pp 1–30 | Cite as

Bodily structure and body representation

  • Adrian J. T. AlsmithEmail author


This paper is concerned with representational explanations of how one experiences and acts with one’s body as an integrated whole. On the standard view, accounts of bodily experience and action must posit a corresponding representational structure: a representation of the body as an integrated whole. The aim of this paper is to show why we should instead favour the minimal view: given the nature of the body, and representation of its parts, accounts of the structure of bodily experience and action need not appeal to a representation of the body as an integrated whole. The argument proceeds by distinguishing two kinds of explanatory roles for representations: standing-in for absent targets and structuring ambiguous sensory information concerning a target. Representations of body-parts are suited to fulfil both kinds of explanatory role, whereas a representation of the body as an integrated whole is only suited to fulfil the latter, as a means of coordinating representations of body-parts. It is then argued that the structure of the body can itself serve as a means of coordinating body-part representations, rendering representation of the body as an integrated whole explanatorily superfluous.


Mental representation Anti-representationalism Body representation Body schema Body image Structural properties Bodily sensation Proprioception Action Phantom limb 



I gratefully acknowledge the direct support of a grant from the Volkswagen Foundation (No. 89429) and the support of the French National Research Agency to the Jean Nicod Institute (ANR-16-CE28-0015, ANR-10-LABX-0087 IEC and ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL). This article develops ideas mentioned in passing in article in the wonderful (but now deceased) journal Psyche, published under my previous name during my graduate studies (Smith 2009). One of the reviewers pressed me to at least mention this origin—given how far departed the current treatment is, this seems like the most appropriate place. I am also grateful to the editor, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, for so professionally managing a rather unusual set of circumstances compromising blind review and arranging a further three blinded reviewers for the journal, all of whom offered supportive and useful remarks. Versions of this material have been presented at various events in Berlin, Copenhagen, Düsseldorf, London, Marseilles and Tübingen. I am grateful to the organisers and members of the audience on each occasion, especially Chiara Brozzo, Glenn Carruthers, Sascha Fink, Thor Grunbaum, Patrick Haggard, Bigna Lenggenhager, Matt Longo, Thomas Metzinger and Hong Yu Wong. Especial thanks are due to Bernard Hommel for a usefully aggressive set of objections in Düsseldorf. Finally, my heartfelt thanks to Frédérique de Vignemont for her persistent encouragement and characteristic generosity in her countless insightful comments on previous versions of this material.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Jean Nicod, DEC, ENS, EHESS, CNRS, PSLParis Cedex 05France

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