Você está na página 1de 16

J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

DOI 10.1007/s40961-015-0008-8

On Composition and Decomposition of the Body:


Rethinking Health and Illness

Abey Koshy

# ICPR 2015

Abstract The modern medical science’s view of health as painlessness and absence of
disease is perceived as a very narrow understanding of health. Its foundation shall be
located in the Cartesian mechanical notion of the body as a mere extended matter. Its
origin is traced back to the Platonic-Christian ascetic tradition, for which the value of
human life lies in the happiness of the soul/self. It devalues the human body as a
temporary place of residence for the soul. Different from the medical perspective of
health, the paper calls for finding “great health” as an experience of joyfulness
produced by the activation of the body. The joyfulness produced by the beauty of the
world, love of the sexes, heroic actions, adventures, abundance, intoxication of dance,
and musical moments enhances the body’s power to the optimum levels. But the
modern civilization founded on European metaphysics perceives such experiences to
be immoral and undesirable. However, contemporary phenomenological tradition sees
the human being essentially to be her body. This perspective of the body empowers us
to criticize the traditional perspective of health and redefine the purpose of living.
Consequently, the paper, from the perspective of the thinking of Spinoza and Nietzsche,
attempts to throw more light into the meaning of activation of life. Spinoza has shown
how an assemblage of one body with another that agrees with its nature enhances its
power to act. And Nietzsche has demonstrated the necessity of overcoming nihilism
through affirmation of the body and earthly life. Combining their thoughts together, the
paper asks to see health as the ability of the body to find positive compositions that lead
to enhancement of life and illness as decomposition of the body caused by its wrong,
negative assemblages.

Keywords Body . Health . Descartes . Spinoza . Deleuze . Nietzsche

Modern societies perceive health as the absence of disease. Rather than ensuring any
positive quality for life, this perception only guarantees the eradication of pain. The
attempt of the paper, on the other hand, is to project health positively as joyfulness

A. Koshy (*)
Department of Philosophy, Sree Sankaracharya University of Sansrit, Kalady, Kerala 683574, India
e-mail: abeykoshy1@gmail.com
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

resulting from the activation of the bodily functions of the human being. It is not the
activation of the physiological functions of the body such as cardio-vascular, motor,
nervous, or reproductive functions. Modern medical science has reduced the human
body simply into a combination of such a set of functions, whose ideological source lies in
the metaphysicians’ degradation of the body as valueless. The traditional philosophers
have mostly treated the human being essentially as her soul, and the body is looked down
upon as a mere mechanical apparatus that supports the soul. But, contemporary philos-
ophy, since the beginning of phenomenological tradition, has started to discard this
attitude. Husserl and Merleau-Ponty have taken enormous efforts in their works to argue
out that a human being is essentially her body.1 Spinoza and Nietzsche are the other two
major philosophers who gave priority to the body over the self. Drawing inspiration from
them, the contemporary thinkers belonging to the poststructuralist tradition turn the very
philosophical thinking itself into an endeavor for rediscovering the discarded body by
traditional thought. A critical reexamination of the perspective of the body held by
modern medicine is conducted in this paper in such an intellectual climate. As an
alternative to the medical notion of health, the idea of “great health” is proposed based
on Nietzsche’s notion of life enhancement as the proper task of existence. This stance goes
more in tune with the existential philosophical position of finding life’s intensities as the
proper goal expected of human existence. If the human being is essentially her body, all
the lower as well as the higher experiences of life have their source in the body.
Intoxication brought about in ecstatic dancing, war games, love of the sexes, etc., can
be cited as some of the instances of higher experience where life is lived with intensity.
Therefore, great health has to be found in the activation of the body to the optimum level.
The elaboration of this requires an alternative theory of the body and that is what this
paper is trying to develop.
Today, the human being has acquired the ability to ward off almost all diseases with
the aid of medicine and this is considered as a great achievement of modernity. Now,
human beings are able to live a long life on earth. Can we recognize this as the
optimum level of health possible? Is there any greatness in having a lengthy life if
human beings do not make any endeavors to reach higher goals of existence? Critics
would say that unless mankind is able to taste the best fruits of existence, there would
be no glory in life. Mere persisting in existence by postponement of death cannot be
treated as the true end of life. Drawing on Spinoza’s notion of “bodily affects” 2 and
Nietzsche’s idea of great health (Nietzsche 2008), this paper tries to recast the meaning
of health. Great health is considered as living a magnificent life, which is made possible
by actions that exceeds conventional conceptions of good and evil held by moral
philosophies. The paper understands health more as the blossoming of life. Finding
robust existence is seen as the true destiny of human life. This is intended as a critique
of modern medicine’s notion of health as well as those philosophies which provided
theoretical foundation to that notion. The spirit and the ideology of modern medical
practice have their origin in enlightenment modernity and therefore, the paper also
becomes an indirect critique of European modernity.
1
Husserl 1989; Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the lived body is also a very crucial reflection on the embodied
nature of consciousness. He phenomenologically demonstrates how intentionality, will, and perception in the
case of human being are emanated from one’s body rather than from the mind, in his work Phenomenology of
Perception, trans. Colin Smith, Motilal Banarsidas Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi, 1996.
2
Spinoza 2001. Gilles Deleuze further develops this notion in his work Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

From the methodological perspective of this paper, health cannot be seen as a thing
possessed by individuals as an asset. Rather, it is a state of existence. Great health is felt
as an elevated experience while engaging in activities of a higher order. The
Promethean action of stealing the fire from Gods for the benefit of humanity probably
can be seen as an action of such a kind. True health, it is viewed, is a process,
something always renewed as there are new tasks and strivings in life. It is experienced
mainly in the moments of immersing in actions of a higher order that expands the
power of the human body to optimum levels. It can be manifested in heroic activities
like adventures, wars, games, sacrifices, love of the sexes, dance, and music. Aesthetic
experiences are also moments of similar nature. In them, a person’s life gets enhanced
to the optimum level. They create rare moments of intensities that fill life with over-
fullness.3 In such moments, the capacities and desires of a human being are expressed
in excess. Those activities that produce excess in life may break the concept of good
recognized by conventional morality. Though goodness originally was not a moral
ideal, it became one in the recent history of mankind under the influence of the
Christian-Platonic tradition. In the ancient classical period expression of bodily desires,
heroism, and adventures were promoted as virtuous acts. Contrary to the ancient times,
rejection of adventures and bodily desires are now considered as qualities of a good
person.4
The modern idea of health is grounded on the conservative morality propagated by
Christian-Cartesian tradition. For recasting the meaning of health, a critique of this
tradition is necessary. As the body is the site of health, the liberation of the body from
the ascetic constrains and inscriptions5 made on it by the forces opposed to worldly life
is a necessary first step for the realization of flourishing in life. Conventional moral
practices mostly decompose6 the body and therefore enhancement of life requires the
body to compose new assemblages 7 with other body that agree with its nature.
Composition and decomposition are used here as methodological terms drawn from
Deleuze’s interpretation of Spinoza’s conception of body, in his work Spinoza,
Practical Philosophy.

3
Spinoza’s view of “Conatus” and Nietzsche’s ideal of “the Will to Power” endorses this position.
4
For instance, though sports persons, dancers, film actors, warriors, etc., perform great actions, such actions
are never treated as good actions and these do not make them good persons. Actions of social service alone are
treated as good.
5
Inscriptions are cultural markings imprinted on a neutral body to shape its character. Michel Foucault, in his
Discipline and Punish explains how subjectivity for a human being is formed through making inscriptions on
his body. Judith Butler in Gender Trouble develops this notion further and shows how human nature and
behavior are created through inscriptions on the body by the prevailing culture in each historical period.
6
Gilles Deleuze in his interpretation of Spinoza (Spinoza: Practical Philosophy) explains that all bodies are
compositions of multiple types of particles. The dominant particles in a body determines the nature of that
body (thereby the nature of that particular organism). When a body is exposed before the particles and forces
opposed to its nature, it loses its cohesion. The body may be even decomposed when it is confronted by the
forces which are totally in disagreement with its nature.
7
Deleuze initially develops the idea of body assemblage based on Spinoza’s notion of bodily affections
explained in the third part of Ethics. Later, in his work Anti-Oedipus, this notion is extended to explain the
passage of desire between bodies in their machine-like coupling, according to which any two bodies can be
coupled or joined together to form a new body. When joined together, their power to act is increased. A bicycle
attached to a man is such a combination. Body connectivity, by which there is a flow of energy or desire from
one body to the other, is a persisting theme in his later writings.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

The Classical Understanding of Health

Different from the modern notion of health, ancient civilizations recognized only robust
existence as good and healthy. This could be seen from the classical texts of former
periods. For instance, ancient Greeks considered health as a happy state of life where
rational, sensual, and heroic qualities of the human being are fully manifested.8 In the
classical age, to mould oneself for a good and flourishing existence was a life project
and a matter of creating health. To choose the right goals in life is considered by the
antiquity as a good life, which was just as much as a matter of health as the virtue of the
soul (Svenaeus 2000). A good account of approach to the well-being of the people of
the Greek antiquity is provided in Foucault’s researches on that period.9 This involves
all sorts of habits such as sexual habits, friendship, exercise habits, dietetics, sleep,
study, and so on (Foucault 1986). Also, it is seen in the epics of Homer and The
Mahabharata that the people of that time thought it is worthless to remain in the world
with the aid of food and other comforts. This is reflected in the attitude of the warrior
classes of all classical civilizations who thought there is no better glory in life than
having a death in the battlefield.
The classical Greek approach to health finds its theoretical expression in Aristotle’s
Nicomachean Ethics. The idea of well-being proposed in it is a contented state of being
happy and healthy and prosperous flourishing. It is resulted by the development of all
the qualities of a person such as reason, beauty, passions, sensuality, valor, friendliness,
compassion, and so on. Happiness or “eudaemonia” is the perfection of human
goodness through leading a virtuous life. “Virtue” here only means the excellence of
character and it cannot be equated with the morality of the modern civilization. The
modern notion of virtue propagated by religion and metaphysics, on the other hand,
disallows actions of sensuality and heroism, thereby limiting life to a bare minimum
performance of activities. Virtue in the classical world, however, was not abstention
from sensual pleasures and adventurous living. Rather it only means finding the best
out of life through harmonious blending of one’s capacities. This is why Aristotle
writes that virtue is something concerned with pleasures and pains, “the person who
manages them well will be good, while he who does so badly will be bad” (Aristotle
2000). Thus, goodness is extra-moral, beyond the differentiation of the categories of
good and bad that confines lives to few allowed territories. Thus a healthy person is the
one who flourishes in existence through the development of multiple capacities, beyond
any narrow confinement of life to certain set paths.

Descartes and the Advent of Modern Medicine

We see a radical shift in the meaning of health in the modern times. Now, health is no
longer seen as living a life of intensities. Instead, health is perceived as a life of
painlessness. Positive robustness is now turned into an absence of disease. The
activities that transgress the recognized norms of behavior are now looked at with

8
This is reflected by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics.
9
Michel Foucault’s book, The Use of Pleasure, throws light into the ancient Greek people’s positive attitude to
their body and pleasure. He contrasts it with the ascetic attitude of the people of the present.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

suspicion. Great actions that celebrate life are no longer promoted because of the risk
involved in them to produce pain in life. In place of them, activities that lead to the
production of easy pleasures are encouraged. Such a change in the perception of health
is directly related to a change taken place in the conception of the body and its function.
Ancient people had not separated the body and the mind into watertight compartments.
All the pleasures of the body were mental as well. A human being is as taken as her
body as much as she is her mind. That enabled Aristotle to say that the human soul is
the form of the human body (Aristotle 2012). But in modern times, more value has
been given to mental and intellectual activities. In modernity, there is distrust of bodily
passions and desires.
The Platonic and Christian perspective of the human body as an inferior principle
opposed to the higher activities of the soul was instrumental in the devaluation of the
body. Its direct influence is seen in Cartesian rational thinking. Descartes reestablishes
this old dualism when he divides realities into the mind and the body. For Descartes, the
mind alone is spiritual and the body, both of the human being and the natural world, is
extended matter devoid of any life. The juxtaposition of mind and body in diametrically
opposite poles has been done by Descartes who is considered as the father of the
methodology of modern medical science. This compartmentalization of the reality into
two enabled Descartes, who was a doctor by profession, to establish medical research
as a purely physiological and autonomous endeavor unconnected to the psychic reality.
This approach exerted a major influence on modern medicine and all the subsequent
streams of thought in the Western world.
Descartes assigned an agency to the mind alone. The body has no agency and it
functions on the basis of mechanical laws. Descartes viewed “the body of the human
being as a kind of machine made up of bones, nerves, muscles, veins, blood, and skin
so fitted together that, even if there were no mind within it, it would still have all
movements” (Descartes 2008). The body is considered also as a cause for clouding the
intellect, seducing the will, and creating perpetual obstacles to the growth of reason.
Worldly life is seen as a temporary halting place of the immortal soul due to its
association with the body. This message is clearly delineated by Descartes when he
writes that “I am a thinking thing and not an extended thing … body … is only an
extended and not a thinking thing, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body,
and I can exist without it.”10
If the soul is recognized as the superior principle of humankind, all the higher
activities of life have to be drawn from it. Then, the human body has no other function
than to act as a carrier of the soul. In such a case, the body needs only to be protected
from ills and malfunctions. Medical profession has assumed that task. The doctor
becomes the person who has the authoritative knowledge to speak about the truth of
the body. In his understanding, health cannot be anything more than the absence of
disease. The cultural and psychic matters have been left out from his province and the
priest becomes the authority on them. For getting guidance on matters of life people
sought the help of the priest who instructed them the meaning of love, desire, sex,
morality, and the like. These matters have been explained from a transcendental
metaphysical point of view. While human beings devote themselves for the happiness
of the soul, the value of body and earthly existence get depreciated. This can be seen as

10
Ibid, p. 55
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

a specific characteristic of modernity that has to be overcome for the activation of a


qualitative life on earth.
According to Descartes, the principles that guide human life come entirely from the
soul. The body is a lifeless beastly machine that follows principles that are absolutely
different. The physiological vitality is produced by the body’s own mechanical pro-
cesses like the function of a clock or any other automated device. Descartes supposes
“the body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth” like “clocks, artificial
fountains, mills and other such machines which, though only man made, have the
power to move of their own…” (Descartes 1985). Like the burning of fire moves
automated devices, the heat in the heart moves the body of the beast. Without the
presence of the soul, the body will remain as an inoperative machine. Descartes
conceives living organisms like a machine constituted by separate parts. This mechanic
attitude of the material world laid the foundation of the modern age led by science and
technology. The doctors of modern medicine for the last three centuries follow this
mechanistic view of life which was established by biological sciences founded on the
Cartesian model. The human body, according to it, can be analyzed as being constituted
of separate parts of a machine. A disease is seen as the result of the malfunctioning of
some of its parts. A doctor’s role is to intervene in it with the aid of chemicals to correct
it. In the surgical procedure, the body is opened up and certain organs are replaced like
the parts of a machine are removed. The blood tests, scanning, and x-ray are dissections
of the constituent parts of the body. The body as a lifeless automaton is left to the
therapist to repair. This model of health is followed even three centuries after Descartes.
Here, the non-living takes predominance over the living. The living body here is
approached like an animated corpse. This perspective allows a complete control and
domination to medical science over the body, to act upon it and manipulate it.
This uncompromising dualism thus became the model for the modern medical
science. It placed the body and mind in separate watertight compartments. Now, a
person’s life is taken care of by two entirely different professions. The body is taken
care of by the medical profession and the mind by philosophy and religion. Different
from the archaic age, the role of the philosopher is now recast as a physician of the
human soul who helps to deliver the soul from the polluting association of the body
(Plato 2002) and finally, leading it to salvation. Religious traditions also taught human
being to discard the body as a mortal thrash that corrupts soul. Thus, philosophical
thinking and religious traditions together engaged in the practice of decomposing
bodies. And the task of taking care of the body, henceforth, is entirely left to the
medical science.
A critical reexamination of the methodology of modern medicine is necessary in the
wake of Foucault’s observations about the “clinical gaze” which gives the health
professional the power to examine, interview, and prescribe lifestyles (Foucault
1975). This is seen as a bio-power employed to control individual bodies and popula-
tion. For the exercise of bio-power, firstly, “individual identity” has to be constructed
for each human being, based on symptoms, disease, or lifestyle. Control over these
processes is at the core of medical care. Whether its true objective is promotion of
health or formation of a disciplined society is the question posed by Foucault. He
claims that rather than providing health, the medical practices function more as a device
for subjugation of the bodies. This prompts us to look at modern medical practice with
caution and even suspicion.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

The Materialistic Turn in Thinking

The separation of the body from the mind provided autonomous status to the physical
world. This secured progress in the field of science and technology. In modern times,
technological growth has improved human standards of living to higher levels. The
growth happened in medical science has increased life expectancy for mankind.
Notwithstanding all these achievements, it is perceived from many quarters that there
is no growth in quality of life in proportion to the improvement in the standard of living
(Naess 2001). Quality of life, as we know, is largely dependent on the amount of
happiness derived by an individual in life which is in no way to be equated to life
standards. Possession of sophisticated equipments may have improved standard of
living by making our everyday tasks easier to perform. That has produced a good
amount of leisure, which was not available to mankind in pre-modern periods. But this
leisure was not utilized to achieve higher goals of life. Instead, it is spent as pastime,
mostly in the enjoyment of easy pleasures provided by television and consumer goods.
Medical science equates health with the increased life expectancy of mankind. But
whether we can call a life healthy if it is led in passivity by the postponement of death is
the question raised by social critics today. Such health will not be anything more than a
thing maintained by the application of medicine. This would not lead to the activation
of life. It will not help human beings to realize the fullest potentialities and purpose of
life. Nietzsche analyses this situation as cultural degradation and therefore, a disease.
This illness of the contemporary humanity was not produced by any microbes of
disease. Nietzsche observes that the humans of the modern age are sick (Nietzsche
1969). In Nietzsche’s opinion, clinical ailments are mere external symptoms of a deeper
sickness whose causes are to be deciphered genealogically. He thinks that the cause of
physiological weariness has to be analyzed culturally than from the medical point of
view.
The idea of health as prolongation of life has come mainly from two sources. One is
the Cartesian perspective of the body as a mere machine maintained with the aid of
medical technology. Human life, according to this perspective, is a set of rational
activities performed under the guidance of the soul. The other is the Christian view
of the body as a temporary residence for the soul during her existence on the earth. The
real bliss of life for it lies in the transcendental realm and that could be reached only
when the soul is dissociated from the polluting influence of the body and its desires.
But this can be achieved in a life of asceticism or only after death.
But if we evaluate the worth of human life from a phenomenological perspective or
from the perspective of the body and earth, a different set of things gain importance.
Then, joyful experiences produced in the love of the sexes, heroism, intoxications of
aesthetic states, riches, fame, and whatever brings worldly glory become supreme
values of life. Hitherto, these were things sidelined by the enlightenment modernity
as immoral under the influence of the Christian-Platonic ideology. A change in our
priorities and purpose in living will demand a rethinking of the existing meaning of
health. Then, it will no longer be a mere absence of disease; instead, health will be
reconceived as something that has to do with the activation of life.
Consequent to the materialistic understanding of life produced in the thoughts of
Nietzsche and the phenomenologists, an effort to replant human life in the soil of body
has gained momentum. Contemporary criticisms initiated by the feminists,
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

deconstructionists, postmodernists, and cultural theorists against abstract thinking


based on the subject/soul are the direct result of it. This is in opposition to the dualism
of the Cartesian tradition that recognized the soul/subject alone as the true human
agency. Contemporary critics affirm the value of body in our mundane life. This turn is
visible even from the nineteenth century during which thinkers such as Hegel, Freud,
and Husserl started to discard the tendency to treat the soul as the locus of thought and
agency. Since then, the body has begun to replace the soul as the seat of consciousness
and actions. With Darwin’s theory of evolution, a materialistic basis for explaining
living organisms was fully accepted in the biological sciences.
But a concerted effort to dethrone the centrality of consciousness by body had come
from Nietzsche who has written that “man is entirely body and soul is merely a word
for something in the body (Nietzsche 1984).” With this, human thought, morality, and
values have started receiving a materialistic grounding that replaced the transcendental
explanation prevalent in philosophy. In metaphysical explanation, a body cannot exist
by its own energy. A transcendental spirit or a mental substance must be there to give
“form” to the body and trigger its activities. But Nietzsche showed that the body does
not require any external principle or a mental substance for the triggering of its
movements and thoughts. With the announcement of the “Death of God,” 11 he was
actually making the body free of all external control of a spiritual substance. He
replaced it with a force that is an attribute of the body itself, which is the “will to
power.” As a result, the human agency now shifts from the mind to the body. The other
forerunner who grounded thought on a materialist plain is Benedict Spinoza12 who said
that “the mind and the body are one and the same thing”13

Health as Life Enhancement

We shall explore here how a different notion of health can be developed out of
Spinoza’s bodily explanation of existence. Spinoza’s philosophy demonstrates that
there is only one substance and all the living and non-living things of the world are
various kinds of modes or modifications of that substance. Each mode with body is
composed of innumerable number of particles that constitutes the individuality of the
body. A body is not defined by its form or organs or function, as usually done in
mainstream natural sciences. On the other hand, speed and slowness of the particles that
constituting a body determine the nature of an organism. The speed and slowness of
metabolism, perceptions, actions, and reactions join together in the making of the
constitution of a particular individual in the world. This makes a human body different
from the body of other organisms. For instance, in the case of a butterfly perceptions
and metabolism functions in a very lower magnitude.
In Spinoza’s scheme of thinking, all bodies perpetually come into contact with other
bodies according to the eternal laws of nature. In this coming together, a body affects

11
Nietzsche, The Gay Science, p. 120
12
Understanding of Spinoza’s philosophy as a treatise on body is a recent trend that comes about with the
publication of the two volumes on Spinoza by Gilles Deleuze. Earlier, Spinoza’s thought has been looked at
primarily as a rationalistic discourse on the mind–body problem where reason playing a pivotal role in
bringing about human freedom. This paper basically follows the Deleuezean interpretation of Spinoza.
13
Spinoza, Ethics, p. 100.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

other bodies and in turn, is affected by other bodies.14 It is also the way in which a body
is affecting and being affected that defines the nature of a body. If we define bodies and
minds as capacities for affecting and being affected, the existing categorization of
organisms would change. Then, an animal or a human being cannot be understood in
terms of its consciousness or subjectivity. For Spinoza, the body and the mind are one
and the same thing. When the nature of a body is looked at in terms of its capacity for
affections, then the agency of the body is no longer dependent upon “free will” or
reason or instinct. In place of it, the forces or affections impinged on one body from the
outside bodies and also its capacity for affecting on external bodies determines the
nature of that body.
In Spinoza’s thought, the body is always either acting or acted upon, depending on
the affects impinged upon it from the external bodies. “The human body can be affected
in many ways by which its power of acting is increased or diminished.”15 The attributes
of each body also varies from other bodies. When our body encounters another body
that agrees with our nature, it happens that this new relation sometimes combines to
form a more powerful whole. We experience joy when a body encounters ours and
enters into composition with it. Such encounters enhance our power to act (Deleuze
1988). This constitutes the health of the body.
But when we encounter a body that does not agree with our nature, it jeopardizes our
cohesion, decomposes our body, and then sadness or frustration is experienced. In some
extreme cases when our body’s relation with the other is totally incompatible with our
nature, death could be expected. Whenever the relations do not enter into composition with
ours, the encounter becomes negative to our nature. Then, it may be said that our power of
acting is diminished or blocked. The passions formed in us at that moment are those of
sadness. The sad passions always amount to impotence and this constitute illness of the
body.
For instance, for an animal such as a cow, plants and rains affect positively and its
strength is then increased. Plants as food give nourishment. Rain provides the condi-
tions for the growth of plants and also supplies water to the cow to quench its thirst. On
the other hand, the contact of the cow with spiders and flies affects contrary to its
nature, thereby its activity is curtailed. However, for a frog, a fly and spider may be
good affections. Both of these are foods as far as the frog is concerned. They enhance
its strength. Likewise, when an animal with higher magnitude such as a human being is
affected by an idea of another man that is compatible with his nature, it then enters into
a new composition. Combining of both ideas together produces a new compound and it
then doubles the power of his capacity for action. Consequently joy is resulted. This
constitutes the health of that human being.
When Spinoza’s discourse on the body is employed as a means of analysis of life, we will
be forced to alter our existing understanding of the goal of existence. The highest goal is life
enhancement (Spinoza characterizes it as freedom) and that can now be seen as the
experience of joy resulting from positive affections happening to a body by the impact of
other bodies. Health then is the expansion of one’s conatus16 produced by joyfulness which

14
Ibid, p. 99
15
Ibid.
16
Conatus, according to Spinoza, is the drive present in all living and non-living things to persist in existence
and grow higher.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

according to Spinoza is the higher state of flourishing of the human being. On the other
hand, disease and decay can be seen as diminishing of our power of acting resulted by
sadness or poisoning of the body by the impact of other bodies.
We, as inhabitants of “nature,” are always vulnerable to bodily encounters according
to the eternal laws of nature, either in the form of composition or decomposition,
consequently joy or sadness is resulted. No “body” can stay away from them. But we
only feel the effects of such encounters in the form of sadness and joy. Spinoza says
that the real causes of our affections are hidden from us. We do not have “adequate
ideas”17 about that. In the absence of such knowledge, we tempt to think that it is our
evil actions that lead to our sadness, and vice versa, good actions lead to joyfulness. We
attribute an otherworldly cause for it. Religions are in the forefront for propagating such
beliefs. We are then tempted to believe in so many superstitions. A moral interpretation
of phenomena is, thus, provided. Thus, human beings posit a God who rewards for
good actions and punishes for prohibited ones.
This is what happens in the case of the religious interpretation of the biblical story of
Adam. Gilles Deleuze, while reinterpreting the story, writes18 that Adam was prevented by
God from eating the apple not because the apple was evil in itself, but because it was
poisonous to his body. But Adam misunderstood it as a moral decree of God not to eat that
fruit. Certain things are incompatible to certain bodies because of the particles and attributes
by which they are constituted. Due to this, certain things would act as poison and decompose
them. By preventing Adam from eating the apple God was only trying to remind Adam
about the poisonous nature of the fruit. However, he mistook it. Likewise, human beings
always tend to interpret their painful experiences as punishment by an almighty God for their
wrongdoings. And thus, they conceive certain things as universally good by nature and
certain other things universally evil. They do not come to see that some of the things they
treat as evil may be good for certain other bodies. They may enhance the power of those
bodies to act. In the absence of adequate knowledge about the working of the world,
religious, metaphysical, and moral theories get a hold on humanity. Nietzsche thinks that
they exploit the sad passions of human beings. However, good and evil are mere interpre-
tations due to lack of adequate ideas. There is no good in itself or evil in itself. Things which
are poisonous to some organisms may be nutritious to certain other organisms. Nothing is
invariably evil by nature. We judge something to be good and strive for it, because we find
that it enhances our power to act. It is our evaluation that makes things evil or good. So
human choices of things and ideas should be connected to health and illness of the bodies,
questions of compositions and decompositions and they have nothing to do with moral good
and evil.
Health, thus from Spinoza’s perspective, can be understood as the body’s actual
measurable capacity to form new relations with other bodies, so that its strength can be
increased. But all those newly formed relations need not be healthy. Some such newly
formed relations lead to the formation of new compounds and some other relations lead
to the decomposition of the body. Only those relations that lead to the formation of new
compounds can be considered healthy. For instance, a body-oxygen compound is a
healthy assemblage in the case of the human species, whereas body-carbon dioxide is a
negative assemblage. Likewise, a person’s association with some specific others may

17
Spinoza, Ibid, p. 75
18
Deleuze, Ibid, p. 22.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

enhance her spirit where as her association with some others who are incompatible to
her nature will jeopardize her cohesion. Wrong assemblages will lead to decomposition
(death) of the body.
That individual shall be called healthy who strives to organize her encounters, to join
with whatever agrees with her nature, to combine her relations with relations that are
compatible with her, and thereby to increases her power. That individual shall be called
sick, or weak who lives haphazardly, who is content to suffer the effects of her
encounters that do not agree with her constitution. Such people accuse earthly life
and become resentful about it. They are the people who turn reactive and spread the
germs of their hatred everywhere.
The present socio-historical milieu is characterized as modernity. It is run under the
guidance of science and technology founded on the Cartesian spirit, whose source we
have already located in Christian-Platonic thinking. Modernity does not propose any
projects to promote combinations that produce joyfulness in life. Most of the assem-
blages in it are negative ones and that lead to the persistence of degeneration of life. The
impossibility of achieving positive assemblages in modern societies could be seen as
the cause of the sickness of modern human beings living in contemporary societies.

Nietzsche’s Diagnosis of the Illness of Modern Culture

Spinoza’s establishment of human life on materiality and the body was a deviation from
the general trend existed in modern philosophy. However, though his thought provides
a new theory of the body, it does not contain any project to critique the devaluation of
life. So, it is not sufficient enough to make any change in the human tendency of
looking for truth and values in the transcendental realm. Metaphysics still continues to
be the directing principle of mankind. Spinoza did not propose any scheme to over-
come the Christian-Platonic ideology that kept its sway over mankind. In this context,
Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics and religion become significant. Nietzsche’s project
of overcoming nihilism has to be added to the Spinozist theory of the body for
establishing life on a materialistic ground. His analysis of nihilism is proposed as a
diagnosis of the illness of humanity.
Nietzsche, who has advocated great health as the goal of life, was very much
concerned about the predicament of humanity in modernity. Great health for him lies
in the exaltation of worldly life to the optimum levels. It will come about in the
redirection of the will to power into the life-affirming channels. The “will to power” is
the force that exists in the body itself. However, in the contemporary culture, the “will to
power” is turned into a reactive, life-negating force by metaphysical and otherworldly
discourses and practices. Nietzsche’s project of aesthetic affirmation is taken up here as a
powerful proposal for reconstituting life, which presently is dominated by ascetic
attitude. 19 Nietzsche’s “aesthetic affirmation” is meant as an antidote to the diseased
condition of modern humanity. His analysis of nihilism in this regard is seen as a
19
Asceticism in the opinion of Nietzsche is not merely the attitude of the ascetics and priests who reject the
pleasures of the body. Asceticism, in his opinion, rather is the hallmark of the entire modern civilization. In the
third essay of On the Genealogy of Morals, he demonstrates in detail how modern science, philosophy, and
culture are woven with the anti-life strands that suspect the worldly happiness, sensuous pleasures, and the
body.
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

diagnosis of the sickness of contemporary societies. This is intended to identify the


cultural virus that infected life in a very alarming manner. He perceived modern man as a
sick animal among other species of the nature.20 His work is equated to that of a cultural
physician, whose task is to cure the ills of the society (Ahern 1995). Nietzsche’s
philosophy is very rich in medical metaphors. A spurt of medical terms seen in his
writings such as physiology, nerve, cells, muscles, strength, diagnosis, tonic, symptom,
decease, and so on, enabling him to replace the old metaphysical terms like essence,
causality, self, god, and consciousness. His philosophical analysis of modern life was
done with the aid of such a set of clinical terms.
Nietzsche finds the illness of the modern life in the practice of nihilism. He defines
nihilism as the tendency to devalue worldly life in the name of higher ideals such as
otherworldly essences, moral goodness, and life after death. This tendency is mainly
propagated by religion, metaphysics, the sciences, and the modern day institutions.
Nihilism promotes only transcendental values and truths, thereby worldly life is denied
as unworthy. This ends up in ascetic denial of bodily desires. In Nietzsche’s opinion,
religion, morality, and philosophy are the three forms of nihilism that prevents human
beings from making positive compositions in life (Nietzsche 1968). These figures
depreciate the value of earthly life. Thus, the fundamental problem humanity has to
address today is to find means for overcoming nihilism. If nihilism is the denial of life
rooted in bodily desires, the overcoming of it requires recalling of all those desires of
the body back to life. Intoxicating moments produced by the beautiful experiences of
life alone can act as a counterforce to all will to negation of life and the body. Thus, for
Nietzsche, “the aesthetic” is suggested as a counterforce to defeat nihilism. 21 The
aesthetic, here, is not the activity of creating painting or poetry or music. It is rather an
experiential state produced by a set of actions that lead to the enhancement of life,
resulting in joy. For him, the Greek antiquity shall be the source and inspiration for the
modern human being to develop the active side of existence. The Greek antiquity
expressed it in loving, heroism, adventure, sensual pleasures, abundance, overflowing
health, dancing, and so on.22 These were actions opposed to moral and metaphysical
values hitherto treated as the highest goals of life. The suppleness in games, dance, and
love, unleashes the bodily energy and joy is set into play. And in the aesthetic
intoxication produced in musical and poetic states, the body got beautified. To
Nietzsche, “becoming more beautiful is a consequence of enhanced strength.” 23 The
fragrances of spring, love, and sexuality also produce aesthetic states that release
hormones into the blood.
But they are seldom available to the man of modern age due to the predominance of
nihilistic evaluations produced by metaphysical and religious discourses. Mainstream
evaluations deny them as undesirable needs of life. Indulging in them is considered as
transgression of the legitimate boundaries of “the good” and “the true” set by the
mainstream society.
Nietzsche proposes art as a powerful instrument for the enhancement of health.
Because it is a domain in which those pro-life forces and activities denied in social life

20
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, p. 121
21
Ibid, p. 452
22
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 33
23
Nietzsche, The Will to Power, p. 420
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

have been preserved. Poetry and painting act as an alternative domain of pro-life forces.
In them, the hues of natural living are recaptured, felt, expressed, and lived. Art
preserves those functions when they are left out from concrete life. In Nietzsche’s
opinion, “the demand for art and beauty is an indirect demand for sexuality and love
communicated to the brain”24 and in it “we discover the most angelic instinct, ‘love,’
we discover it as the greatest stimulus to life.” 25 The creation of a work of art is
prompted by the desire to have those things in actual life. Aesthetic experience
instigates them and prompts a person to act and practice them in actual life. It
reinvigorates the body that has been decomposed and disintegrated by the constant
markings made on it by the forces of nihilism. Its medicinal property is made clear
when he writes that “all art-works exercises the power of suggestion over the muscles
and senses….it works tonically, increases strength, inflames desire, excite all the more
subtle recollections of intoxication.”26
The Cartesian-Christian tradition, on the other hand, gave higher spiritual status only
to the rational self and the transcendental world. It thereby propagated the denial of the
body. However, in opposition to it, the aesthetic is suggested as an affirmative force of
life. When showing aesthetic as “affirmation and deification of existence,”27 Nietzsche
was reinterpreting spiritual experience as a phenomenon entirely dependent on the
body and the earth.
The moral interpretation of life circulated through the Cartesian-Christian tradition,
on the other hand, was an endeavor to negate the body and earthly existence. Mostly, it
comes from the impotence to affirm worldly life. The ascetic world view nurtured by
religion, morality, and philosophy perceives the “physiological well-being and the
outward expression of this well-being with suspicious eyes. Beauty and joy are kept
aside while pleasure is felt and sought in ill constitutedness, decay, pain, ugliness,
voluntary deprivation, self mortification and self sacrifice.”28 A type of asceticism is the
hallmark of both religion and metaphysics. Metaphysics and religion posit pure will-
less, painless, and timeless knowing subject as the higher ideal of mankind. Thereby,
nihilism succeeds in limiting the actions of the active human beings and give protection
to the incapable people who only wanted to sustain in the world from dying. Nietzsche
writes, “The ascetic ideal springs from the protective instinct of a degenerating life
which tries by all means to sustain itself and to fight for its existence … life wrestles in
it with death and against death; the ascetic ideal is an artifice for the preservation of
life.”29
Modern medicine is hailed for its power to postpone death. Doctors are adorned as
persons possessing powers to conquer death. Death, in the Christian view, is a
happening caused by human sin, and a life after death is guaranteed for those who
lead a sinless life. Both Christianity and medical science perceive death as the highest
evil faced by mankind. Christianity and modern medical science grew hand in hand and
they both set out to ward off death through their specific means. The former does it
through denial of the body in a life of purity and the latter through the application of

24
Ibid, p. 424
25
ibid, p. 426
26
Ibid p. 427
27
Ibid, p. 434
28
On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 118
29
Ibid, p. 120
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

clinical practices. Both keep their hold on humanity by the instigation of fear of death.
Foucault writes in The Birth of the Clinic that in modern times, death suddenly emerges
as a matter of concern and as a phenomenon to be feared, which was not so in earlier
historical periods. He observes that knowledge of one’s finitude caused by death is a
result of the “individuation” process, 30 by which a person come to see himself as a
separate “self” from the others. The awareness of death is a major factor in the
individuation process of the human being. Man becomes an individual self when his
life is felt as a contingent one, a period lived between birth and death, and finally
waiting for its impending end.
But the fear of death is felt basically due to the absence of fulfillment of projects and
desires of life. It is specific to those people who do not live their life properly. Those
who live joyously never lament at death. The man consummating his life dies his death
triumphantly. 31 Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence that explains the return of
everything into life is a substitute for the Christian eschatological history. Death mostly
becomes a nightmarish experience in modern times due to human separation from
others. People remain to be individual selves due to their impossibility to enter into
suitable compositions and bodily assemblages with others, resulted by the nihilistic ban
on life. Therefore, modern men mostly remain in their interiority without having
combinations that enhance their power to act.
Drew Leder, who wrote about the Cartesian influence on medical science, has
observed that the threat of death posed by human body was a great provocation not
only for Descartes’ metaphysics but also for his researches in medicine. The develop-
ment of a medicine that would overcome disease and increase life span was considered
as one of the chief aims of his research. Descartes writes that “I have never taken such
pains to protect my health as now, and whereas I used to think that death might rob me
of 30 or 40 years at most, it could not now surprise me unless it threatened by hope of
living more than a hundred years” (Leder 1992).
Along with the fear of death, fear of pain was another triggering force for the
evolution of modern medicine. The influence of Christianity on modern medical
practice is evident in this regard. Christian asceticism has its origin in the inability to
affirm both pain and pleasure existed in the world. Denial of the worldly life is justified
by it basically by citing the pain and suffering involved in it. The Christian ideal of
“serving the sufferer” is very much at the heart of modern medical profession. The ideal
of it was the protection of the diseased and has never been the promotion of greatness.
For Christianity rendering service to the sufferer is the supremely good act of life. If we
evaluate human actions based on this ideal, a nurse is to be considered as the ideal type
of human being. This ideal was influential for the emergence of the medical notion of
nursing. However this ideal discourages the activation of bodily/libidinal desires in life.
Instead, it only demands us to withdraw from the pleasures of the earth in order to reap
rewards lying in store in the life after death. Self mortification, penance, and sacrifice
thus become the higher virtues of the modern age in the place of the older virtues of
love, courage, and heroism. In short, it nurtured a life of rest and inactivity.
The modern nation states established on the basis of enlightenment ideals also do not
promote any higher goals of existence. The state basically works for serving the masses

30
Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic, p. 197
31
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 97
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

by providing medical care, drinking water, shelter, clothing, and material comforts. It
uses modern medicine as an instrument to keep the body of the people from disease in
order to utilize them as labor force for amassing wealth. Thereby, the modern state also
functions as an arm of nihilism. Actions other than the ones that support bare minimum
performances for the survival of life are not promoted. Foucault explains how hospitals
function as agencies for limiting playfulness, sensuality, and excess performance of the
body (Foucault 1975). Hospitals are thus work as arms of modernity to convert human
bodies into labor forces.
Nietzsche’s attack of Christian-Platonic tradition therefore has to be seen as an endeavor
to liberate the body from the control of nihilistic forces, manifested as modern states,
churches, hospitals, and other apparatuses of administrative control. Spinoza has already
shown the means for the activation of the bodily powers. When we rebuild life on bodily
grounds as shown by these thinkers, the value of it will no longer be determined in terms of
the moral notions of good and evil. The worth of life instead will be measured in terms of
health and sickness. Morality would be significant only if the body has a life to lead in a
supernatural world after death. But if the human being is entirely body, what is good for her
is enhanced and flourishing life which is health, and what is evil is weakness and inactivity.
Traditional morality, in this regard, has to be seen as an obstacle to great health, because it
always interprets the meaning of goodness from the point of view of supernatural truths. It
seldom perceives goodness as enhancement of the powers of the body or beautification of
the body. Instead, sacrificing of one’s happiness for the service of the others is considered as
the supremely good act. 32 A person who mortifies his bodily desires through ascetic
practices of fasting and austerity is considered as good.33
Thus, health will no longer be constituted by the absence of disease, but by an
enhanced life. If the body is taken as the model for thinking and action, the highest goal
cannot be liberation of the soul from the world or purification of mind by abstention
from desires. Good is then understood as an expanded activity of the body filled with
joy and bad is whatever leads to inertia and sadness. Inertia and sadness take away the
power of the body to act and that is a symptom of illness. So, good and bad are to be
taken out from their moral context. The concepts good and evil need to be replaced by
the notions of health and illness. Goodness then is not understood as doing good
service to others. Instead, whatever enhances the capacity of the body to act will be
good and whatever diminishes the capacity of the body shall be evil.
Replacement of the moral notions of good and evil with health and illness is
necessary for the passage of humanity to a new life-affirmative age, beyond the
modern. Nietzsche’s revaluation of the values of the contemporary culture becomes
supremely relevant in this context. A coupling of Spinoza’s body-based thinking and
Nietzsche’s aestheticism will enable us to redefine the goal of existence. That will
probably tell us how to move ahead with the project of evolution of a new age.

References

Ahern, D. (1995). Nietzsche as cultural physician. Pennsylvania State University Press.

32
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, pp. 25–26
33
Ibid, pp. 117–18
J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res.

Aristotle (2000). Nicomachean ethics (p. 27) (trans: Crisp, R.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Aristotle (2012). De Anima (trans: Stiffman, M.). Newburyport: Focus Publishing.
Deleuze, G. (1988). Spinoza, practical philosophy (p. 19–21) (trans: Hurley, R.). San Francisco: City Light
Books.
Descartes, R. (1985). ‘Treatise of man’. In Philosophical writings of Descartes (p. 99), Vol. I (trans:
Cottingham, J.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Descartes, R. (2008). Meditations on first philosophy (p. 60) (trans: Moriarty, M.). Oxford: Oxford University
Press.
Foucault (1975). The birth of the clinic (trans: Smith, S.). New York: Vintage Books.
Foucault, M. (1986). The use of pleasure (trans: Hurley, R.). New York: Vintage Books.
Husserl, E. (1989). Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy (pp. 60–
95) Second Book (trans: Rojcewicz, R.). London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Leder, D. (Ed.). (1992). The body in the medical thought (p. 18). London: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Naess, A. (2001). Ecology, community and lifestyle (p. 88–90) (trans: Rothenberg, D.). Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Nietzsche (1968). The will to power (p. 419).
Nietzsche (1969). On the genealogy of morals and ecce homo (p. 121) (trans: Kaufman, W.). New York:
Vintage Books.
Nietzsche (1984) Thus spoke Zarathustra (p. 61) (trans: Hollingdale, R. J.). New York: Penguin Books.
Nietzsche, F. (2008). Gay science. (p. 246) (trans: Nauckhoff, J.). Cambridge University Press.
Plato (2002). Five dialogues (pp. 102–4) (trans: Grube, G.M.A.). Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company.
Spinoza (2001). Ethics (pp. 98–104) (trans: White, W.H.). London: Wordsworth Editions Limited.
Svenaeus, F. (2000). The hermeneutic of medicine and the phenomenology of health (pp. 61–62). London:
Kluwer Academic Publishers.