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The Significance of MerleauPonty 's Philosophy of Language JAMES M. EDIE IT IS NOWmore than fourteen years since we first heard of the untimely death of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. To me, and I am sure to many others, it seems much longer. MerleauPonty has already entered the history of philosophy. Though his Nachlass is still being published, and not all of his writings have yet appeared in English translation, philosophers of our generation had already enshrined his major work, the Phenomenology of Perception, as a "classic" even before his death. But unlike many other "classical" philosophers , Merleau-Ponty's work impresses us by its unfinished, open-ended, still-to-becompleted character. Unlike a Spinoza or an Aquinas, or even a Husserl ("the perpetual beginner"), he left his major philosophical task essentially incomplete at the time of his death. Though we cannot conceive of the phenomenological movement without his name and contribution, it is hard to think of Merleau-Ponty's thought as susceptible of generating "disciples." He achieved no system. Spinoza has disciples; Aquinas has disciples; Hume has disciples; Husserl has disciples, and even the Logical Positivists have disciples ---Merleau-Ponty can only have continuators, that is, persons who have somehow managed to grasp the difficultinner movement of his thought and who are thereby compelled to take up the problems with which he was wrestling and thus to continue to develop them. The purpose of these few brief remarks1 will be to outline the structure of what I take to be his primary, unresolved problem and to assess its significance in a preliminary way for us contemporary philosophers. That the thought of a philosopher who was happy to call himself not only a "phenomenologist " but, at the same time, a "Marxist," and an "existentialist," and who gloried in his title as "the philosopher of ambiguity," should present us with an unfinished and open-ended corpus hardly surprises us. Moreover, it is possible to detect, particularly in his later writings, signs of frustration over his not being able to make more rapid progress in working out the program which he had explicitly formulated as early as 1946" as the major philosophical goal of his life's work. This goal was certainly not unambitious; it was to take its point of departure in a phenomenology of perception, thence to go on to an investigation of the higher-order levels of conscious experience founded on perception , finally to culminate in the formulation of a transcendental metaphysics "which would at the same time give us the principle of an ethics.''s 1 This paper was read at the symposium entitled "Merleau-Ponty: After Ten Years," which was held at the meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in Pittsburgh , October 19-21, 1972. 2 In the essayentitled "The Primacy of Perception and its Philosophical Consequences," which was a presentation of the central argument of the Phenomenology of Perceptionto the Socirt6 fran~aisede philosophic,November 23, 1946.See The Primacyo[ Perception,ed. James M. Edie (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964),pp. 12 ft. a "An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus of His Work," in Primacy [385] 386 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY I. When Mefleau-Ponty presented himself as a candidate for a chair of philosophy to the body of professors of the Collbge de France in February 1952, he furnished them with a comprehensive plan for future research which would, by building on the works he had already published in the fields of the phenomenology of perception, art, and history, proceed to the investigation of the realms of speaking and writing (in a projected work to be called La Prose du monde), of thinking and knowing (in a book to be called L'Origine de la vdrite') and which would, after having thus established a theory of truth, culminate in a metaphysical treatise, L'Homme transcendental. As we know, none of these works was completed during his lifetime. He abandoned La Prose du monde (less than half completed) that same year, 1952, and seems to have definitively lost interest in it after 1959. 4 The manuscripts that had been entitled variously "L'Origine de la vrritr," "Grnralogie du vrai," and...


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