive social categories, especially
communication and participation” (LW5: 159).
Body Consciousness
182

Once convinced that our mental and spiritual life was deeply rooted in
the physiology and bodily behavior that shape human experience, Dewey
applied James™s biological naturalism with greater consistency than James
himself to provide a more uni¬ed vision of body and mind. Challenging
James™s notion of a self (or ego) outside the realm of natural causal con-
ditioning, he likewise rejected the idea that will was ever a purely mental
affair, independent of the physical modalities of its ef¬cacy and expres-
sion. While defending James™s appreciation of the physiological aspect
of emotions, Dewey provided a better-balanced theory that more clearly
af¬rmed emotion™s essential cognitive dimension while integrating both
cognition and physiological reactions into a larger unity of behavioral
response. In contrast to James™s emphasis on the privacy of conscious-
ness (PP 221), Dewey realized that the biological approach to mental
life implied the essentially social nature of mind. This is because an
organism™s survival depends on interaction with (and incorporation of)
its environment, and a crucial part of the human organism™s environ-
ment is the society of other humans, without which a newborn human
organism could never survive and acquire full human identity, including
the mastery of a socially shared language in which one formulates one™s
most private thoughts. Finally, Dewey avoided the Jamesian inconsistency
of deploying somaesthetic introspection in theorizing but rejecting it
in practical life through an ardent advocacy of uninhibited spontaneity,
habit, and pure will. Instead, Dewey wisely af¬rmed somatic re¬‚ection
for both theory and practice.
Dewey™s unifying improvements on James were partly due to his avowed
“temperament” for making “logical consistency . . . a dominant consider-
ation” (JD, 45). But they also re¬‚ect the impact of another mentor whose
in¬‚uence may have been as inspirational as that of James. I refer to the
somatic educator and therapist F. M. Alexander, whose ideas and prac-
tice Dewey frequently cited and tirelessly advocated (despite the skeptical
objections of friends and colleagues). Dewey was very explicit about his
debt to Alexander for not only improving his health and self-use and thus
promoting his longevity,4 but also for providing concrete “substance” to
¬ll in the “schematic form” of his theoretical ideas. “My theories of mind-
body, of the co¨ rdination of the active elements of the self and of the
o


4 Atthe age of eighty-seven, Dewey wrote that without his sustained training “in Alexan-
der™s work . . . I™d hardly be here today “ as a personal matter.” Letter to Joseph Ratner,
July 24, 1946, cited in Steven Rockefeller, John Dewey: Religious Faith and Democratic Human-
ism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 343.
Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection 183

place of ideas in inhibition and control of overt action required contact
with the work of F. M. Alexander and in later years his brother, A.R., to
transform them into realities” ( JD, 44“45).5
Here again, Dewey was inspired to hyperbole. In one of the three pref-
aces he provided for Alexander™s books, he boldly claimed: “Mr. Alexan-
der has demonstrated a new scienti¬c principle with respect to the control
of human behavior, as important as any principle which has ever been
discovered in the domain of external nature. Not only this, but his discov-
ery is necessary to complete the discoveries that have been made about
non-human nature, if these discoveries and inventions are not to end
by making us their servants and helpless tools” (MW15:313). Though
an outrageous overstatement (that ranks the Alexander Technique with
Newtonian physics), it indicates that Dewey™s philosophy of body-mind
cannot be properly appreciated without understanding Alexander™s views
and methods.
This chapter therefore examines Dewey™s somatic philosophy in terms
of the Jamesian and Alexandrian pillars on which it is built. After showing
how Alexander™s teaching helped Dewey to improve on James and realize
the practical value of somatic self-consciousness, I argue that Alexander™s
doctrine and in¬‚uence were not entirely bene¬cial and that Dewey™s
somatic theory could have pro¬ted by distancing itself more clearly from
some of Alexander™s one-sided, rigidly rationalistic views and sustaining a
more affect-respecting attitude that James advocated and Dewey generally
shared.


II
Correcting the Jamesian Inconsistencies
In his Principles of Psychology, James emphasized the essential correlation
of mental and bodily states and argued for a substantive bodily presence
in the experience of mental phenomena usually thought to be wholly
spiritual. But he still “allowed himself the conveniences of dualism,” in
which mind and body could be conceived as different kinds of things,
however closely they interacted with each other.6 He did so not only
because dualism was the standard commonsense view that would make his

5 JD, 44“45. Dewey continues: “My ideas tend, because of my temperament, to take a
schematic form in which logical consistency is a dominant consideration, but I have been
fortunate in a variety of contacts that has put substance in these forms” (45).
6 Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, abridged edition

(Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 1996), 273.
Body Consciousness
184

book (commissioned as a teaching text) clearer and more palatable, but
because he was unwilling to endorse a more thoroughgoing naturalism
that would threaten his existentially crucial belief in free will and foreclose
his fervent hope for human consciousness beyond the bounds of mortal
bodily life. Even when he gave up dualism for his “radical empiricism” in
which mind and matter are just different ways of parsing a fundamentally
uni¬ed ¬eld of pure experience, James did not forsake his commitment
to free will as something that can effectively intervene in the physical
world to determine action but that is not conversely determined by that
world™s causal chains.
Once converted to James™s embodied perspective, Dewey plied a more
consistent nondualistic naturalism. Instead of speaking of body and mind
as two different, separable things whose reciprocal in¬‚uences could be
traced and correlated, Dewey insisted on treating them as a fundamen-
tal unit, condemning their established division as a pervasive ¬‚aw that
plagues both theory and practice. Though famous for criticizing all
sorts of dualisms (such as means/ends, art/life, subject/object, theory/
practice), Dewey claimed he did “not know of anything so disastrously
affected by the tradition of separation and isolation as is this particu-
lar theme of body-mind” (LW3:27). Recognizing that linguistic tradition
both re¬‚ects and reinforces this separation, he complained that “we have
no word by which to name mind-body in a uni¬ed wholeness of operation”
that characterizes human life. Convinced of “the necessity of seeing mind-
body as an integral whole,” Dewey willingly ¬‚outed conventional usage
by lexicographically asserting their oneness through such locutions as
“body-mind” and “mind-body” (ibid.).7
Our action is always both bodily and mental. Though acts such as eating
and drinking are usually classi¬ed as merely physical, they are nonethe-
less permeated with social, cognitive, and aesthetic meanings. In certain
ritual contexts, they even take on deeply spiritual signi¬cance. The ways
that moods and thoughts affect eating, drinking, and digestion, and the
ways these latter reciprocally affect our mental states, express a connec-
tion so intimate “that it is arti¬cial” to speak of “an in¬‚uence exercised
across and between two separate things” (LW3:29). Rather than an inter-
action between a body and a mind, we have a transactional whole of
body-mind. However, this fundamental ontological union of body-mind


7 Though I sometimes use the expression “sentient soma” to highlight the fundamental
body-mind union in human experience, one should construe “soma” as already implying
life and some degree of purposive sentience, thus enabling us to distinguish soma from
mere body (which can exist in a lifeless, unfeeling state).
Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection 185

does not entail that a satisfactory degree of harmonious unity in our
behavior as body-minds is always present or guaranteed.8 Angry or glut-
tonous thoughts can disrupt smooth digestion, just as digesting the
wrong foods (or quantities) can disturb our mental harmony. Erotic activ-
ity “ whose capacity for social, aesthetic, and even spiritual meanings
de¬es its categorization as merely physical “ can likewise suffer because

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