Publication Year: 2008
The work of French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty touches on some of the most essential and vital concerns of the world today, yet his ideas are difficult and not widely understood. Lawrence Hass redresses this problem by offering an exceptionally clear, carefully argued, critical appreciation of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy. Hass provides insight into the philosophical methods and major concepts that characterize Merleau-Ponty's thought. Questions concerning the nature of phenomenology, perceptual experience, embodiment, intersubjectivity, expression, and philosophy of language are fully and systematically discussed with reference to main currents and discussions in contemporary philosophy. The result is a refreshingly jargon-free invitation into Merleau-Ponty's important and transformational way of understanding human experience.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Studies in Continental Thought
It is no exaggeration to say that this book is the result of a process that has been unfolding for nearly twenty years. As one might imagine, my thinking and writing about Merleau-Ponty has been touched by many people during this long time, and it is my deep pleasure to acknowledge them here. A first thank-you goes to Arthur Melnick at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for all the “metaphysics” I learned through his hands. My...
List of Abbreviations of Texts by Merleau-Ponty
Introduction to Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy: “Singing the World”
Most philosophies—once vibrant and fresh—pass quietly into the history of philosophy. There they become the province of a handful of specialists and episodes in a grand narrative that has since moved on. However, nearly fifty years after his death (in 1961), this has not happened to the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. At the time of this writing, major new books and...
Prelude: Scenes from the Cartesian Theater
The philosophy of René Descartes (1596–1650) was revolutionary to the core. There is little question that he intended it to be. As he wrote to his close friend, Father Mersenne: “I may tell you, between ourselves, that these six Meditations contain all the foundations of my physics. . . . I hope that readers will gradually get used to my principles, and recognize their truth, before they notice that they destroy the principles of Aristotle.”1
1. The Sensation Fallacy: Toward a Phenomenology of Perception
After Descartes, wherever one looks—in science, psychology, and philosophy—one finds the sensation. While the word “sensation” appears only sparingly in Aristotle and Scholastic philosophy, after Descartes it becomes a master concept. It is not hard to understand why: the sensation is the key ele- ment that permits Descartes’s synthesis between the subjective, ideal domain...
2. The Secret Life of Things
In the previous chapter I argued that our intellectual efforts to understand ourselves, our relations with the natural world, and with others require that we carry out a phenomenological study of living perceptual experience. I have suggested that this is not really optional: no matter how extensive or fine-grained our neurophysiological explanations of perception become, there is a...
3. Singing the Living Body Electric
It is well known that the mind-body problem is defined by a blatant contradiction in Descartes’s Meditations. On one hand, Descartes argues time and again that the mind is immaterial: he establishes mind as res cogitans by its not being material; he insists that mind and body are “completely different” substances. Yet at the end of the Sixth Meditation, Descartes also argues that...
4. Elemental Alterity: Self and Others
In the course of my previous arguments, Descartes’s philosophy has been essentially dismantled. The Cartesian theory of perception as an internal, subjective veil of ideas hiding objective reality is rooted in fallacies; his method of doubt presupposes the very worldly experience it aims to call into question; he violates our experiences of the world so that he can depict the...
5. Later Developments: Écart, Reversibility, and the Flesh of the World
In the previous chapters I have sought to elucidate the central elements of Merleau-Ponty’s ontology. We have seen the rationale for carrying out a phenomenology of perception. We have seen Merleau-Ponty’s virtue of sensibility: the enhanced living and awareness that come from recognizing living perception as a synergistic opening onto the world. We have seen the fundamental place...
6. Expression and the Origin of Geometry
My primary task in the preceding chapters was to articulate the main elements of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of living experience. Even though it is difficult to “know precisely what we see,” Merleau-Ponty attempts to show that living experience emerges through the symbiotic intertwining of one’s own pulsing body, the overflowing, transcendent world of things, and the...
7. Behold “The Speaking Word”: The Expressive Life of Language
So far in this book we have seen central elements of Merleau-Ponty’s perceptual ontology: his phenomenology of living perception as our syner- gistic opening to the transcendent world (l’ouverture au monde), his important accounts of embodied subjectivity and intersubjectivity, and his later re- articulations of these phenomena in terms of flesh, écart, and reversibility. In...
Conclusion: The Visible and the Invisible
From the very outset, this book was designed and written to carefully lead the reader through central areas of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, and to examine his views in relation to the work of contemporary thinkers and criticisms. We have seen, for example, the rationale and continuing need for a phenomenology of perceptual life, even in the age of the “cognitive revolution.” Phenomenology...
Appendix: The Multiple Meanings of Flesh in Merleau-Ponty’s Late Writings