Ninth International School on Mind, Brain and Education

2014 July 31 - August 03

Body, Brain and
Personal Identity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Directors: Antonio M. Battro, Kurt W. Fischer and Fernando Vidal
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani

“Personhood” is the state of being a person, but the attributes that define a person (e.g. self-consciousness) are disputed, and differ across cultures and historical periods. “Personal identity” refers to self-sameness and continuity over time. A crucial question in connection with these concepts and the entities they might refer to concerns the relationship between body and person. In the Western world, debates about that relationship have taken place at the crossroads of philosophy, theology, the natural sciences, and the sciences of body and mind. What kind of body and which parts of body do we need to be the persons we are? A widespread late-20th-century answer is, “The brain.” But such a view of persons as being essentially their brains represents only a moment in a very long history of discussions about what defines and constitutes personhood.

The summer school will explore aspects of that history up to the present day, and encourage a dialogue between humanistic and scientific perspectives. Its purpose is not to arrive at a normative definition of personhood, but to probe the complexities involved in the notion itself, and explore the consequences of the historical and contextual nature of “personhood” for the biomedical and the human sciences. At a time when the neurosciences increasingly seem to show that “we are our brains” and that the disciplines of the human are experiencing a “neuroscientific turn”, this is a timely task from the theoretical, practical, and ethical points of view.

The rise of the modern, preeminently psychological and cerebral definition of the human person belongs in the history of attitudes to body and personhood as they evolved in the Christian Western world. Its globalization results from broader processes, and has to be examined in connection with them. But such a definition also has to be relativized. On the one hand, recent sociological studies suggest that the neuroscientific view of the self has only a moderate impact on lay understandings and practices of personhood. On the other hand, is it not only clear that people have different views of themselves as they are and as they would like to be, but that cultures differ in the attributes (such as individualism or autonomy) they use to characterize personhood and to identify different entities as “persons.” Hence the crucial importance of integrating into the summer school anthropological and comparative perspectives.

Organization: each speaker will make a presentation of about 30 minutes, followed by discussion. To stimulate discussion and allow for deeper examination of the issues, each speaker will provide one relevant published or unpublished text by him or herself, related to the theme of the school and of the lecture to be given. It will be assumed that all participants will have read the text.

Contact: Fernando Vidal (ICREA, Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies, Barcelona).

MBE Prize 2014: Felix Schirmann

Bernard Baertschi

Institute of Biomedical Ethics, University of Geneva, SWITZERLAND (Speaker) E-mail / CV / Papers
Bioethics, neuroethics, neuroscience and ethics
Abstract / Presentation

Yechiel Michael Barilan

School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, ISRAEL (Speaker)
E-mail / About him
Medical ethics and notions and practices of personhood


Academia Nacional de Educación, ARGENTINA (MBE-Erice director)
E-mail / About him
Neuroeducation, The teaching and learning brain

Nicole Becker

University of Education, Freiburg, GERMANY (as of 01.10.14)
E-mail / Web
Educational “neuromyths”, Social and historical dimensions of the ADHD diagnosis

Michele Farisco

Department of Medical Sciences, Uppsala University, SWEDEN (Speaker)
E-mail / Papers
Philosophy of neuroscience, bioethics, neuroethics; detection and management of pain and suffering in disorders of consciousness. Morality and neurosciences in historical perspective
Abstract / Presentation


Harvard Graduate School of Education, USA (Speaker, and MBE-Erice director)
E-mail / About him
Mind, brain and education, Dynamic development

Mirko Daniel Garasic

Hebrew University of Jerusalem, ISRAEL (Discussant)
E-mail / Papers
Bioethics, Neuroethics, Biopolitics

Sky Gross

Minerva Center for End-of life Studies, and Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry (Sackler School of Medicine), Tel-Aviv University, ISRAEL (Speaker)
E-mail / Papers
Sociology and Anthropology of medicine, Doctor/patient relations, Bioethics, Neuroethics

Vanessa Elisa Grotti

Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, UK (Speaker)
E-mail / About her / Papers
Anthropology of Christianity, Amazonia, Body and personhood, History of medicine and social determinants of health

Hideaki Koizumi

Hitachi, JAPAN
E-mail / About him
Mind-Brain Science and Education, Measurement of the Brain and Mental Activity

Alessandro Lazzarelli

Institute of Anthropology, National Tsing Hua University, TAIWAN (Speaker) E-mail
Daoism and the body, Embodiment of Chinese philosophical and religious values

Giuseppe Longo

University of Verona, ITALY

María Lourdes Majdalani

Fundación Majdalani, ARGENTINA (MBE-Erice Program Officer)
E-mail / Web
Moral and emotional development and education of children and educators

Marie-Christine Nizzi

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, USA (Speaker)
E-mail / Web
Phenomenology, applied ethics, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, personhood and embodiment in disorders of consciousness
/ Presentation

Eric T. Olson

Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield, UK (Speaker)
E-mail / About him
Philosophy of mind, body and personal identity
/ Presentation

Francisco Ortega

Institute of Social Medicine, State University of Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL (Speaker)
E-mail / Papers
Historical and contemporary dimensions of the cerebral subject

Michelle Piperberg

Department of Philosophy, University of Barcelona, SPAIN (Speaker)
E-mail / CV
The notion of the person in philosophical and bioethical perspectives, Autonomy, End of life debates

Adina Roskies

Department of Philosophy, Dartmouth College, USA (Speaker)
E-mail / Web
Philosophy and neuroscience, Philosophy of mind, Neuroethics, Neuroscience and the law

Felix Schirmann

Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, University of Groningen, THE NETHERLANDS (Speaker)
E-mail / About him
Neuroscience of morality – theoretical and historical perspectives
/ Presentation

Akihito Suzuki

Faculty of Economics, Keio University, JAPAN (Speaker)
E-mail / Papers
History of psychiatry, public health and the mind sciences – comparative perspectives

Fernando Vidal

ICREA (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies), SPAIN (Speaker)
E-mail / Books
Historical and contemporary approaches to body, brain and personhood

Shuenn-Der Yu

Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, TAIWAN (Speaker)
E-mail / Web
Personhood and forms of bodily cultivation in Chinese society
/ Paper

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim

Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London, UK (Speaker)
E-mail / About her / Papers / Web
History of Asian medicine, especially in Tibet, history of medicine and the body in comparative East-West perspective