Following the metaphysical and epistemological threads that have led to our modern conception of the body as a machine, the book explores views of the body in the history of philosophy. Its central thesis is that the Cartesian paradigm, which has dominated the modern conception of the body (including the development and practice of medicine), offers an incomplete and even inaccurate picture. This picture has become a reductio ad absurdum, which, through such current trends as the practice of extreme body modification, and futuristic visions of downloading consciousness into machines, could lead to the disappearance of the biological body. Presenting Spinoza’s philosophy of the body as the road not followed, the author asks what Spinoza would think of some of our contemporary body visions. It also looks to two more holistic approaches to the body that offer hope of recovering its true meaning: the practice of yoga and alternative medicine. The metaphysical analysis is accompanied throughout by a tripartite historical and epistemological analysis: the body as an obstacle to knowledge (exemplified by Plato and our modern-day futurists), the body as an object of knowledge (exemplified by Descartes and modern scientific medicine); and the body as a source of knowledge (exemplified by the Stoics, and the philosophy of yoga).
Carol Collier’s interest in the philosophical question of mind-body dualism began with her undergraduate studies in the 1970s. It remained with her throughout the twenty or so years of her career in the public service, during which time she continued to explore questions relating to the body in Eastern and Western medicine in her spare time. On her return to full-time philosophy in the 1990s, she chose to write her doctoral thesis on philosophical approaches to (and often neglect of) the human body and on the modern Western conception of the body-machine, the legacy of Descartes. Bringing this research into the classroom, she has developed and taught for a number of years a course on the body-machine, exploring how the body-machine came to find philosophical legitimacy, and looking at present and future trends that suggest that the body-machine is no longer merely a metaphor (if it ever was only that) but has now become a reality. Her explorations of the worlds of yoga and alternative medicine have led her to hold a more holistic vision of body and nature as well as an idea of the unity of mind and body that has eluded Western medicine for centuries and continues to do so.