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3rd Unit : 6th Study Group Session

Akihisa Matsushima, "The mind-body problem and view of life in French Philosophy"
Keiko Suenaga, "Significance of the body in thought history"

1   On March 28, 2013, the 3rd Unit held a study group session mini-symposium on the theme of the coexistence of mind and body, at Hakusan Campus, Toyo University. The two presenters, Prof. with IRCP researcher Nagashima Takashi acting as moderator.

   Matsushima Akihisa, Osaka University of Pharmaceutical Science, and Matsushima's presentation was titled "The Mind-Body Problem and Suenaga Keiko, lecturer of Fukushima Medical University, presented a View of Life in French Philosophy . Centering on the Unification of Mind and Body and the Mediating Role of the Brain." Matsushima’s presentation summary was as follows.

   This presentation wants to carry out a modern re-critique of Cartesian dualism from the standpoint of mind-body unity, while taking a second look at the mind-body problem within French philosophy, within the framework of the question of how we should apply the findings of neuroscience to our body, to the brain itself, and to our minds. First, he examines how the brain mediates between mind and body. In particular, he tries to elucidate how the living and acting body that results from the reciprocally mediating functioning of brain and body is not simply a machine. The problem is that the reciprocally mediating function of the brain places the body-machine in a new ontological relationship that forms part of human existence.

2   Moreover, through the reciprocally mediating functioning of mind and brain, the machine aspect of the body machine is transformed into a living and acting human body. Insofar as the body-as-machine lives and acts through its reciprocal relationship with the brain, it becomes able to discard its self-as-machine and enter into a new body existence, a living relationship in which human spirit = mind.

   Moreover, by extending the reciprocal collective relationships of human existence to nature, as Merleau-Ponty's ontology of "the flesh (chair)", one gains the notion of the "animate world". This notion of the natural world gained through body-mind unity constitutes the basis of life being, and the notion of life = nature contributes to notions of matter and spirit, making it possible to extend the discussion to the theory of life being in general. Thus, this theory of life indicates that viewing life from a unified mind-body standpoint opens the possibility that spirit and matter, as such, can be unified in life.

   Finally, he quoted Bergson: "I believe there is no doubt that matter and consciousness come from a common source. I have tried to show that the former is an inversion of the latter... and that matter and consciousness cannot be explained independently of each other" (from Henri Bergson, "Spiritual Energy").

3   Suenaga's presentation was titled "Significance of the Body in Thought History: Envisaging the Thought History of the Corpses".

   How have corpses, human bodies whose living activity has ceased, been viewed and dealt with in Japan? Suenaga focused on unclaimed corpses,which lie outside the system of family funerals, and described the mentality and social systems applying to such corpses.

   In the mid-Heian period, sky burial was practiced along with inhumation and cremation, and there were large numbers of unclaimed corpses. However, once Buddhist temples and outcast groups began to be involved with funerals, it appears that the number of unclaimed corpses declined.

   In the early modern era, the spread of the lay supporter system for Buddhist temples and the introduction of legal regulations relating to the corpses of persons who died with no identification caused the number of unclaimed corpses to further decline. At the same time, public authorities allowed the corpses of beheaded criminals to be used for sword testing and for medicinal purposes, principally involving the use of cardiac tissue. Dissections were also possible with governmental approval.

   In the Meiji era, the use of executed criminals' corpses for sword testing and medicinal uses was outlawed, but at the same time, the use of such corpses, as well as corpses of persons who died awaiting trial or while in prison, for dissection in medical schools and elsewhere was actively promoted to advance medical knowledge. In addition, dissections were almost obligatory in the case of persons who died while undergoing free medical treatment for training purposes.

   The use of unclaimed corpses for dissection reached its peak shortly after the end of the WW II, but today, an increasing number of individuals have registered to donate their bodies after death, and supply exceeds demand at some universities. Some individuals without next of kin register for such donation with the request that their remains be consigned to the university ossuary. This motivation indicates that some individuals are concerned that their corpses will go unclaimed. Today's declining and aging population, the increase in poverty, and employment uncertainty are contributing to an increase in unclaimed corpses of individuals who have lost local, kinship, and social ties, and concerns about one's remains being unclaimed are driving an increase in the number of whole-body donation registrations.

   After the presentations, a discussion was held with a lively exchange of opinions between audience and presenters on such topics as the treatment of corpses in India and Europe.