Todes, Samuel (Judah) 1927-1994

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TODES, Samuel (Judah) 1927-1994

PERSONAL: Born June 27, 1927, in Stamford, CT; died 1994. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A., 1949; Harvard University, M.A., 1952, Ph.D., 1963.

CAREER: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began as instructor, became assistant professor of philosophy, 1959-66; Northwestern University, associate professor of philosophy, 1968-94. Yale University, visiting lecturer, 1967; University of California—Berkeley, visiting associate professor of philosophy, 1977. Military service: U.S. Army, 1953-55, clinical psychologist.

AWARDS, HONORS: Danforth Foundation fellowships, 1966-67; Everett Baker Moore Teaching Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1966.


The Human Body as Material Subject of the World, Garland (New York, NY), 1990, revised as Body and World, introductions by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Piotr Hoffman, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.

Contributor to scholarly journals, including Journal of Existentialism; contributor to anthologies, including Kant: A Collection of Critical Essays, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967; New Essays in Phenomenology, Quadrangle, 1969; Patterns of the Life-World Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1970; and Dialogues with Phenomenology, Nihoff (The Hague, Netherlands), 1975.

SIDELIGHTS: American philosopher Samuel Todes wrote The Human Body as Material Subject of the World as his dissertation at Harvard University in 1963. It was first published in book form in 1990 and then republished in 2001 as Body and World, bringing new readership and acclaim to the work.

Todes studied gestalt psychology with Wolfgang Köhler at Swarthmore College. While a student at Harvard University in the mid-1950s, Todes met regularly with German philosopher Aron Gurwitsch, who in turn had studied with Edmund Husserl in Germany and had influenced French existentialist philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Out of Todes's interaction with Gurwitsch grew the inspiration for his dissertation, which, according to Shaun Gallagher of the Times Literary Supplement, "continues and extends Gurwitsch's phenomenological analysis of the perceptual field and Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of embodied perception."

Yet the work of these philosophers was only a starting point for Todes's theories. He lightly touches on the work of Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Husserl and then moves on to his original analysis that the body is essential to cognitive experience. The theories of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century philosophers Descartes, Hume, Kant, and Leibniz come most often into the discussion, as Todes shows how they erred in underestimating the importance of the body in perception. According to Gallagher, Body and World is "a fresh account of embodied, environmentally situated cognition" that "aims to show how objects come into our experience, how that experience is the body's experience, and how that is shaped by the body's capacity for movement through the physical environment," using examples from simple motor activities to playing sports and dancing. Gallagher found that the work has two shortfalls—it does not account for the way humans perceive other humans, and it does not offer ways in which the analysis of movement might be used to advance developmental psychology and neuropsychology. However, these do not detract from Todes's work, Gallagher observed. He called it "a rich phenomenological resource" that others could use as a basis for further research.

Robert Pepperell, in a review of the book for Leonardo Digital Reviews Online, commented that "for Todes it is the awkwardnesses and imbalances, frictions and contraints characterising our real existence . . . that are a precondition of our subjective experience." Todes, wrote Pepperell, "mounts the claim that we can distinguish between imaginary figments and veridical knowledge by the feedback gained from physical intervention." Pepperell questioned this theory, asking whether an inactive state or even hyperactivity might produce hallucinations. He was dissatisfied with Todes's logical counter to such a question. However, in conclusion, Pepperell noted, "Todes' style is clear and consistent, while the book has obviously been expertly edited. So with determination and patience there is much to be drawn from it."



Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 2002, Shaun Gallagher, "Realism in Mind," review of Body and World, p. 13.


Leonardo Digital Reviews Online, (November 2, 2002), Robert Pepperell, review of Body and World., (May 5, 2003), Piero Scaruffi, review of Body and World.*