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The Common Ground of Merleau-Ponty's and Wittgenstein's Philosophy of Man MICHELE F. EPSTEIN I. THE MIND--BODYPROBLEMis one of those old philosophical puzzles that appear to defy solution and remain today as controversial and perplexing as ever. Monistic materialists, on the one hand, and dualists, on the other, despair of ever succeeding in winning over their opponents or in reaching even the slightest agreement. According to the materialists, man can be adequately described and explained as a complex physico-chemical mechanism; according to the dualists, it is nonsense to claim that consciousness is just a brain process. Contemporary identity theorists assert that mental and physical expressions are but two ways of referring to one and the same physical reality; contemporary dualists reject the reduction of the mental to the physical and retreat either to old psychophysical parallelism or to different versions of interactionism. The need to abide by the terms and limitations of this controversy, and to side either with the monist or with the dualist, has led philosophers concerned with this problem to a dead end; at this point one begins to wonder whether there is not something basically faulty and misleading with the formulation of the problem itself. It is against this background that we can appreciate in its full value the original contribution made by Maurice Merlean-Ponty and Ludwig Wittgenstein to the solution (or perhaps rather the dissolution) of the old mind-body puzzle. What we learn from them is that there is a third possible approach to the problem. It is even more reassuring to realize that this third alternative has been independently proposed by two philosophers who could not be more dissimilar, belonging as they do to different cultural and philosophical traditions, using divergent methods of inquiry and analysis, and having a different conception of the nature and role of philosophy itself. This fact is in itself worth noticing, from the point of view of the history of philosophy, since continental and Anglo-American philosophers have sought so far to emphasize their differences and to deepen a gap that is already too obvious. The resemblance of the conclusions reached by Merleau-Ponty and by Wittgenstein has to do with a common starting point that, while more explicitly stated by MerleanPonty , does in fact pervade in a more subtle way Wittgenstein's treatment of the subject: this is the assumption that all attempts to account for the human being adequately must go beyond the Cartesian dichotomy of Thought and Extension (mind and body), which has been proven to be both misleading and unfruitful, and must provide a richer and more comprehensive ontological framework that makes possible the integration of the mental within the physical. This program is actually carried out in ways that are peculiar to the two major contemporary philosophical trends that these philosophers represent: phenomenology and [Z=l] 222 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY ordinary language philosophy. Merleau-Ponty concentrates on an analysis that discloses the meaning of phenomena as they are revealed to an embodied consciousness, and he is led to the replacement of the notion of "substance" by that of "form" or "structure." Wittgenstein, on the other hand, works out the analogy between language and the human body and points at the similar way in which both acquire a meaning and become intelligible for us. This article is an attempt to articulate Merleau-Ponty's and Wittgenstein's views on Man (which were never presented by the authors in a systematic way) and to examine the extent to which they provide an adequate conceptual framework for the explanation and understanding of the human being as a complex psychophysical organism. The similarities between the two theories will become apparent as the detailed presentation is set forth. The main points of resemblance can be summarized as follows: a) the need to surpass the dichotomy of thing and consciousness, the outer and the inner, and its two outgrowths, objective behaviorism and introspective psychology; b) the realization that an adequate account of the human being must provide for the blending or integration of the mental and the physical, giving rise to an expressive body or a meaningful structure; c) the replacement of the traditional...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 221-234
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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