We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

The Child as Natural Phenomenologist

Primal and Primary Experience in Merleau-Ponty's Psychology

Talia Welsh

Publication Year: 2013

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961) is well known for his work in phenomenology, but his lectures in child psychology and pedagogy have received little attention, probably because Talia Welsh translated the lectures in their entirety only in 2010. The Child as Natural Phenomenologist summarizes Merleau-Ponty’s work in child psychology, shows its relationship to his philosophical work, and argues for its continued relevance in contemporary theory and practice.

Welsh demonstrates Merleau-Ponty’s unique conception of the child’s development as inherently organized, meaningful, and engaged with the world, contrary to views that see the child as largely internally preoccupied and driven by instinctual demands. Welsh finds that Merleau-Ponty’s ideas about human psychology remain relevant in today’s growing field of child studies and that they provide important insights for philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists to better understand the human condition.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


pdf iconDownload PDF (19.0 KB)
p. ix-ix

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (120.7 KB)
pp. xi-xxii

Flannery O’Connor wrote, “The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days” (1969, 84). To begin a book asserting the relevance of childhood for our understanding of the human condition seems trite. Of course, childhood greatly ...

List of Abbreviations

pdf iconDownload PDF (101.3 KB)
p. xxiii-xxiii

read more

1. Early Work in Child Psychology

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.4 KB)
pp. 3-21

Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical commitments make it difficult to easily situate him. He evidently is committed to Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger’s work, but takes up a range of political inquiries and empirical research in the human sciences that are largely absent in their canonical philosophical texts. It is his inclusiveness that makes him a ...

read more

2. Phenomenology, Gestalt Theory, and Psychoanalysis

pdf iconDownload PDF (159.1 KB)
pp. 22-44

This chapter will discuss the relationship between philosophy and psychology in the Sorbonne lectures to provide an introduction into the manner in which three theories—phenomenology, Gestalt theory, and psychoanalysis—shape Merleau-Ponty’s work. Merleau-Ponty argues for the relevance of ...

read more

3. Syncretic Sociability and the Birth of the Self

pdf iconDownload PDF (173.3 KB)
pp. 45-71

The fi rst chapter provided a historical introduction to Merleau-Ponty’s work in child psychology by summarizing his pre-1949 comments on childhood. The second chapter introduced the Sorbonne lectures in child psychology and pedagogy by outlining the main theoretical influences of the ...

read more

4. Contemporary Research in Psychology and Phenomenology

pdf iconDownload PDF (193.1 KB)
pp. 72-105

The spirit and practice of the Sorbonne lectures is to engage with a wide range of contemporary research. Thus it is fitting not only to summarize Merleau-Ponty’s lectures, but also to consider them in the broader context of contemporary discussions about the relevance of child experience for our understanding of ...

read more

5. Exploration and Learning

pdf iconDownload PDF (145.1 KB)
pp. 106-124

When trying to understand the child’s intersubjective life, we must be careful to not overvalue intellectual, representational abilities in childhood since this highlights immaturity and reduces the child to a former adult state. Instead, we must approach childhood development with an open mind and be willing ...

read more

6. Culture, Development, and Gender

pdf iconDownload PDF (157.0 KB)
pp. 125-146

If we take seriously the call to see our existential condition and the human sciences that study it—history, psychology, biology, sociology, anthropology—as relevant for a general philosophical understanding of ourselves, we cannot avoid turning to the question of cultural relativism. The conflict between cultural...

read more

Conclusion: An Incomparable Childhood

pdf iconDownload PDF (98.8 KB)
pp. 147-151

Perhaps the argument that our primal experience is also historically primary is an ill-founded romanticism. Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions not only want to evoke this early element of human existence, but also want to “praise” childhood insofar as it reveals our true immersion in the world. What divorces us from our underlying syncretic ...

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (107.5 KB)
pp. 153-159


pdf iconDownload PDF (129.1 KB)
pp. 161-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780810166486
E-ISBN-10: 0810166488
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810128804
Print-ISBN-10: 0810128802

Page Count: 193
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1