Limits of the Flesh: The Role of Reflection in David Abram’s Ecophenomenology

Environmental Ethics 27 (2):155-170 (2005)
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David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human-World convincingly demonstrates the contribution that phenomenology, especially the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, can make to environmental theory. But Abram’s account suffers from several limitations that are explored here. First, although Abram intends to develop an “organic” account of thinking as grounded in the sensible world, his descriptions castigate reflection and reverse, rather than rethinking, the traditional hierarchy between mind and body. Second, Abram’s emphasis on perceptual reciprocity as the basis for an environmental ethic underplays the importance of the symbolic level of our interaction with others. Merleau-Ponty’s later work, in particular his account of the reversibility of flesh, offers a fruitful alternative to Abram’s methodology.



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Ted Toadvine
Pennsylvania State University

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