My Body: Is It Me?

  • Thomas W. Smythe
  • Published 2013


When we use the phrase “my body” the “my” can seem to refer to something distinct from the body; something that has a body. This can purportedly raise a problem for materialism. This is because it seems that “my” refers to what possesses the body; and does not seem to be identical with the brain or body. By materialism I mean the view that a human being is just a brain and a body, and that psychological characteristics are realized or instantiated in the brain. I will begin by making a couple of preliminary points about the phrase “my body”. The phrase “my body” is such that the “my” does not obviously refer to anything. It is not obviously a referring expression, or an expression that is used to refer to what has a body. Now either the “my” in “my body” is a separate referring expression or it is not such a referring expression. Suppose that it is not used to refer to anything. If that is the case, then I think that its role in the language can be construed as being like a demonstrative. It is like the case in which I point blindly in front of me and say “I wonder what that is”. In this case I may have no substantive idea of what I am pointing to other than something or other in front of me occupying space. “My” functions something like “that” in such a case. My body’s being “mine” has no cognitive substance (Levine, 2003). However, I shall not take this line of thought. I am assuming that the “my” of “my body” is a first-person pronominal adjective that is used as a referring term. It refers to me (whatever I am). “My” picks out a subject in a referential way. It is used to refer to the self or person that has a body. Anyone who does not agree with this assumption, will not agree with the rest of the paper. Second, I am directing my attention to the phrase “my body”, and not to the much discussed phrase “I have a body”. I am not discussing whether the “I” in “I have a body” is a referring expression, since I have nothing to add to the extant literature on that topic (Anscombe, 1974; Malcolm, 1995). Now for a statement of the problem.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Smythe2013MyBI, title={My Body: Is It Me?}, author={Thomas W. Smythe}, year={2013} }