The conventional perception of mind and body according to the western philosophy is based on dualism (Nagel, 1998, p. 338; Gallagher, 2005, p.9). This idea originated from the ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato who regarded a complete human soul as the one which is aware of the world’s order (Hans, 2000, p. 7; Jean & Lamm, 2006, p. 1147). A complete being is a universal concept, in that it describes the global objective categories. Human reasoning is the ability of the human mind to utilize some part of the universal reason, and therefore is intangible and separate from the body (Stephen, 2006, p.15).
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Phenomenologists argue that human body is a living process that incorporates a complex array of psychological and physical processes. In other words, human body is a body-mind and not just a simple body. They describe human body as a field in which numerous physical and mental forces work together and modify each other (Visker, 2008). Buddhists and traditional Indian philosophy explains that human body (body-mind) is ultimate and disregards any self beyond it. According to the two, body-mind is essential for liberation (Deacon, 2002, p. 89; Stephen, 2006, p. 365).
Describing the Cartesian picture of human beings
The philosophy of Descartes (philosophy of mind) postulates that mind and body are two separate entities. It provides the account of knowledge, freedom of action, morality and conduct of life (Cottingham, 1998, p. 6). Descartes explains that the requisite type of moral vision was a result of religious metaphysics. He claims that human understand and control themselves through the divine power of reasoning. The equivalent power of reasoning enables the human to recognize what is objectively positive. It is through the generosity of God that individuals can marshal their will to pursue what is good (Van Cleve, 1979, p.9; Cottingham, 1998, p. 7).
Descartes provides a substantial argument for the existence of two separate entities: the mind (referred to as thinking things) and the body (referred to as extended things). He doubts the ability of the existence of the body but is very much certain of the existence of the mind. Through his meditations he tried to prove the existence of the mind without the body. He proposes that there exists a material substance of which the body is the mode and several immaterial substances similar to human and God’s mind (Cottingham, 1998, p. 8).
Analysis of Michel Foucault’s ideas regarding power and subjectivity
Michael Foucault challenged these universal perceptions regarding the spectrum of human science. Foucault’s work is based on how power relations have conditioned, invested and produced definite human experiences. These experiences include punishment, sexuality, insanity, illness, and effects of truth in reality (Foucault 1975, p. 4). Foucault explained the different modes through which culture and human beings are transformed into subjects. These modes include: the modes of inquiry which objectifies the speaking subject (for instance the linguistic mode); economic mode and biological mode (the simple fact of being a live) (Nagel, 1998, p. 339).
Foucault wrote numerous topics which had no connection with each other. However, his works centered on the struggle of individuals against powers in the society. He was concerned about the tools of power and reasons why individuals obey the rules of the society. Foucault explained that the body is not subject to afflictions but to the forces of discipline and power. He argued that individuals under continuous surveillance and regulations in ways that are often restrained and thereby ostensibly invisible, results in conformation and approval of such systems (Deacon, 2002, p. 103).
Foucault emphasized on the body as the object and target of power. He employed the concept of docility (where analyzed and manipulated body are bonded together) to demonstrate how individuals within their bodies are subjected to surveillance and regulations. He states that a docile body can be subjected, utilized, transformed, and enhanced. He further states that the docile bodies can be enfolded, partitioned, and classified so as to maintain order and discipline (Stephen, 2006, p. 367; Gallagher, 2005, p. 15).
Mechanisms of power can not be separated from mechanisms of exploitation and domination. The modern states have incorporated some old techniques of power into their system. The existing powers ignore individuals and favors interest of the mass, or a section of the population, unlike the earliest powers which favored individuals. The exercise of power is not only a relationship between individuals, but also actions that modifies others. Power only exists when it is enforced by an individual upon others. Power does not act directly or straight away on others but on their actions (Deacon 2002, p. 87; Foucault, 1975, p. 7).
The account presented in the subject and power paints a picture of power in power functions by configuring a turf of possible action in which a subject must adhere to. The configuration of the field, nonetheless, does not mean external oppression by power itself (Deacon, 2002, p. 104). Foucault asserts that power functions by steering the actions of a basically free subject, but always with an option that the subject can traverse the field in novel and innovative ways. In other words, the scrutiny of power in the “subject and power” highlights the positive aspect of power in which the subject is able to exercise his/her fundamental rights. Foucault explains that resistance to power should not be misunderstood in terms of agonistic force relations, but in terms of an innovative traversing of the field of probable actions (Deacon, 2002, p. 105).
The secure metaphysical underpinning for ethics accounts for more than anything else in Descartes philosophy. This philosophy explains that serenity of the human soul is within the reach of everybody. Descartes distinction of body and mind has left many questions unanswered relating to how the two entities interact and the accurate nature of union between the body and the mind evidently present in human beings. On the other hand, Michael Foucault challenged these universal perceptions regarding the spectrum of human science. Foucault’s work is based on how power relations have conditioned, invested and produced definite human experiences. These experiences include: punishment, sexuality, insanity, illness, and effects of truth in reality. Foucault mainly focused on the idea of individual struggle from power and discipline.
Cottingham, J. (1998) Cartesian Reflections: Essay on Descartes’ Philosophy. New York: Oxford Press.
Deacon, R. (2002) An analytics of power relations: Foucault on the history of discipline. History of the Human Sciences, 15 (1), pp. 89-117.
Foucault, M. (1975) Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage books.
Gallagher, S. (2005) How the body shapes the mind. New York: Oxford University Press.
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Hans, J. (2000) The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Jean, D., & Lamm, C. (2006) Human empathy through the lens of social neuroscience. The Scientific World Journal, 6, pp.1146-1163.
Nagel, T. (1998) Conceiving the impossible and mind-body problem. Philosophy Journal, 73, pp.337-352.
Stephen, R. (2006) Bergson and the holographic theory of mind. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 5(3), pp.365-394.
Van Cleve, J. (1979) Foundationalism, Epistemic Principles, and the Cartesian Circle. The philosophical Review, 88 (1), pp.55-91.
Visker, R. (2008) Michel Foucalt, Philosopher? A Note on Genealogy and Archeology, 5, pp. 9-18.