Body and Freedom

Elizabeth Manjarrés Ramos


Defining the body-individual-freedom relationship has been a place constantly reviewed by philosophy and the social sciences without having been able to give a satisfactory and definitive ruling on the matter. The conception that currently exists about the body in Western societies has been greatly influenced by the traditional dualistic philosophy, which rejects the body and places it in a secondary – and even negative – place in the constitution of the human being, as opposed to the preeminence and the exaltation of what is understood as its positive and liberating counterpart: the soul / mind. This duality had Plato as the first defender in Western thought, who affirmed that the body besides being the prison of the soul[1] is an obstacle to knowledge because the sensory limitations of the body impose barriers to reach the truth; according to this point of view, the senses create an illusion of the real world that conditions or confuses thought, for example, colors are wavelengths of light captured by sight, but since the human visual spectrum is only able to process the lengths that are between 380 and 760nm, those that are outside this range cannot be captured and, therefore, it is impossible for humans to know the entire palette of colors in the universe, that is, the body prevents us from having freedom of perception and creates an illusion of reality. Not being able to perceive reality as it isit also obstructs the knowledge of others, which implies that the individual is isolated from the rest of their peers while communication with them is limited by the sensory nature of the bodies present and the conditioning of verbal language, in this sense, the body isolates us and confines in loneliness and ignorance .


On the other hand, the body is also a prison of essential biological needs such as eating, sleeping, staying within a temperature range, etc. These urgencies of the body obscure thought, alter attention and prevent us from acting freely. That is why, one of the indispensable conditions for humans to be free, according to Platonic thinking, is to learn to get rid of bodily perceptions that imprison the mind and biological needs that impose obligations and constant distractions. Therefore, talking about body and freedom is incompatible, since the body is a kind of inalienable bond that man carries with him all his life.


Platonic postulates have been restated and reformulated throughout the history of Western thought, without losing validity. The sociologist David Le Breton in his work Goodbye to the Body[2]states that since the seventies men have tried to crush themselves, free themselves from bodies through technology, this would become the culminating object of the struggle between science and nature: the suppression of death, pain and ugliness through the full domain of the body. It is therefore the end of the body and the beginning of a postbiological , post- revolutionary and post- organic era , where the body will have less interference in social relations every day. We are immersed in an era in which contempt for the body, makes it an object of excessive concern for the human being, who in his eagerness to dominate it must subject it to constant care, care that oscillates between narcissism and willingness to control health, pain and death. Our era aims to turn the body into a manipulable, reconfigurable accessory, on which life and human reason depend little, hence trying to overcome the barrier of the senses by creating instruments that expand sensory capabilities, such as microscopes or telescopes, and tools pharmaceuticals to control reproduction, sleep, hunger or pleasure.


But as much as we human beings try to depoporeize and de -poorize social relations, the body is still there, being one of the favorite targets of repression and submission of power. One of the representatives of contemporary philosophy that most debated the central place of corporality in the conflict between the individual and power was Foucault, who affirmed that corporality was opposed to freedom while power makes it a space where exercise control and where to register the social order[3] ; the body is the target of different spheres of power that seek in the domain of the body the control of social structures, hierarchies, identities, behaviors and even thought. These ideas had already been enunciated by Mary Douglas[4] who analyzed the correspondences between body control and social control, noting, among other things, that by increasing technical complexity and social pressure in cultures, there is a greater degree of decorporeization of forms of expression and coexistence; that is, technically more complex societies seek that the body intervene to a lesser extent in human relationships, which implies greater control and civilization of the body and its needs, the more technologies a social group develops, the more it tries to hide the eschatological manifestations of body[5]


Accordingly, Western technocratic society has become more and more bodily controlling, and as Paul Preciado states, power in these societies exerts its bodily control over the population through subtle impositions of the pharmacopornographic industry that institutionalizes how, where and when the body can manifest itself, trying to manage health and disease, pain and pleasure, sexuality and reproduction, among others[6] . Control over contemporary bodies does not come from outside, as in the disciplinary societies of the past, where dominance was exercised through violence over the body, through the intervention of orthopedics and with the help of confinement architectures (prison, asylum , barracks, monastery, etc.); In today’s society, control technologies become part of the body and are incorporated by individuals in most cases voluntarily[7] . Contraceptive pills are a clear example of how social control is incorporated by women who seek to achieve sexual liberation undergo control: control over reproduction, hormonal fluctuations, the fertile cycle, etc. The more we want to free ourselves from the body, the more we tie it to the social control structures of our historical moment; Although it is true that decorporeizing everyday life creates a sense of freedom, it must be taken into account that this attempt to depoporeize hides technological and pharmaceutical dependencies that are just against body freedom because control is no longer imposed from outside but adheres to the individual’s own biochemical structures, they are incorporated , generating new urgencies, needs and ties to the body.





[1] Platón, Diálogos. Critón, Fedón, El Banquete, Parménides. (Madrid: Biblioteca Edaf, 2009), 96.

[2] David Le Breton, Adiós Al Cuerpo: Una Teoría Del Cuerpo En El Extremo Contemporáneo (Colonia del Valle: La cifra, 2007).

[3] Michel Foucault, Vigilar Y Castigar: El Nacimiento de La Prisión (México D.F.: Siglo veintiuno, 1980); Michel Foucault, Historia de La Sexualidad, 3 vols. (Madrid: Siglo veintiuno, 2012).

[4] Mary Douglas, Símbolos naturales: exploraciones en cosmología (Madrid: Alianza, 1988).

[5] Ibid., 96.

[6] Paul-B. Preciado, Testo Yonqui (Madrid: Espasa, 2008); Paul-B. Preciado, Manifiesto Contrasexual (Barcelona: Anagrama, 2011).

[7] Ibid., 66.




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