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of inadequate harmony between bodily conditions and imaginative
thought processes (which themselves are rooted and re¬‚ected in bodily
behavior).
In the forward-looking, melioristic spirit of pragmatism, Dewey sees
body-mind unity less as an ontological given in which we can smugly rest
than as a desired, progressive goal of dynamic, harmonious functioning
that we should continually strive to attain. As with the unity of habit, “inte-
gration is an achievement rather than a datum” (MW14:30). Recognizing
that the organism is shaped by its environment and that the human envi-
ronment is deeply social, Dewey argues that the level of body-mind unity
deeply depends on social conditions. Such unity can therefore be used as a
measure of the quality of a culture: “the more civilized it is, the less is there
some behavior which is purely physical and some other purely mental”
(LW3:29). He thus decries society™s sharp divisions between unthinking
physical labor (that works as mechanically as the machines it deploys)
and purely intellectual work that is cut off from “employing and direct-
ing physical instrumentalities to effect material changes.” Both extremes
re¬‚ect “maladjustment,” “a departure from that wholeness which is
health” (ibid.).
So, more important than new terminology to suggest body-mind unity,
more urgent than metaphysical theories to counter dualism, Dewey
af¬rms that “the integration of mind-body in action” is most crucially
a practical question, “the most practical of all questions we can ask of our
civilization,” and one that demands social reconstruction as well as indi-
vidual efforts to achieve better unity in practice. Without such reform,

8 This distinction between fundamental ontological union and harmonious unity would
justify the hyphen in body-mind, since this mark (called in French a trait d™union) suggests
a union that is not always a seamless unity. Here is how Dewey at one point de¬nes
body-mind and functionally distinguishes the two elements in the union: “body-mind
simply designates what actually takes place when a living body is implicated in situations
of discourse, communication and participation. In the hyphenated phrase body-mind,
˜body™ designates the continued and conserved, the registered and cumulative operation
of factors continuous with the rest of nature, inanimate as well as animate; while ˜mind™
designates the characters and consequences which are differential, indicative of features
which emerge when ˜body™ is engaged in a wider, more complex and interdependent
situation.” (LW1:217)
Body Consciousness
186

“we shall continue to live in a society in which a soulless and heartless
materialism is compensated for by soulful but futile and unnatural ideal-
ism and spiritualism” (LW3:29“30).
The primacy of the practical did not discourage Dewey from making
theoretical interventions to contest the metaphysics of the body/mind
division. One Deweyan strategy is to undermine the traditional dualism of
physical versus mental by instead explaining human reality in terms of
three interpenetrating “levels of increasing complexity and intimacy
of interaction among natural events,” levels he calls “physical, psycho-
physical, and mental” (LW1:200). The “psycho-physical” is not a special
substance that opposes the physical; nor is it the addition of something
purely psychic or supernatural that is merged with the physical, “as a
centaur is half man and half horse” (LW1:196). Instead, it signi¬es the
emergence of a more complex level of organization of physical materials
and energies through which the organism generates purposive efforts to
achieve the satisfaction of its survival needs. When sensory discrimina-
tions (which are necessary for achieving the organism™s successful se-
quence of need, effort, and satisfaction) become more complex, they
reach the level of feelings or basic sentience that higher animals, includ-
ing humans, experience. Mind, in Dewey™s view, is a still higher level of
organization that emerges from psychophysical experience only when
language comes into play, because language enables the organism™s
feelings and movements to be named, and thus objecti¬ed and given a
determinate meaning that can be reidenti¬ed and deployed in communi-
cation. Mind remains in the realm of natural events, but Dewey™s linguistic
requirement for mind also places it squarely in the realm of culture. No
inconsistency is involved in this double status. Just as mind is not opposed
to but is rather an emergent expression of the human body, so culture is
not the contradiction of nature but rather its ful¬llment and reshaping.9
Despite James™s revolutionary emphasis on the bodily dimension of
emotion, his Principles of Psychology af¬rmed an exceptional group of

9 We might resist Dewey™s linguistic-conceptual threshold of mind because of our con-
viction that some animals and certainly human infants have a mental life without dis-
playing discursive language. This objection could be mitigated by noting that Dewey™s
theory still grants them the sentient life (of feelings and sensations and voluntary action)
that belongs to the psychophysical. Moreover, Dewey™s language requirement might be
relaxed to include forms of nonconceptual body language that higher animals and infants
may be argued to possess. We would not, however, want to say that in developing from
merely psychophysical behavior to discursive language use, an infant changes radically
in ontological status. She remains a natural, sentient organism that always had linguistic
thought as a possibility to be realized.
Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection 187

“subtle” emotions (those of “pure” aesthetic, moral, and intellectual plea-
sure and displeasure) that are “almost feelingless,” wholly “cerebral ” and
“cognitive” and thus not dependent on feelings of “the bodily sound-
ing board” (PP, 1082“1086). Dewey™s reconstruction of James™s theory of
emotion corrects this anomalous suggestion of a purely spiritual, bodiless
emotion that would imply a real division of mind from body. Contesting
James™s characterization of pure philosophical pleasure as a merely cere-
bral satisfaction of cognitive rightness, Dewey points to the “revivals of
motor discharge and organic reinforcement” that sustain and heighten
the smooth ¬‚owing “sense of abundance and ease in thought” that James
identi¬ed with purely mental satisfaction. When intellectual activity is
functioning at its highest and purest, Dewey argues, “thinking becomes
really whole-hearted: it takes possession of us altogether” “ body and
mind.10
Dewey ¬nds a disturbing residual dualism not only in James™s distinc-
tion between purely intellectual and robustly bodily emotion but also in
the Jamesian manner of contrasting the cognitive content of an emotion
with its physiological cause or expression. Rather than understanding
emotion as a combination of distinct cognitive perceptions and bodily
reactions, Dewey argues for a more basic unity of purposive behavior that
underlies both the cognitive and bodily dimensions of emotion. These
dimensions are only identi¬ed and individuated as such when behavior
(always an interaction with an environment) becomes problematic rather
than frictionless. When smoothly driving a car in traf¬c, we do not have
distinct perceptions of oncoming cars plus fears of the possible damage
they could cause in hitting us. Only when presented with a breakdown in
smooth interaction “ as when a car suddenly crosses into our lane “ do we
have a distinct emotion of fear coupled with a distinct perception of the
object of that fear as it hurtles toward us and we must decide how to avoid
it. We do not ¬rst have an idea of the car and then a feeling of fear, accord-
ing to Dewey. Rather “the idea and the emotional excitation are constituted at
one and the same time” from the relevant “mode of behavior” (here the
driving) which “is the primary thing ”; “indeed, they [idea and physiological
excitation] represent the tension of stimulus and response within the coordina-
tion which makes up the mode of behavior” (EW4:174). In short, mental and
bodily reactions are not two different things in search of a philosophical
synthesis but are instead analytical abstractions already enveloped in the
primal unity of purposive behavior.

10 John Dewey, “The Theory of Emotion,” EW4:157.
Body Consciousness
188

Such unity of voluntary action, Dewey maintains, should never be
divided into a purely mental act of chosen purpose (performed through
an allegedly disembodied agency of free will) which is then followed by a
separate bodily execution of that purpose. James, we recall, had af¬rmed
this dualistic account in his Principles of Psychology, claiming that in explicit
acts of will “volitional effort lies exclusively within the mental world. The
whole drama is a mental drama” (PP, 1168). He readily granted that sci-
ence requires the methodological presumption that everything (includ-
ing our choices) can in principle be explained or predicted in terms of
causal conditions, “that the world must be one unbroken fact, and that
prediction of all things . . . must be ideally, if not actually, possible.” How-
ever, James argued, there is a contrary and ultimately overriding “moral
postulate about the Universe” that is essential to our entire conception
of ethics and action and that demands free will. It is “the postulate that
what ought to be can be, and that bad acts cannot be fated, but that good ones must
be possible in their place” (PP, 1177). We not only feel the exercise of free
will in our choices, James insisted, but without it, “the whole sting and
excitement” in choice of action would disappear; “life and history” would
simply be “the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable
ages ago,” and moral responsibility would be nulli¬ed by determinism™s
causal chains (PP, 429).
Dewey shrewdly responds that this negatively portrayed alternative to
free will is not scienti¬c determinism (which involves causal conditions
and correlations that are probabilistic, uncertain and changing) but
instead a “theological predeterminism” that construes causality in old-
fashioned terms of “a productive agency or determining force” (modeled
on the idea of an independent ego such as God). The “uncertainty” of
causal connections and results in our probabilistic world of ¬‚ux should
be enough to provide our actions with the sense of excitement.11
The idea of free will existing entirely outside the realm of causal con-
nections is not merely inconsistent with science but also inadequate
and unnecessary for explaining the ethical sense of free and meaning-
ful choice. If free choice of a hot or cold drink meant a choice wholly
unconditioned by material factors, then it would require disregarding
one™s established preferences, habits, current desires, bodily state, and
environing physical and social conditions. Such freedom of choice would
simply be the “freedom of indifference” or arbitrary randomness, not the
meaningful exercise of will that de¬nes ethical action (EW4:93). Besides,
how could such choice be the individual™s free will, for it is unconditioned

11 John Dewey, “The Ego as Cause,” EW4:91, 94.
Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection 189

by all the conditions that de¬ne one™s individuality as an agent? But if
choice is meaningful and important to ethical life precisely because it is
guided by a person™s conditions and desires, then choice or will cannot
be unconditionally free.
Choices and freedoms are not unreal merely because they are con-
ditioned. We experience our choices as free, Dewey argues, “because
the presence in consciousness of alternative ends with the re¬‚ection
which that calls out, is freedom” of a sort (EW4:95). And such freedom,
though not devoid of causal conditions, allows for a distinctively future-
looking sense of moral responsibility. By treating people as responsible
and thus assigning them praise or blame for their actions, they can be
in¬‚uenced to make better use of re¬‚ection and judgment in making bet-
ter choices. “Causes for an act always exist, but causes are not excuses . . . It
is as causes of future actions that excuses and accusations alike must be
considered . . . For morals has to do with acts still within our control, acts
still to be performed.” The moral issue is “prospective,” a question “of
modifying the factors which now in¬‚uence future results,” and our prac-
tices or “schemes of judgment, of assigning blame and praise, of award-
ing punishment and honor, are part of these conditions” (MW14:17).
As Dewey elsewhere puts it, “Holding men to responsibility may make
a decided difference in their future behavior; holding a stone or tree to
responsibility is a meaningless performance” because there is no compa-
rable in¬‚uence on choice and conduct (LW3:94).


III
Alexander, Habit, and the Need for Somatic Re¬‚ection
We have explored the logical, ontological, and ethical arguments Dewey
brings to show the incoherence of a Jamesian free will outside the realm
of natural causal conditioning, thus suggesting a form of “soft determin-
ism” that af¬rms real choice while recognizing its conditioned character.
A second axis of critique more speci¬cally challenges the Jamesian view
that will is an exclusively mental affair intrinsically independent of bod-
ily means but simply deploying them after the act of will is successfully
achieved in its pure mentality. Here Dewey relies heavily on F. M. Alexan-
der™s insights concerning the power of bodily habits and the indispens-
ability of somatic means in willed action.
Voluntary action is not a product of isolated moments of purely mental
decision; it relies on the habits of feeling, thinking, acting, and desiring
that make us the selves we are. Walking is a complicated mechanical
matter involving the coordinated movement of many bones and muscles
Body Consciousness
190

while maintaining balance. But in normal circumstances, our ordinary
habits of walking simply respond to our desire to go somewhere without
requiring any special conscious act of willing, with every step, the complex
series of lifting, forward, and lowering movements of each hip, leg, and
foot, along with the necessary attendant movements of the pelvis. In the
vast bulk of voluntary behavior, our unre¬‚ective habits spontaneously
perform our will. Indeed, as Dewey remarks, because “habits are demands
for certain kinds of activity . . . , they are will,” and their “projectile power”
of “predisposition . . . is an immensely more intimate and fundamental
part of ourselves than are vague, general, conscious choices.” Habits thus
“constitute the self . . . They form our effective desires and they furnish us
with our working capacities. They rule our thoughts, determining which
shall appear and be strong and which shall pass from light into obscurity”
(MW14:21“22).
Habits cannot be purely mental and autonomous, since they always
incorporate aspects of the environment. Your habitual way of walking
depends not only on your particular physical structure (itself partly
shaped by habits of nutrition and movement that shape muscle and even-
tually even bone) but also on the surfaces on which you walk, the shoes
you walk in, the exemplars of walking you witness and attune yourself
to, and the situational purposes that frame your customary gait (rushing
to work through crowded streets versus leisurely strolling barefoot on
the sand).12 Habits of thought must likewise incorporate features of the
environment that are necessary or worthwhile to think about and address
through action. Moreover, since habits are formed over time, they also
embody environmental histories and thus can persist even when the orig-
inal conditions are no longer present, as we sadly know from victims of
past abuse and oppression.
If will is constituted by habits, and if habits always incorporate environ-
mental features, then it follows that will cannot be an entirely autonomous
and purely mental affair. Willing cannot be a disembodied act because it
requires some sense of deploying the available means or affordances of
the environmental context of action, which includes our bodily resources.
Willing (rather than merely wishing) to walk means somehow engaging
our habits and means of bodily movement, even if we are deprived (for

12 If
the habits that constitute the self also incorporate the environment, it follows that the
self is partly an environmental product. Our bodies, just like our thoughts, incorporate
our surroundings, going beyond conventional body boundaries to meet our essential
needs of breathing and nutrition. The ethical and social consequences of this point are
discussed toward the end of this chapter.
Redeeming Somatic Re¬‚ection 191

example, through injury) of the habitual use of our legs and our muscu-
lar efforts are expressed only in other places.13 Dewey credits Alexander
for providing the clearest explanation of how bodily habits are indis-
pensable for effective voluntary action but also enormously destructive
in deceptively frustrating our will.
Who was Alexander, and what were the origins and principles of his
somatic theory and practice? Born in Australia in 1869, he began his
career as an actor but mysteriously kept losing his voice, though only
when performing and despite his having normal vocal cords. Finding
no help or explanation from medical experts, Alexander systematically
studied his speech behavior in a mirror, and eventually came to see that
his voice problems in acting were due to assuming a habitual declama-

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