Dr. Ali Beheler, Hastings College associate professor of philosophy, recently published an article in Philosophy Today, a major international peer-reviewed journal for contemporary philosophy. Her article, titled “The Body a Guiding Thread: New Materialist Conceptions of Agentic Corporeality and Nietzsche’s Emergent Subject,” appeared in the Winter 2021 edition, and was also featured online.
In the article, Beheler discusses the work of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and new materialist thinker Diana Coole as they both regard how nonconscious bodily processes play into human agency. Coole suggests that we think of human agency as made up of a spectrum of processes that stretch from bodily sensation to social institutions. Beheler uses this framework of the spectrum of agency as a tool to read many of Nietzsche’s texts on the emergence of human subjectivity and agency.
Beheler’s goal in the article, based on work presented at a few conferences, is to bring new materialist thought and Nietzsche scholarship on naturalism and ethics into conversation, as well as to illuminate how important the body is to agency. Beheler thinks that in showing that human action is much less consciously controlled and much more coextensive with material processes in the natural world than many of our cherished modern self-conceptions indicate, Nietzsche’s work can spur discussion of our everyday concepts of self, choice, responsibility and punishment.
“Part of what is at stake is understanding how much of what we attribute to our conscious subjectivity and agency we actually owe to our bodies and to bodily processes that stretch beneath and beyond our conscious awareness and control,” Beheler said. “And that has repercussions for how we employ ethical notions like the will, agency, responsibility, and punishment—how we literally see and judge ourselves and others. It also challenges certain versions of human exceptionalism that place the human above what we call ‘nature.’ I’m also really aiming to bring scholarship on Nietzsche into conversation with work that is interdisciplinary and informed by feminist thought.”
The article is available online at pdcnet.org/philtoday/content/philtoday_2021_0999_2_9_384.
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