Routledge Philosophy Guidebook To Merleau Ponty And Phenomenology Of Perception Pdf

routledge philosophy guidebook to merleau ponty and phenomenology of perception pdf

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It then spread to France , the United States , and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work. Phenomenology is not a unified movement; rather, different authors share a common family resemblance but also with many significant differences.

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Phenomenology (philosophy)

However, he never propounded quite the same extreme accounts of radical freedom, being-towards-death, anguished responsibility, and conflicting relations with others, for which existentialism became both famous and notorious in the s and s. Perhaps because of this, he did not initially receive the same amount of attention as his French contemporaries and friends, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. These days though, his phenomenological analyses are arguably being given more attention than either, in both France and in the Anglo-American context, because they retain an ongoing relevance in fields as diverse as cognitive science, medical ethics, ecology, sociology and psychology.

This article will seek to explain his understanding of perception, bodily movement, habit, ambiguity, and relations with others, as they were expressed in his key early work, Phenomenology of Perception , before exploring the enigmatic ontology of the chiasm and the flesh that is so evocatively described in his unfinished book, The Visible and the Invisible.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was born on March 14th , and like many others of his generation, his father was killed in World War I. He completed his philosophy education at the Ecole Normale Superieure in , and rather rapidly became one of the foremost French philosophers of the period during, and immediately following World War II, where he also served in the infantry. As well as being Chair of child psychology at Sorbonne in , he was the youngest ever Chair of philosophy at the College de France when he was awarded this position in He continued to fulfill this role until his untimely death in , and was also a major contributor for the influential political, literary, and philosophical magazine that was Les Temps Modernes.

While he repeatedly refused to be explicitly named as an editor alongside his friend and compatriot Jean-Paul Sartre, he was at least as important behind the scenes. Along with Sartre, he has frequently been associated with the philosophical movement existentialism, though he never propounded quite the same extreme accounts of freedom, anguished responsibility, and conflicting relations with others, for which existentialism became both famous and notorious.

While he died before completing his final opus that sought to completely reorient philosophy and ontology The Visible and the Invisible , his work retains an importance to contemporary European philosophy. Having been one of the first to bring structuralism and the linguistic emphasis of thinkers like Saussure into a relationship with phenomenology, his influence is still considerable, and an increasing amount of scholarship is being devoted to his works. His philosophy was heavily influenced by the work of Husserl, and his own particular brand of phenomenology was preoccupied with refuting what he saw as the twin tendencies of Western philosophy; those being empiricism, and what he termed intellectualism, but which is more commonly referred to as idealism.

He sought to rearticulate the relationship between subject and object, self and world, among various other dualisms, and his early and middle work did so primarily through an account of the lived and existential body see The Phenomenology of Perception.

He argued that the significance of the body, or the body-subject as he sometimes referred to it, is too often underestimated by the philosophical tradition which has a tendency to consider the body simply as an object that a transcendent mind orders to perform varying functions. In this respect, his work was heavily based upon accounts of perception, and tended towards emphasizing an embodied inherence in the world that is more fundamental than our reflective capacities, though he also claims that perception is itself intrinsically cognitive.

When asked whether he was contemplating retirement on account of illness and the ravages of advancing age, Pope John Paul II confirmed that he was, and bemoaned the fact that his body was no longer a docile instrument, but a cage. Although it is difficult to deny that a docile body that can be used instrumentally might be preferable to its decaying alternative—a body that prevents us acting as we might wish to—both positions are united by a very literal adherence to the mind-body duality, and the subordination of one term of that duality; the body.

Of course, such a dualistic way of thinking, and the denunciation of the body that it usually entails, is certainly not restricted to religious traditions. This denigration of embodiment governs most metaphysical thought, and perhaps even most philosophical thought, until at least Nietzsche. While a major figure in French phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty, at least until relatively recently, has rarely been accorded the amount of attention of many of his compatriots.

In my opinion, this has been a considerable oversight, as it is doubtful that any other philosopher, phenomenologist or otherwise, has ever paid such sustained attention to the significance of the body in relation to the self, to the world, and to others. In the Phenomenology of Perception , which is arguably his major work, Merleau-Ponty sets about exposing the problematic nature of traditional philosophical dichotomies and, in particular, that apparently age-old dualism involving the mind and the body.

Once this conception of the body is problematized, so too, according to Merleau-Ponty, is the whole idea of an outside world that is entirely distinguishable from the thinking subject. Merleau-Ponty criticizes the tendency of philosophy to fall within two main categories, neither of which is capable of shedding much light on the problems that it seeks to address. He is equally critical of the rationalist, Cartesian accounts of humanity, as well as the more empirical and behavioristic attempts to designate the human condition.

Rationalism is problematic because it ignores our situation, and consequently the contingent nature of thought, when it makes the world, or at least meaning, the immanent property of the reflecting mind. One quote from Descartes is illustrative of this type of attitude:. As well as being unjust to existential experience, it also leaves the problem of meaningful judgment untouched.

The account presupposes the meaningful judgment of hats and cloaks, rather than explaining how this perception could actually be meaningful. We shall return to such criticisms of Cartesianism throughout this chapter, but for the time being it is more important for us to have an accurate understanding of where Merleau-Ponty situates his philosophy, than it is for us to have a systematic comprehension of exactly why he refutes rationalism, or what he terms intellectualism.

According to Merleau-Ponty, empiricism also makes our cultural world an illusion, by ignoring the internal connection between the object and the act.

Each of the senses informs the others in virtue of their common behavioral project, or concern with a certain human endeavor, and perception is inconceivable without this complementary functioning. Empiricism generally ignores this, and Merleau-Ponty contends that whatever their efficacy in explaining certain phenomena, these type of scientific and analytic causalities cannot actually appraise meaning and human action. The main point to extract from this is that, for Merleau-Ponty, both empiricism and intellectualism are eminently flawed positions:.

It is not difficult to see why Merleau-Ponty would be preoccupied with undermining such dichotomous tendencies. Essentially it ensures that one exists as a constituting thing subject or as a thing object. While Merleau-Ponty does not want to simplistically deny the possibility of cognitive relations between subject and object, he does want to repudiate the suggestion that these facts are phenomenologically primitive.

It may be useful, in a particular situation, to conceive of a seer and a seen, a subject and an object. Many scientific endeavors fruitfully rely upon the methodological ideal of a detached consciousness observing brute facts about the world. Merleau-Ponty can accommodate this, provided that the terms of such dualities are recognized to be relationally constituted. The Phenomenology of Perception is hence united by the claim that we are our bodies, and that our lived experience of this body denies the detachment of subject from object, mind from body, etc PP xii.

This means simply that the perceiving mind is an incarnated body, or to put the problem in another way, he enriches the concept of the body to allow it to both think and perceive. It is also for these reasons that we are best served by referring to the individual as not simply a body, but as a body-subject. Virtually the entirety of the Phenomenology of Perception is devoted to illustrating that the body cannot be viewed solely as an object, or material entity of the world.

However, despite the titles of two of his major works Phenomenology of Perception and The Primacy of Perception , perception, at least as the term is usually construed, is paradoxically enough, not really a guiding principle in his work. This is because the practical modes of action of the body-subject are inseparable from the perceiving body-subject or at least mutually informing , since it is precisely through the body that we have access to the world.

Perception hence involves the perceiving subject in a situation, rather than positioning them as a spectator who has somehow abstracted themselves from the situation. This ensures that there is no lived distinction between the act of perceiving and the thing perceived. This will become clearer in his later philosophy, where the figure of the chiasm becomes an important ontological motif for explaining how and why this is the case.

Merleau-Ponty suggests that;. In other words, the common perceptual paradigm that involves passively seeing something and then interpreting that biological perception is, for Merleau-Ponty, a false one. The presumption is still that one exists either as a thing, or as a consciousness PP , but the perceiving body-subject conforms to neither of this positions; its mode of existence is manifestly more complicated and ambiguous. As hard as we may try, we cannot see the broken shards of a beer bottle as simply the sum of its color, shape etc.

For Merleau-Ponty, perception cannot be characterized as a type of thought in a classical, reflective sense, but equally clearly, it is also far from being a third person process where we attain access to some rarefied, pure object. Just as for Heidegger we cannot hear pure noise but always a noise of some activity, the objects that we encounter in the world are always of a particular kind and relevant to certain human intentions explicit or otherwise , and we cannot step outside this instrumentality to some realm of purified objects or, for that matter, thought.

More empirically, it is also worth pointing out that if we were merely passive before a sensory image, it would not be possible to see different aspects of things as we so often do, or for that matter, for different individuals to construe a particular representation differently.

What we literally see, or notice, is hence not simply the objective world, but is conditioned by a myriad of factors that ensures that the relationship between perceiving subject and object perceived is not one of exclusion.

For Merleau-Ponty, this inseparability of inner and outer ensures that a study of the perceived ends up revealing the subject perceiving. It is precisely this ambiguous intertwining of inner and outer, as it is revealed in a phenomenological analysis of the body, which the intellectualism of philosophy cannot appreciate. According to Merleau-Ponty, philosophers of reflection ignore the paradoxical condition of all human subjectivity: that is, the fact that we are both a part of the world and coextensive with it, constituting but also constituted PP While perception is subject to change, just as communities can change over periods of time, this possibility certainly does not allow for wild fluctuations in perceptive experience from one moment to the next.

Another idea of central significance for him is the fact that the body is always there, and that its absence and to a certain degree also its variation is inconceivable PP It means that we cannot treat the body as an object available for perusal, which can or cannot be part of our world, since it is not something that we can possibly do with out.

It is inordinately difficult to fault this claim that the omnipresence of our body prevents us treating it simply as an object of the world, even though such an apparently axiomatic position is not always recognized by traditional philosophy, as we have already seen exemplified by both Descartes, and Pope John Paul II. Another factor against conceiving of the body as being completely constituted, and an object in-itself, is the fact that it is that by which there are objects.

This Sartrean term will be accorded with more significance as we progress, but for the moment, one only need see that Merleau-Ponty is making explicit that the aspects of an object revealed to an individual are dependent upon their bodily position.

I think it is relatively clear that we do need the other to attain to true awareness of ourselves as a body-subject. Merleau-Ponty offers one particularly good example of the body as a means of communication, which also makes it clear that a subject-object model of exchange tends to deprive the existential phenomena of their true complexity. He suggests that:. This double touching and encroachment of the touching onto the touched and vice versa , where subject and object cannot be unequivocally discerned, is considered to be representative of perception and sensibility generally.

However, Merleau-Ponty has another vitally important and related point to make about the status of our bodies, which precludes them from being categorized simply as objects.

According to him, we move directly and in union with our bodies. In other words, we do not need to check to see if we have two legs before we stand up, since we are necessarily with our bodies.

The consequences of this simple idea however, are more extensive than one may presume. Their actions are solicited by the situations that confront them, in a constantly evolving way.

Interestingly enough, in The Structure of Behavior , Merleau-Ponty also makes use of a sporting analogy. This passage implies that to perceive the football pitch it is not necessary that an individual be aware of perceiving it, but this is not the only significance of this revealed mode of being.

Moreover, if this purposive action without a purpose other than best accommodating oneself to the situation in which one is immersed , is forestalled, say if a particular golfer starts to ponder the intricacies of their swing, where their feet are positioned, mental outlook etc, rather than simply responding, it is certainly probable that they will lose form.

So what, one may ask? Merleau-Ponty hence seems to explore a more basic motivation for human action than is usually taken to be the case. Through reference to embodied activity, Merleau-Ponty makes it clear that our actions, and the perceptions involved in those actions, are largely habitual; learnt through imitation, and responsiveness within an environment and to a community. According to him, philosophy has generally been unable to adequately address these phenomena PP , and it is worth repeating what I take to be an important sentence from the Phenomenology of Perception.

It is worth suggesting that this might apply equally if everything is dissimilar, other to everything else — the body narrows this disparate range of phenomena down, or more accurately, renders them intelligible. There seems to be a sort of intelligence of the body: a new dance is learned without analyzing the sequence of movements. This intelligence of the body for example, its capacity to innovate and retain new meaning , again denies the heavy emphasis that much of the philosophical tradition has placed upon interpretation, and certainly any conception of interpretation that contrasts itself with a purely passive perception.

This can also be envisaged as applying just as well to the intellectual, as it does to the dancer. In reacting to their own different, but nevertheless distinct set of influences, they still choose modes of action in relation to past success. It is worth making explicit that this habit to which we are referring, is far from being merely a mechanistic or behaviorist propensity to pursue a certain line of action.

Another good example of this practical and embodied intelligence that Merleau-Ponty insistently points us towards, is the driving of a car. When we reflect on our own parking, it is remarkable that there are so few little bumps considering how many times we are actually forced to come very close.

The car is absorbed into our body schema with almost the same precision that we have regarding our own spatiality. Notably, this thinking is not reflective or interpretive — we do not have to perceive the distance to a car park, and then reflect upon the fact that we are in a car of such and such proportions, before the delicate maneuver can be attempted.

Rather, it is a practical mastery of a technique which ensures that the given rules can be followed blindly or at least without reflective thought , and yet nevertheless with an embodied intelligence.

In one paragraph from the Phenomenology of Perception , Merleau-Ponty captures the issues at hand particularly well. He observes that:. This way of putting it will appear absurd, if understanding is subsuming a sense datum under an idea, and if the body is an object.

Action in this paradigm is spontaneous and practical, and it is clear that we move phenomenally in a manner somewhat antithetical to the mind-body distinction PP According to his version of the pre-reflective cogito, when one motions towards a friend to come nearer, there is no preceding or ancillary thought prepared within me which motivates my action PP

Phenomenology of perception

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty proposes in his renowned Phenomenology of Perception [] that perception, or the way in which we know the world, emerges through the dynamic operation of the sensory system of our body upon the physicality of the world. However, this ability to bodily perceive the world, as Merleau-Ponty has further argued, would also require a paralleling process of the self to be concentrated on the physical interaction with the worldly objects. In this paper, I use this philosophical idea of Merleau-Ponty to read Far from Home , which is the travel journal of King Chulalongkorn of Siam, written while he was traveling to Europe for the second time to recover from the ailing health condition. You may request permission to use the copyright materials on this website by writing to journalphilrecmu gmail. Quick jump to page content. Home Archives Vol. Published: Oct 25,


Maurice Merleau-Ponty ( – ) is hailed as one of the key philosophers of the twentieth century. Phenomenology of Perception is his.


Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908—1961)

Maxime Doyon and Augustin Dumont [ pdf ]. Lydia Patton and Scott Edgar, 6 3 [ pdf ]. Peter Thielke Cambridge University Press forthcoming. Simon Truwant Cambridge University Press

Unlimited access to the largest selection of audiobooks and textbooks aligned to school curriculum on the only app specifically designed for struggling readers, like students dealing with dyslexia, blindness or other learning differences. Challenging and rewarding in equal measure, Phenomenology of Perception is Merleau-Ponty's most famous work. Impressive in both scope and imagination, it uses the example of perception to return the body to the forefront of philosophy for the first time since Plato. Drawing on case studies such as brain-damaged patients from the First World War, Merleau-Ponty brilliantly shows how the body plays a crucial role not only in perception but in speech, sexuality and our relation to others. Add to Bookshelf.

Lydia Patton and Scott Edgar [ pdf ]. Amy Kind Routledge [ pdf ]. Julian Wuerth [ pdf ]. Mark Wrathall [ pdf ]. Review of Jennifer A.

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