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Psicologia USP

Print version ISSN 0103-6564On-line version ISSN 1678-5177

Psicol. USP vol.26 no.3 São Paulo Sept./Dec. 2015 


Affection and first philosophy: The relationship between phenomenology and life sciences

Florinda Martinsa  * 

aUniversidade Católica Portuguesa. Porto, Portugal


In this article we support the thesis that the access to the phenomenality of phenomena, including the access to themselves, is only possible in a regime of co-property in life: the life-living affection. We show the implications through a theory of culture, namely the culture of the relations between phenomenology and health sciences. We question the possibility to judge bodies in the phenomenality of affection, and with that, to judge our pain and illnesses. These questions will be assessed from the development of the work started by Michel Henry concerning the foundations of the interdisciplinarity between phenomenality and clinical practice, by associating it to a scientific-philosophical tradition with roots in Francisco Sanchez, almost a contemporary of Descartes, and to proceed with the hesitations and questions that Descartes himself introduced in his own philosophical corpus: the spirit's dependence on the organs' function. And through Descartes, we will bring current scientific researches into debate.

Keywords: phenomenality; life; affection; co-property; interdisciplinarity

The Lord produced medicine from the earth: the wise man shall not despise it21

How can one, the subject, reason, the spirit, the cogito, require the status of first philosophy without considering the effective process of Being? This was the question proposed by Michel Henry (MH) to philosophical tradition in the first pages of The essence of manifestation ( Henry, 1963 ), which was reasonably proposed since without knowing how life and the living note themselves, their knowledge are no more than speculations and indeterminations. No matter how much the person, the subject, the spirit, the cogito, the reason, are distinct and distinguish themselves from the all others beings, that does not deprive them from the status of beings among other beings: the same primordial relation life-living crosses them; the relation between being-beings, whose phenomenality is important to understand! And even if the specificity of this bond is recognized in the one that philosophizes, such fact does not exempt him from the phenomenality of the link, which is, at the same time, what creates, exceeds and transcends him. Therefore, a first philosophy has no way of escaping the phenomenality of the affection regarding the being and regarding the life of the person, the reason, the spirit or the cogito and - that without prejudice of the specificity of the one that questions himself ( Henry, 1963 ).

According to MH, the phenomenology of life satisfies this demand by showing the manifestation of life is the same for each living being that, in that process, reveals life by proving its existence. Life proves itself in the being I am! Nevertheless, if originally life proves itself by affecting me, I also prove myself in it, even if in an excess of me. A phenomenologically proved excess in the affection's passivity that opens me to its phenomenology and, by doing this, opens me to the powers it conveys me: it opens me to the Other. And not in an accidental, but a constitutive way: affection in life; the eye that sees, wants to see more, the hand that touches, wants to touch more! ( Henry, 1985 ) The eye improves itself by improving what it sees; the hand improves itself by improving what it touches; and not just once, as by accident, but necessarily taking what it sees and touches as an indefinably evocable term.

From this phenomenality of affection, as the Other's indefinitely evocable wish, results an entanglement of questions from Henry's phenomenology, which the philosopher does not hide, but seems to approach in a contradictory manner. However, we feel that is the irrefutable need to take over the affection of life 22 that produces this entanglement; the person, the subject, the spirit, or the cogito is totally unprotected ( Henry, 1963 ) 23 regarding such need. Completely helpless, given to me in an excess of myself, in the violence of affection, I have no way of escaping it 24 !

This helplessness results in the MH's theory on culture as an excess of me, as well as his theory on barbarism as a loss of mastery concerning that same violence ( Thélot, 2013 ). Mastery and loss of mastery are responses to that unconditional condition of mankind: to be affected in life without being able to take a position regarding that affection that, therefore, is considered violent.

But this is not the only way out for the one who feels affected in life and unable to take a position regarding that situation. In MH's work, there is another possibility of reading the mastery of life provided by the ambiguity of the term "mastery". Not only it would mean to dominate the affection, but also knowing how to do it - savoir comment faire -and, furthermore, knowing what is to be done - savoir ce qu'il faut faire ( Henry, 2007 ). This possibility arises from the inherent phenomenality of feeling the affection. To feel affected implies the feeling of being involved in the affection or, in MH's terms, to feel body-propriation ( Henry, 1987 ). Here, the feeling of being affected in life turns from the affective tone of violence into the phenomenality of the Other that affects me, making helplessness and unbinding from the Other impossible.

Therefore, the entanglement of the questions regarding the phenomenological intrigue between life and the living resides in the understanding of how to master myself or to have myself with property - according to Der Mann ohne Eigenschaft 25 . Or, as observed by Yorihiro Yamagatha, in understanding that, for MH, affinity, aesthetic perception, and the original pact are founded in the absolute passivity of feeling, and not in the phenomenality of the relationship between what is mine in that feeling and what exceeds me ( Yamagatha, 2009 ).

Whatever it is the orientation of these questions - Yorihiro Yamagatha writes community and political life in his reflection - and it is possible for us to draw the following consequence: nothing that belongs to me is closed in itself; therefore, mastery, in the sense of dominating the affection of life considered violent, is an illusion, just as a theory of culture based on the sovereignty of violence is insufficient. In co-property - the life and the living connection - what belongs to me only belongs in the sense of life been given to me as affection: the affection of the living in life is another name for co-property and for the Henrian co-pathos.

This possible way out of the entanglement involving life and the living intrigue is also approached by Michel Henry when he talks about body-propriation. However, while associating it to the philosophy of work and to a close relationship with the work of Marx, he restricts this question of violence of life to social questions. What I intend to demonstrate is that body-propriation is a specific phenomenon in the phenomenality of the life and the living connection; a specific phenomenon of co-property of life that can be extended to the body-propriation of the phenomenality of life that crosses the biochemical processes that constitute our living and whose laws scientists take into consideration - a question MH does not take upon him or upon phenomenology.

Therefore, and firstly, I will demonstrate that the difficulty of the phenomenology of life in extending the phenomenality of body-propriation of all affections we experience in a body endowed with senses to the laboratorial work of the scientist is connected with the direct confrontation of MH with Levinas regarding the phenomenality of the Other. Afterwards, I will show how it goes beyond the reformulation of the relation between life sciences and philosophy: a cultural matter with implications in health sciences.

Let us start with the confrontation with Levinas: for MH, the term "the Other" refers to something that is absolutely strange to the self and, as such, is phenomenologically an absolution. However, and without questioning MH's position: if nothing is stranger to me than what affects and transcends me - even if, on the inside, it constitu tes or creates me - then nothing is more familiar and closer to me than the affection that, included in this strangeness, creates and constitutes me. It originally bonds me to it, as it does to the affection of fear, anguish and threat. And if the truth of the feeling is identical to its content ( Henry, 1963 ), then the content of this feeling carries, as out of somewhere, the Other as a threat, anguish, fear, strangeness. The Other is always implied in the feeling; even in the feeling of strangeness, he is always familiar to me. And the more the feeling of strangeness weakens me, the more this happens. If the Other inhabits in me, especially in my fragilities, then the question is if there is a way of taking the responsibility for that disturbing affection of a culture based on the sovereignty of violence, whose ineffectiveness we assessed above.

As an affirmative answer to this question, I proposed the phenomenology of otherness in Recovering humanism. Today I even dare to say that the theory of culture proposed by MH in Barbarism forgets the most innovative features present in the phenomenality of life's archi-passivity, a constitutive archi-passivity of everything it is and breathes, because in it breathes life itself, being in the phenomenality of this breathing that, with our sense of fragility, we experience the feeling of being participants in the plots of life.

My work Voluptuousness and unconfortableness in the configuration of certainty 26 begins by developing this question with the thesis of culture through the configuration of all knowledge. More than appealing to mastery in the sense of dominion, the affections of voluptuousness and disturbance appeal to their appearance's configuration mode as the only way to access their way of being. Thus, to configure affection is to master it, even if in a sense of co-property. Even if for MH the concepts of co-property, co-appropriation, and body-propriation are not always distinct, they make it clear that we experience them in co-propriety with life and not only in a sense of an "update of possibilities" ( Henry, 1987 ). We experience them in a sense of overcoming difficulties arising from the disturbance caused by the failure of those possibilities we experience in the living body.

More than granting us access to a culture of mastery, in the sense of mastering the Other, it is above all in the phenomenality of the failure of voluptuousness of the senses that co-property and body-propriation phenomena give us access to a culture of solidarity, in which "the sense of being of human reality and the sense of being in general come together" ( Henry, 1963 , p. 46). Therefore, on the inside of the phenomenality of life, inside the life and the living plot in a co-property regime, the more the Other, the stranger he sees himself as affected, the less strange he will seem to us ( Herbart, 1964 ): the more body-propriation, the more solidarity.

As for how the transcendental internal experience of the feeling of strangeness ( Henry, 1963 ) instigates research on the phenomena that cross us from our entrails to our skin surface, according to MH's (1996) observation: "I blushed with joy. It is strange that one can feel inside what is going on with the face!" (p. 186).

This strangeness guides my attention to the phenomenality of the powers of the self with the hyper-power ( Henry, 2003 ) inherent to them and from which the so-called biological modalities prove themselves in our tears, pain, smiles, gestations, births, cancers, anguish, and despair! If to MH, as well as to Kierkegaard, I am "my own relation with myself imposed by someone else", this someone else, for MH, has a name and a phenomenality of its own: its name is life and its phenomenality is the effective outcome of life. Therefore, and because all affections of life in me are given to me as affections of the body, the relationship of "the self imposed by another" will correspond to the relationship of the self with the affections of life that effect each another in the body and intimately constitute me. And in that case, all affections of the body are transcendental experiences of me. Hereby, we can include in the transcendent experience of the body the experience of affections by which we feel in the modality of voluptuousness and disturbance, violence, and power. So, the affections we take for body diseases are the diseases of the soul, a power: "power is the relationship with the self; it proves itself immediately, exactly in the same way as fear is the relationship with the self without mediation" ( Henry, 2004 , p. 217).

But phenomenologically, even if in the immediacy of their proof, all modalities of feeling are crossed by the feeling of Others that come from somewhere ( Henry, 1990 ); and it is legitimate for me to question somewhere in order to try to understand its affection on me ( Henry, 2000 ). So, the Other could never be indifferent to my difference, given as affected, irrefutably present in him. The Other comes from somewhere as affection, in the modality of well-being, fear, anguish, pain, life threat or death feeling 27 : the feeling of the fragility of life, in a sense of a feeling revealing the Other: original pact; solidarity!

What is a feeling capable of, then? Of revealing, of revealing the Other - a revealing power of the fragility of life which in the same fragility exceeds death.

It is in this context that the biological, objective, organic body opens to the phenomenality of what is neither a thing nor an opening to the world, but affection of life which on the inside creates it and transcends it; a result which commonly disturbs and appears as a wish of support/protection. As participants of this hyper-power of life in us, we can embrace its own fragility. We can embrace the affections of life which disturb the one who lives in it. Therefore, more than refusing to be prejudicial to life, philosophy and scientific knowledge support the fragility of some of its manifestations (Martins, 1998).

By revisiting the work on interdisciplinarity started at the time of the acceptance of MH's thoughts in Portugal, we recover which principles of phenomenology in MH were omitted from Herbert's formulation: "the more appearance, the more indications towards being" ( Herbart, 1964 , p. 187). Instead of opposing one another, phenomenology and life sciences complete one another: the more solidarity there is between the different kinds of knowledge, more path will exist in the being and in life and more life will exist!

The more life is affected, the more life provides us indications for a culture of solidarity, both in abundance and as in fragility, in voluptuousness as in disturbance. The evidence of affection and of the increment of the self lies in the body endowed with senses ( Descartes, 1971 ): body-propriation/affection.

Thus, the phenomenality of life affections can announce itself as a first philosophy. Affection leaves nothing out of itself: the body, as a manifestation of life, will be judged in it and by it. With this judgment will occur the judgment of tradition. Bodies will be judged ( Henry, 1965 , p. 228) 28 and with them, philosophy, religion and science - in one word: culture. The property of the self will occur only in the sense of co-property. The pathos of affection is called "co-pathos", the original pact of life.

The judgment of tradition through the judgment of the bodies is present in the work of MH from the Philosophy and phenomenology of the body to the Words of Christ. In one of those passages 29 , the content of tradition is compared to an inheritance which, from generation to generation, guides humanity - humanity that receives it as an envelope but does not dare to open it. In that case, this inheritance is nothing but a dead content that, in Rimbaud's words, delights a vampire queen of bodies and souls. Still, that queen's vampirism only comes forward to those who decide to spend a season in hell, that is, who dares to open the envelope.

In another passage, MH talks about the possibility to escape from that season in hell, that is, another way out to a life that is not a parody of itself: the vampire queen of bodies and souls or the malignant genius that entangles us in all sorts of illusions, these being transcendental or of another kind. A way out that provides access to the real tenderness of life ( Rimbaud, 1986 ), which reveals itself in an unprecedented murmur. Such murmur was made audible by the tearing of the wrinkled envelope of tradition ( Henry, 1996 ).

In both cases, the method of access to the envelope's content implies shifting our attention from the surface to an interior we believe to be the carrier of messages. A message which reveals itself to some as a collapse of life over itself, and to others as a murmur that dethrones and judges, from inside necrophilia itself, corruption and death. Both judged where the bodies will be judged ( Henry, 1965 ).

Even if we can refer to the question of the judgment of bodies through the philosophy of Christianity ( Hackett, 2013 ), we aim to relate it to the matters of life sciences concerning phenomenology, proceeding with the work we started with MH 30 in Portugal.

We want to propose the question: will suffering, anxiety 31 , Alzheimer and cancer be judged in the same place as the bodies? In co-property in life, they will. If, to MH, that "judgment does not differ from the coming of each self to himself revealing it in his heart" ( Henry, 2002 , p. 124), and if the heart cannot be taken neither as a metaphor nor as an organ without a reference to the life that crosses it 32 , then it will answer the question that led Descartes to question all the system he built around the certainties of the cogito: its strong dependence on the body's functions ( Descartes, 1971 ), a dependence whose phenomenality remains confusing ( Henry, 2007 ) in Descartes; a phenome nality that is not strange to French phenomenology, namely Merleau-Ponty, and that MH bequeaths us in a paradoxical manner since, in his thesis, whenever we find signs for a way out from that confusion, we suddenly find retrocession up to the point of excluding the phenomenality of life and its own biological processes.

I allow myself to highlight two of his distinct thesis to see if we can penetrate the question of the attention paid to the life that crosses the biological processes that obviously make us fragile: the thesis concerning the insolubility of the question that appears in his first novel The young officer 33 , and the thesis on the curious solution that involves the possibility to know the processes of life's inherent technique, where MH identifies technique and ethics. In his words: Ethics and Technique are the same ( Henry, 2007 ).

From the insolubility of the first thesis results the one on the limits of therapeutics, a thesis that considers that even good clinical and ethics practices - philosophy and medicine - are mere viaticum to an ill that does not go away with household medicine. Such thesis is shared with Rimbaud, to whom MH alludes in Philosophy and phenomenology of the body regarding this question on the judgment of the disease through the judgment of the bodies and, with it, the judgment of tradition ( Henry, 1965 ): "for the body and for the soul - the viaticum - we have medicine and philosophy - feminine medicine (les remèdes de bonnes femmes), and ingenious popular songs" ( Rimbaud, 1986 ) - a thesis that is also present in the novel The king's so ( Martins, 2002 ), in which MH opens the path to Christological solutions ( Hackett, 2013 ).

But this is not the path we have been opening since our first encounters with MH in Portugal. It is on the amplitude and the implications of the second thesis that we have been focusing. A thesis we recover here and that, in the context of phenomenological inversion, we believe it can recover a way of philosophizing that refuses to die from a lack of its own principles and evidences 34 . A way of philosophizing that, by seeing the truths they announce, does not fail to recognize the plot with the real and with life always announced.

Philosophy that turns to this reality and this life that, in the limit of phenomenological reduction, emerges in contra-reduction: it turns to what the self, the subjectivity, the subject, or the person, depends on. Since "the spirit depends strongly on the organs' functions" ( Descartes, 1964 , p. 352) there is no way of forgetting them.

The reception of MH's thought in Portugal is linked with these questions that are strange to the Portuguese thought. In other words, the Portuguese thought does not suffer from hyper-formalism. Francisco Sanchez, almost considered a contemporary of Descartes, saw them as a constitutive part of medicine ( Sanches, 1999 ). Leonardo Coimbra, almost considered a contemporary of ours, drew attention to the epistemological mistake of the body's reification. Consequently, the question matters both to phenomenology and to life sciences and is, therefore, opened to interdisciplinarity (Kant, n.d.).

So, in the development of MH's second thesis, the phenomenality of the life and the living connection can opens us to what interdisciplinarity?

In this dossier, we can see the successive modifications of MH's position since the conference of Nice (1992) until the conference of Oporto (2001) in the work of Andrés Antúnez. Let us add another question to those results: if we looked at the results of an "X-ray" we would see its impli cations for patients imply ethics in medicine ( Henry, 2000 ), then how can ethics not be implied in scientific procedures inherent to that "X-ray"? Will not it report the finitude of certainties, truths, and pieces of evidence of one to another to the same truth: the excess of voluptuousness and disturbance that creates and transcends them? And is the irrefutable bottom of evidence itself not the irrepressible bottom of the life we experience? If we experience life as sailors in the sea (Kant, n. d.), is not it because that is where ad venture and vertigo, surface and depth, the known and the unknown mingle? However, even if we could swim alone in the surface, when it comes to the bottom, it is not advisable to be alone and not provided with techniques suitable to the situation. At the bottom of life's hyper-power, in which bodies and, therefore, also the suffering, anxiety ( Henry, 2000 ), Alzheimer, and cancer will be judged, will there be anyone alone? In co-property in life and "even if that judgment does not differ from the coming of each living being to itself, judging it, revealing it in his heart" ( Henry, 2002 , p. 124) - we will never be alone. The transcendental concreteness of our living is the pathos: passion, affection! Only generic life may be alone, but this is an abstraction.

And if for MH the heart cannot be taken as a metaphor nor as an organ with no reference regarding the life that crosses 35 it, then it is the various life sciences that will be judged in this last judgment. Judged in a first and in a last judgment! First and last or is it just the part between the first and the last: the between of our living? While being born and while dying, in sickness and in health...! Always! Even if in health "the silence of the organs" forgets it ( Henry, 2000 ). Nevertheless, neither phenomenology nor life sciences can forget it, as I will show below.

Let us take the most recent works by Yorihiro Yagamatha on phenomenology and the most recent ones by Cátia Teixeira on laboratory work experience.

Yagamatha, after linking Husserl's impressionable phenomenality of life to MH's affective phenomenality ( Yamagata, 2006 ), states that affection is no more than the idea of an affection of the body ( Yamagata, 2009 ). As shown by Cátia Teixeira in one of her studies, if we cannot anticipate the proof of the affection of life, we can attend to the circumstances in which some affections of life are proven, namely those we name diseases 36 .

She shows, for example, that lesions in the hippocampus interfere in the most recent memories 37 , leaving a great part of remote memories intact 38 . This means we can only access the immemorial memory of life, or life's inner knowledge ( Devarieux, 2011 ) itself, when certain affections of the body occur that we prove as memories. By revealing these circumstances, life allows us to be participants in its plots and in its own secrets: being in co-property. And so we accept life in its fragilities by body-appropriating what, even strange, still inhabits us.

This is the only way the MH's thesis - the one which defends that ethics and technique are the same, since our acting in life not only shows us how to do, but what to do ( Henry, 2007 ) - can make sense; in this case, what to do in order to proceed with the rescue of the fragility of a life of suffering. And it is life itself that shows different forms of culture that are an alternative to the illusory attempts of dominating the affections that disturb it. They are no more than desperate attempts in front of the unknown ( Henry, 2000 ).

To guide the research to a sense different from dominion to study the occurrence of life expressions that are simultaneous to the proofs we have of voluptuousness and disturbance, seems to be the intent of laboratorial researches. And the knowledge concerning the occurrence of certain affections of the body is at the service of life, as shown in the work of Cátia Teixeira. According to this researcher, cognitive stimulation and the kind of social environment can retard the effects of Alzheimer even if with an over-expression of a protein called GSK3-β involved in the same disease 39 .

Therefore, the research project we are starting proposes the following questions:

  1. What does MH mean when he states: "the true nature of the human being is equal to every form of life?" ( Henry, 2004 , pp. 80-81)

  2. If every form of life is phenomenologically given in a sense of co-property, can we escape from a culture of barbarism if not in a sense of life co-property?

These two questions are part of the work that the research group of Center for Portuguese Thought Studies at Portuguese Catholic University is starting in a partnership with USP.

Having Pedro Hispano as one of our mentors, I leave you his affirmation as guidance to these questions: the one that created medicine from the earth does not release us from the obligation to seek the remedy for our ill ( Hispano, 1973 ). And we do that by bearing in mind what the phenomenology of life omitted, when it did not exclude: the body, whose senses open ourselves to the Other that, in with openness, is neither a thing nor openness, but affection, life in co-property!

And in community, maybe we can understand what was until now inaudible in philosophical, religious, scientific and cultural tradition. Maybe together we can remember, in the immemorial memory of life, that Treasure of the poor: the life we live on Earth as a gift of life.

Pedro Hispano, Pope John XXI, did not hesitate to conciliate "laboratorial" experiment, clinics, philosophy, and religion: the Lord produced medicine from the Earth; the wise man shall not despise them (Ecclesiastes 38, 4).


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21Ben Sira (Ecclesiast 38,4); cit. by Hispano (1973) .

22Chargé de soi, acculé de soi, vouloir se décharger de soi... are expres sions present throughout the work of MH and worthy of our attention per se.

23And almost 50 years later in Henry (2002) .

24A theme MH takes from Kierkegaard and which is present throughout all of his work.

25It would be interesting to see up to what extent life phenomenality recov ers, in MH, Robert Musil's theme in his work Der Mann ohne Eigen schaft.

26As seen in Martins (in press).

27The cadaver's indiscretion consists exactly of this: opening to something which is not himself, opening to something which is not a thing or mortal remains; opening to the life's ways of donation, opening to what is not the world, but the world's life, the corpse's life: always indiscreet, wa ving at the life that has been taken from it.

28Interesting hue by MH, when compared to Rimbaud: instead of millions of souls and dead bodies to be judges, MH only refers to bodies to be judged. This change brings up the question: what body is this which is passible of being judged by having his corruption judged?

29Refers to Rimbaud's poem called A season in hell.

30As seen in Histórico de la relaciones entre la filosofía y la medicina en el curso de Michel Henry en Portugal y las relaciones con la psicología clínica by Andrés Antúnez (n.d.).

31More from Cátia Teixeira in .

32This question came up at MH's last public debate, in Henry (2004).

33In this work, it appears as a fact that is not possible to alter: the eradica tion of the mice from the ship is an impossible task.

34The question on health and liberation from what disturbs is present in MH since his novel the young officer.

35This question is part of MH's last public debate, which can be read in Henry (2004) .

36On the importance of the researcher Doctor Cátia Teixeira's work, check .

37The study conducted by Cátia Teixeira, Stephen Pomedli, Hamid Maei, Nohjin Kee and Paul Frankland was published in The journal of Neuros cience from July 19th of 2006.

38Observations on this domain led to the elaboration of theories on a possi ble reorganization of memories in terms of the nervous system. A model is proposed according to each new memory that is rapidly codified by the hippocampus together with several areas of the cortex. As time goes by, the reactivation of memories (during sleep and during our time awake) leads to the strengthening of the cortico-cortical connections and the hi ppocampus is no longer vital to the existence of memory. The certifica tion of this model is done by counting the number of neurons that express a protein (Fos protein) in a specific area of the brain after a memory test (recent versus remote). One can hereby perceive whether that area is relevant or not to recent or remote memories. As seen in Cardoso and Martins (2006).

39On the importance of Cátia Teixeira's work, check .

Received: June 19, 2014; Accepted: December 15, 2014

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