Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Who was Maurice Merleau-Ponty?

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) was an anti-empiricist who sought to reconstruct the world based on a phenomenology of human perception. He was influenced by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), was friends with Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) for a while, and continues to be of great interest to phenomenological philosophers of

What was ironic about Maurice Merleau-Ponty's last lecture?

Merleau-Ponty died suddenly of a stroke while preparing to give a lecture on René Descartes (1596-1650). He repeatedly returned to Descartes' split between the mind and the body in composing his own philosophy. He did not accept the Cartesean split, but sought to address the mind and body as a united whole. Merleau-Ponty thought that a person's own body, le corps propre, should be, in its personal, individual, lived reality, a scientific subject. It is one's own body that makes consciousness corporeal. He wrote: "Insofar as I have hands, feet, a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent on my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way that I do not choose."

Clearly, Merleau-Ponty's stroke proves this point because it was not something he chose, but definitely something that conclusively affected not only his surroundings but the possibility of his even having those surroundings. What's ironic is that he made his point by having a stroke, which is very different from making a philosophical argument.

mind. His principal works are The Phenomenology of Perception (1945), numerous essays, and his unfinished The Visible and the Invisible.

What are some facts about Maurice Merleau-Ponty's life and career?

Merleau-Ponty's father was killed in World War I. He completed his philosophical studies at the École Normale Superieure in 1930 and then taught in high schools throughout France. He wrote two dissertations for his doctorate and was given the chair of child psychology at the Sorbonne in 1949; next, he was made chair of philosophy at the College de France in 1952. With Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) he founded the journal Les Temps Moderne. But he resigned from the publication as editor, partly in objection to Sartre's subject-object dichotomy. Merleau-Ponty wrote about their dispute in Adventures of the Dialectic (1955). Overall, Merleau-Ponty opposed dualisms and he also criticized self-versus-world ideas. He thought that the self was as much a body as a mind and that our bodies are always in the world.

What did Maurice Merleau-Ponty mean by a "phenomenology of perception"?

Merleau-Ponty opposed the abstract natures of both empiricism, which generalized, and idealism, which denied the direct experience and existence of physical reality. He proclaimed that "the perceiving mind is an incarnate mind," meaning that it was "in" the body in the sense of being co-incident with the body. Perception is a physical process involving eyes, ears, the nose, the hands, rather than only the mind. His focus was thus on the human body as a perceiving, living part of world, a position theretofore much neglected in philosophical inquiry.

According to Merleau-Ponty, perception is neither abstract nor scientific. Rather, all perception is lived; it is the experience of human beings in the world. Consciousness is, to use a later term, "embodied" and always engaged in perceiving the world. What is "phenomenological" about human experience is that what is perceived cannot be separated from how it is perceived or from how it is described. In conversation with Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), Merleau-Ponty composed The Prose of the World (1969), claiming that meaning is not determined by history but by the subject's actual experience in the world. Language is itself continually changing as a result of this experience. In The Visible and the Invisible Merleau-Ponty had intended to show how communication and thought can go beyond perception, but he died before completing that project.

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