Literature Study GuidesPhenomenology Of Perception

Phenomenology of Perception | Study Guide

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

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Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Year Published






At a Glance

The potential for embodied thought—the concept that the body influences the mind—as the basis of a phenomenology of perception has been viewed as an anti-philosophical doctrine. It stands in opposition to the domination in philosophical thought of French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650), who famously said, Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Maurice Merleau-Ponty was instead influenced by (a) the 20th-century Gestalt school of psychology, which considers the human mind and behavior as a whole; (b) German philosopher Edmund Husserl's (1859–1938) writings on phenomenology; and (c) personal observation. Merleau-Ponty sought a description of pre-reflective perception, or "embodied experience." In such a study the body and mind are not separate.

Merleau-Ponty's work influenced a generation of French thinkers who succeeded him, including Michel Foucault (1926–84), Gilles Deleuze (1925–95), and Jacques Derrida (1950–2004). It has also influenced researchers in other fields, including neuroscience, anthropology, linguistics, and women's studies, among others. In particular, work in the neurosciences uses evidence in brain function and chemistry to support the idea of thoughts without words, what Merleau-Ponty would call an "embodied mind" as a cognitive register.

About the Title

"Phenomenology" is a term attributed to German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). It refers to a way to describe and analyze the structure of consciousness through first-person experience. Merleau-Ponty adds to this descriptive viewpoint the factor of "perception," which he uses to describe a primitive awareness that exists prior to consciousness. This awareness is like the body's call to attention rather than an intellectual process.


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