Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 163–178 | Cite as

My body as an object: self-distance and social experience

  • Line Ryberg Ingerslev


In phenomenology the body is often referred to as the lived body which makes the world familiar to me. In this paper, however, I discuss bodily self-consciousness in terms of self-distance. Self-distance is the suggestion that bodily self-consciousness consist in a reflective stance where you conceive of your body as a physical thing, an object in the world as well as the subject of bodily experiences. I argue that we are bodily self-conscious because we experience our own body in more than one way and that these ways are not derivative of one another or hierarchically ordered. This latter claim conflicts with certain phenomenological readings of how the body is experienced, one of which I will refer to and discuss as the Familiarity Objection to my idea of self-distance. I end the paper with a discussion of why we need the conception of experienced objectification that is entailed in the notion of self-distance to account for both pathological and non-pathological bodily self-experiences. The notion of self-distance improves our understanding of how the body plays a central role in psychosis for the experience of distorted inter-subjective relations.


Bodily self-consciousness Self-distance Experienced objectification Bodily skills Social experience Distorted self-expereince Self-expression Social visibility 



The author wishes to thank Dorothée Legrand, Dylan Trigg, Johan Gersel and two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on earlier versions of the paper. Further, the author acknowledges the support by the Volkswagen Stiftung for the project “Narcissus and Echo: Self-Consciousness and the Inter-Subjective Body”.


  1. Burwood, S. (2008). “The Apparent Truth of Dualism and the Uncanny Body” in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 7 (2), 263–278.Google Scholar
  2. Cole, J., & Spalding, H. (2009). The Invisible Smile. Living Without Facial Expression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. de Haan, S., & Fuchs, T. (2010). The ghost in the machine: Disembodiement in schizophrenia—Two case studies. Psychopathology, 43, 327–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Fuchs, T. (2005a). “Delusional mood and delusional perception—A phenomenological analysis”. Psychopathology, 38, 133–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Fuchs, T. (2005b). “Corporealized and disembodied minds. A phenomenological view of the body in melancholia and schizophrenia”. Philosophy, Psychiartry and Psychology, 12(2), 95–107.Google Scholar
  6. Gaebel, W., & Wölwer, W. (2004). Facial expressivity in the course of schizophrenia and depression. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 254, 335–342.Google Scholar
  7. Honneth, A. (2003). “Die Gleichursprünglichkeit von Anerkennung und Verdinglichung. Zu Sartres Theorie der Intersubjektivität” in B.N. Schumacher (Hg.): Das Sein und das Nichts. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.Google Scholar
  8. Honneth, A. (2005). Verdinglichung. Eine anerkennungstheoretische Studie. Fankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.Google Scholar
  9. Honneth, A., & Margalit, A. (2001). “Recognition. Invisibility: On the epistemology of recognition”. Aristotelian Society Supplementary, 75(1), 111–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Husserl, E. (1952). “Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch. Phänomenologische Untersuchungen zur Konstitution” in M. Biemel (Hg.): Husserliana 4, Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  11. Ingerslev, L. R. (2010). Expressivity and Social Experience, PhD thesis, University of Copenhagen: Faculties of Humanities, Grafisk KUAGoogle Scholar
  12. Martin, M. (1992). “Sight and Touch”. In T. Crane (Ed.), The Contents of Experience: Essays in Perception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). The Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Nussbaum, M. C. (1995). “Objectification”. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 24(4), 249–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Parnas, J., & Handest, P. (2003). “Phenomenology of Anomalous Self-Experience in Early Schizophrenia”. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 44(2), 121–134. March/April.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Parnas, J., Møller, P., Kirchner, T., Thalbitzer, J., Jansson, L., Handest, P., et al. (2005). “EASE: Examination of anomalous self-experience”. Psychopathology, 38, 236–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Plessner, H. (2003a/1950). “Das Lächeln”. In G. Dux, et al. (Ed.), Gesammelte Schriften VII, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.Google Scholar
  18. Plessner, H. (2003b/1941). “Lachen und Weinen. Eine Untersuchung der Grenzen menschlichen Verhaltens”. In G. Dux, et al. (Ed.), Gesammelte Schriften VII, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.Google Scholar
  19. Plessner, H. (2003c/1928). “Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch”. In G. Dux, et al. (Ed.), Gesammelte Schriften IV, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.Google Scholar
  20. Ratcliffe, M. (2008). “Touch and situatedness”. International Journal of Philosophical Studies, 16(3), 299–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ratcliffe, M. (2009a). “Existential feeling and psychopathology”. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology, 16(2), 179–194.Google Scholar
  22. Ratcliffe, M. (2009b). “Belonging to the world through the feeling body”. Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology, 16(2), 205–211.Google Scholar
  23. Sartre, J.-P. (1992). Being and Nothingness. New York: Washington Square Press.Google Scholar
  24. Spaulding, S. (2010). “Embodied cognition and mindreading”. Mind and Language, 25(1), 119–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stanghellini, G. (2009). “Embodiment and schizophrenia”. World Psychiatry, 8, 56–59.Google Scholar
  26. Young, I. M. (1980). “Throwing like a girl: A phenomenology of feminine body comprotment, motility and spatiality”. Human Studies, 3, 137–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CREA: Centre de Recherche en Épistémologie AppliquéeENSTAParisFrance

Personalised recommendations