Philosophy of Hunger?
Hunger is one of the most surprisingly interesting philosophical topics. It’s a state that typically does not fall under our attention. We are born hungry. We have been hungry well before we can remember being alive or gained self-consciousness of our own pleasures. Hunger is a landmark of our longing for change, for that which we are not. Satisfaction of hunger is one of the most complex ecological relationships we part take. And yet, what is it? And what philosophical lessons can we learn from hunger?
Existing and Being Hungry
"It is not really true to say that we eat in order to live, we eat because we are hungry," wrote French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas in Existence and Existents. In other words, "the need for food does not have existence as its goal, but food." Hidden here is a potentially revolutionary philosophical claim.
Philosophers such as Plato regarded food as a distraction from that which is philosophically most poignant. Later authors such as Augustine have even more starkly defended a form of gastronomic purism, according to which we shall regard food as medicine. Most importantly, Descartes famously centered his philosophy on the pure intellectual intuition of self-consciousness: at the foundation of our identity lies a capacity that is autonomous from the body. Hunger has no place in this picture.
What Levinas had spotted is a way into humanity that is in direct opposition to the Cartesian method: rather than moving from an intellectual intuition, it rests on a need: hunger. Can hunger stand at the foundation of our conception of humanity?
If we aim to regard hunger as foundational, we shall try and characterize it. The most interesting aspect of hunger is that it encompasses each and every side of our being. As we said, we have been hungry well before we were born. And yet we cannot say that being hungry is just an automatic bodily mechanism, such as that performed by lungs. You can learn to control your hunger: you can resist your hunger, you can train to contain your hunger, you can make an effort to become hungry. Managing our hunger is hence part and parcel of our upbringing; it is a cultural activity. Hunger, in other words, stands in between our physiological make up, our psychological constitution, and our culture.
Not only. Hunger is a need, essentially tied to our senses. Yet because it can be trained and domesticated, hunger also stands in a close relationship also to our rational side.
Finally, because of its being so deep seeded into our modality of relationship to the environment, hunger seems to be even more fundamental than pleasure. In other words, on hunger one could hope to rest a philosophy that is antagonistic to the Cartesian model as well as to the utilitaristic model.
Towards a Philosophy of Hunger
Although a philosophy of hunger is yet to be developed, it seems plausible to imagine a view according to which at the root of our existence there is hunger. It is in the way in which we experience hunger that one can trace our identity as beings. Of course, being hungry and desiring to control our hunger seems to be a central aspect of our experience of hunger, that is how the Cartesian primacy of self-consciousness comes to be incorporated into the picture.
Making hunger the central point of our philosophical perspective on the humans and their relationship to the world helps to solve also the vexed problem of the mind-body interaction. If I am characterized by the way in which I experience hunger, then my bodily and mental experiences are unavoidably joined.
Those are just some preliminary remarks towards a philosophy of hunger, of course. More to come soon. Stay tuned!