European thinking about reality is strongly influenced by authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In particular, the figure of René Descartes (who would postulate the dualism between mind and body) has contributed to almost all sciences and all the arts, thanks to a legacy of enormous philosophical and historical significance.
Many have long wondered how body and mind could coexist in two different ontological planes, and what their respective interactions (if any) would be. From this have emerged over time both related and dissenting positions, which have spurred many advances in philosophy over the past centuries.
In this article, we will detail the life and work of one of the most prolific French authors of the twentieth century, who “relaunched” the Cartesian thesis and attempted to reconcile it with the ideas of metaphysics and phenomenology. His proposal (influenced by George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Edmund Husserl) had notable social and political connotations.
here we will see what were the most representative contributions of Maurice Merleau-Ponty; who lived during the disturbing period of the two great world wars and occupied a position in the face of existence that would resonate widely in modern culture, arts and sciences.
Biography of Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Maurice Merleau-Ponty was a French philosopher who lived in the first half of the last century. He was born in Rochefort-sur-Mer on March 14, 1908 and died in 1961 of an acute myocardial infarction. He is currently considered one of the most important European existentialist thinkers, as his work served to bridge the gap between philosophical viewpoints (especially idealism and empiricism) that drifted away from horror. deep of the wars that seized them. years that corresponded to him to live. This effort is known as the ontological “third way”.
His teaching work is also very important, both at the Faculté des Lettres de Paris (where he also obtained the title of Doctor) and at the Sorbonne and the College de France, where he holds one of the most important chairs of theoretical philosophy until the day of his death (his body would appear lifeless on a work by Descartes, one of the most relevant authors to understand his way of thinking and living). He was known for his interest in politics and society, showing a strong Marxist perspective which he renounced some time later.
Although he died very young, he left many books / thoughts. He was one of Jean Paul Sartre’s best friends, With which he formed an intellectual resistance group (during World War I) and founded one of the most emblematic publications in Europe and the world: the politico-literary magazine Les Temps Modernes. Another author of enormous importance in the feeling and reflection of this gray moment also participated in this project: Simone de Beauvoir. Its format of monthly deliveries, which would later become quarterly, included some of the most valuable philosophical ideas of the post-war period, which allowed it to continue to exist until recent years (1945 to 2018).
In addition to the many writings he came to share in the aforementioned review (compiled in “Sense and No Sense”), Merleau-Ponty devoted a large part of his life to literary creation on philosophy. Phenomenology was the branch of knowledge that attracted the most attention, Cradled by the inspiration of Edmund Husserl and other great thinkers of similar orientation.
His works include the Phenomenology of Perception (perhaps the author’s best known), The Adventures of the Dialectic, The Visible and the Invisible (he died writing and was published posthumously), Prose of the World, the Eye and the Mind and the Structure of Behavior (which was his first comprehensive work). Most of his works have been translated into several languages, including Spanish.
Distancing from communism meant an important transformation in the life and work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty: On the one hand, he left the daily writing for political questions, and on the other hand he ended up breaking the friendship which bound him to Jean Paul Sartre. In fact, in recent years they have been “embroiled” in very bitter controversies and have criticized their respective ideas with particular vehemence. Despite this, Merleau-Ponty’s death supposed a powerful emotional impact for Sartre, who devoted a letter to him of more than 70 folios (in the magazine in which they both participated) praising all the virtue of his work and recognizing his great value as a thinker and a human being.
From now on, we are going to dive into the thought and the feeling of the French author, always “troubled” the consequences of Cartesian dualism on subjective experience. Its orientation was clearly phenomenological and it touched on issues as important as freedom and inclusive monism. He also thought about the potential of the sensory body, as an essential vehicle of experience. Let’s see what were his main contributions.
Thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty
One of the main goals of this author was to find a meeting point that would reconcile the gaps between idealism (consciousness as the only source of potential knowledge) and materialism (Reality is based on what has tangible matter).
He was also a great connoisseur of the Cartesian thesis, however did not conceive that the body (nothing extensive) and thought (nothing cogitans) should have an independent nature, Opt for the coherent integration of the two as common facts and as equivalent in essence. Otherwise, each individual would experience a powerful dissociation by observing himself, as if he were composed of two dimensions which never come to coexist on the same plane of reality.
One of the ways in which he achieved this theoretical goal was with his postulate of the body as a smelling subject (or LEIB), different from the physiological organism which was the object of the natural sciences (Körper). By means of this vision the corporeality would be endowed with a component other to the extended nothing, which sinks into the cogito and the subjectivity, and can unite the physical “activity” with the one of the thought (since they would manage to inhabit together and recognize each other).
By the idea indicated, the classical dilemma of freedom would be partially resolved, since the author posited that all thoughts are free in essence, but that they are constrained by the limits of the body in its quality of matter. Thus, it could only be solved by subjectivizing the flesh, in a manner identical to that of its proposition.
This division of the body implies that it becomes a channel of communication in the social space., And a fundamental form of self-awareness about the things of the world. Such a body would not be the limit, but would be the vehicle which would make possible the experience of the interaction between the plane of what one feels and the sensible world. It would by its nature happen halfway between the physical and the mental. The meeting of a body and another body would be the axis by which the subjective life of two beings would unfold or would be distinguished as unique, in the bases and the foundation of all social knowledge.
The thinking individual would subjectivize the environment through his participation as body and flesh, postulating the concept of “incarnation” as confluence or tacit cogitans. In this way, reality would be nothing more than the simple projection of the individual in space and time coordinates that there is no longer his own experience, thus rubbing some of the elementary foundations of subjective idealism and integrating the epoch (which saved and adapted Edmund Husserl from Greek philosophy) to materialism.
Merleau-Ponty would not deny the existence of a physical dimension, but would assimilate it to that of the body itself, and would conclude that it is accessible as a stage where conscious beings make use of their freedom to exist ( body located in the conjuncture between consciousness and the natural world). Beyond that, time and space would have no existence of their own, for they would be one ownership of objects (so that they can be felt).
From the point of view he presented, no philosopher (a person open to the knowledge of things) would be a passive spectator of reality, But I would make exercise on this point a direct effect as an active and transforming agent. After this phenomenon would reside the relationship between being and otherness (which is the elementary mechanism of phenomenological creation) and would build the subjective knowledge that we all cherish within us, which is unique and difficult to reproduce or generalize through a conventional scientific procedure.
As we can see, the interest of Merleau-Ponty was the study of consciousness based on the individual perception of realityHe is therefore considered to be one of the main authors of perceptual phenomenology. Although in the last chapter of his life he reformulated the concepts of his philosophy, he firmly maintained the belief that the relationship between each man and history necessarily passes through the way he perceives the facts unfolding during of its life cycle, defining a dialectic between thought-body as an ecosystem for the memory of humanity.
- Botelho, F. (2008). The phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and research in communication. Sign and thought, 27 (52), 68-83.
- González, RA and Giménez, G. (2010). Phenomenology of the intersection between the body and the world at Merleau-Ponty. Ideas and Values, 145, 113-130.