The Primacy Of Perception And Other Essays

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The primacy of the body, not the primacy of perception

E.T. Gendlin

Department of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago, 5848 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637


The purpose of this paper is to save and carry forward some of Merleau-Ponty's crucial insights. They are not out-dated but capable of coming after and exceeding the current emphasis on how the varieties of language and history have re-organized (Foucault says they have "utterly destroyed") the human body. We will examine and keep three important themes of Merleau-Ponty's, but carry them further in a somewhat different way.

  • 1. He asserted something that is prior to language and concepts. He thought he found that in perception and the body.
  • 2. He asserted something that is not as yet in fixed form, and again it was perception.
  • 3. He wanted to make interaction prior and more than the experience of single subjects. In the chiasm he tried to consider perception as inherently interactional.

Merleau-Ponty is often bypassed today, because it is argued that nothing human is without language, or prior to, or outside of language. In current usage the word "language" includes concepts, history, culture, and politics. The argument makes two related points:

  • a) We cannot talk or think about anything—for example perception and the body—without language and concepts.
  • b) Even apart from talking or thinking about it, anything human—for example human bodies, perception, events—have concepts and language always already implicit in them. From this fact many people conclude that anything human depends entirely on language, concepts, and history. Nothing of the human animal seems to remain. As Foucault (1977: 148)[Page 342] puts it: Our erstwhile animal bodies were "utterly destroyed" by history. History and language seem utterly to determine what we will perceive, what we will distinguish as touched, seen or heard.

So it can seem to have been an error for Merleau-Ponty to talk of something prior to—or even just other than—language and concepts.

Similarly, about the not-yet-formed which he so strongly emphasized, it is now said that it cannot be something prior and other than linguistic forms. It can only be indeterminate, only a mix of contradictory forms or distinctions, nothing in itself.

Thirdly, while most people now want to make interaction prior to single subjects, currently they think that the most primary interaction is linguistic communication. It seems to them that nothing can be prior to language and history; at most it would be autistic, not interaction.

I stay close to Merleau-Ponty, but I move further in the direction in which he already moves: He greatly enriches and enlarges what can be meant by "perception." He finds the body's interaction and intentionality prior and presupposed in perception. I move further in these directions.

I do agree with the current view that language is always already implicit in any human experience, and in anything that one would pick out or distinguish. But I argue that the body is not a mere pre-condition that is wholly transformed once there is language. Language does not entirely determine the body. To show it we can show that the body performs vital functions in language still now, and can still now imply and create something new that is not determined by language. I have done this at length elsewhere (see my Thinking Beyond Patterns, and Crossing and Dipping). (Gendlin, 1991, 1992) So I will try to show, on his first theme, that something prior to language continues to function, still now, after language.

Similarly, on his second theme: To uphold the priority he gave to what is not yet fully formed, we will show that this still now performs functions that a mere indeterminacy could not perform. I will argue that this is done by the body, not by perception.

Thirdly, we can uphold him also in this: There is indeed interaction prior to linguistic communication, and this too still continues to exceed language, even with and after language. But I will argue that it is not only prior to language; it is also prior to perception.


Merleau-Ponty went far beyond the usual understanding of perception. For example, many people say that we don't actually ever meet and interact. [Page 343] You know only your perceptions of me, and you interact with those, not with me. You can only have your perceptions, not me. On the contrary, Merleau-Ponty argues that the other is always already inherent in the perception, not substituted for by the perception.

In discussing "the chiasm" Merleau-Ponty struggles to insist that my sense of touching you inherently includes also your sense of touching me. He who sees cannot possess the visible unless he is one of the visibles. But the duality remains. As with one person's two hands touching, only one hand at a time can do the touching, and the other is only touched. The duality is like a screen, a thin sheet, a surface which, in the very act of uniting divides the two sides. His description is elegant in trying to overcome the division by means of the division. But of course the division is retained.

Merleau-Ponty widens the understanding of perception toward including interaction and the body. But in giving the primacy to "perception" he encourages a reading that seems to retain a traditional problem. Let me discuss the traditional problem.

Perception inherently involves a datum, clear or unclear, something that exists for someone, happens to someone, or is present before someone. Perception remains a being-for. If one begins with perception, then interaction seems to consist of two individual percepts.

The percept is a kind of dividing screen. That is not an error. The dividing-screen lies in the very nature of perception. There is an error only in starting with perception. Perception is a datum-having. So it cannot be the basic form of life. The plant is an interaction directly with its environment, without a perceptual datum in front of itself. Its body does not first exist and only then interact. Rather, its growth and life-processes consist of environmental interaction. And our bodies also consist of such environmental interaction processes. That kind of interaction is surely prior to the having of presented perceptual data.

When philosophy considers perception it cannot help but consider a percept, something presented, an object constituted between the body and the environment. Of course one knows that percepts do not exist alone; they pre-suppose a body; they do not float alone, first. But if one begins by considering perception, the percept puts itself first and divides the perceiver off, puts the perceiver behind the percept, and renders the body as merely a perceiver.

I would like to bring home how odd this common way of proceeding really is. A percept actually exists only as a presented before, or a coming into, a coming at. It exists only for someone. And yet it presents itself as if it were a thing that exists. The percept is lopped off,—lops itself off—as if it could be a thing on its own, even while one fully knows that it isn't. That [Page 344] is in the very nature of perception, something presented, something happening-to—someone.

Perception divides the someone off, as coming second, understood only backward from what is already a percept. Once the percept is taken as what it seems to be, then the perceiver cannot add much. Traditionally the perceiver added nearly nothing, just the having-of, the consciousness-of, just the perceiver of-the-percept, the transparent "of" of the percept.

The scientific construction of the universe consists of percepts and percept-like patterns presented before us. It renders humans and animals as something presented—in a space before us (or before someone). But we are not the presented; we are the to-whom of the presented. The to-whom that is inherent in anything presented cannot be a presented datum. So we humans cannot find ourselves within the scientific picture, since it consists of presenteds. We seem to be only the perceivers-of or constructors-of the picture, as if we were outside the universe, the perceiver who does not appear in the percept.

To begin philosophy by considering perception makes it seem that living things can contact reality only through perception. But plants are in contact with reality. They are interactions, quite without perception. Our own living bodies also are interactions with their environments, and that is not lost just because ours also have perception. On the contrary, for us that functions in many additional ways. Animal bodies—including ours—sense themselves, and thereby we sense the interactional living we are. In sensing themselves, our bodies sense our physical environment and our human situations. The perception of colors, smells, and sounds is only a small part of this.

Our bodies sense themselves in living in our situations. Our bodies do our living. Our bodies are interaction in the environment; they interact as bodies, not just through what comes with the five senses. Our bodies don't lurk in isolation behind the five peepholes of perception.

Merleau-Ponty moves strongly to break through this division that is inherent in perception. He says that the body is our first opening to the world and only so is perception possible. This prior work of the body is always latent and implicit in perception. In the body the five senses are together at once. The body has intentionality. When one moves one's body one aims at the things through it. The body responds to the call of the things, he says.

It is clear that Merleau-Ponty meant to escape the limitations brought by beginning with perception. He meant perception to include (latently and implicitly) also our bodily interactional being-in-the-world, all of our life in situations.

Philosophers are honored most when we move on in the direction in which they point. Let us explore further in this direction which Merleau- [Page 345]Ponty implied. You can decide exactly whether and just where I leave him. If we still call it the primacy of "perception" then I argue that we must make clear that the way in which that word now works, has greatly changed. What the word "perception" says cannot usually include how the living body consists of interactions with the world. "Perception" is usually something that appears before or to—a body. But the body is an interaction also in that it breathes, not only in that it senses the cold of the air. It feeds; it does not only see and smell food. It grows and sweats. It walks; it does not only perceive the hard resistance of the ground. And it walks not just as a displacement between two points in empty space, rather to go somewhere—to answer "the call of the things," as Merleau-Ponty said. The body senses the whole situation, and it urges, it implicitly shapes our next action. It senses itself living-in its whole context—the situation.

We act in every situation, not just on the basis of colors and smells (not even all five senses crossed so each is in the others), nor just by motions in geometric space. Rather, we act from the bodily sense of each situation. Without the bodily sense of the situation we would not know where we are, nor what we are doing.

Merleau-Ponty should be read as including all of this in the role of the body. The body's interactional intentionality must not be read as something only latent, only the prior work of the body to make perception possible. It is not merely a philosophically-inferred role only of a pre-linguistic, pre-cultural body. Rather, the body's interactional intentionality must be understood as always still with us, now. In sensing itself the body functions as our sense of each situation. It would be a gigantic omission to miss this role of the body's self-sentience, and to try to constitute the world out of percepts of the five senses.

I will show that if we read Merleau-Ponty in this way, then we have no difficulty answering those who think that we cannot talk of anything before language. Today Merleau-Ponty is made to seem foolish, as if he didn't know about cultural differences once there is language, and as if he wrote in language about perception and a body without language, as if he didn't know that he could not know about how they functioned without language. No, that isn't so. It is rather from how perception and the body do now function, still in a much wider way than language, that he tried to show their primacy and priority. And we can continue on from him also by showing the still-now performed functions of the body in and after language. Then it can also be obvious that the body functions crucially in trans-historical ways. But it is not the five senses, but the sentient bodily interaction that takes on language and history—and then always still exceeds them. Let me show this:

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Merleau-Ponty says, for example, that we sense the space behind our backs. Please notice for a moment that this is true; you can sense the space behind your back.

Is that still to be called "perception?" It is not vision, hearing, or touch, nor is it just the togetherness of the five senses. Is it only some prior work done by the body, to make perception possible? Is it something that is found only in vision and in touch, only as latent in them? No, it is rather a direct bodily sense that you have and use all the time. If we still call this sensing "perception," we must make it clear how far we exceed the usual meaning of the word.

You sense behind you not just the space, nor just space-filling visible things. You sense behind you the people to whom you could turn and speak. Those people are part of your situation just now, and you sense them as part of your sense of the situation you are in. You can sense how your present peaceful body-sense would change if you decided now to turn and say something loud to those people. That you won't do it is all included in the sense of your present situation, which you now have—in a bodily way.

Suppose you are walking home at night, and you sense a group of men following you. You don't merely perceive them. You don't merely hear them there, in the space in back of you. Your body-sense instantly includes also your hope that perhaps they aren't following you, also your alarm, and many past experiences—too many to separate out, and surely also the need to do something—walk faster, change your course, escape into a house, get ready to fight, run, shout ... .

My "..." expresses the fact that your body-sense includes more than we can list, more than you can think by thinking one thing at a time. And it includes not only what is there. It also implies a next move to cope with the situation. But this implying of your next move is still a ... Your actual move has not yet come.

Since it includes all this, the ... is not just a perception, although it certainly includes many perceptions. It is then a feeling? It is certainly felt, but "feeling" usually means emotion. The ... includes emotions, but also so much else. Is it then something mysterious and unfamiliar? No, we always have such a bodily sense of our situations. You have it now, or you would be disoriented as to where you are and what you are doing.

Isn't it odd that no word or phrase in our language as yet says this? "Kinaesthetic" refers only to movement; "proprioceptive" refers to muscles. "Sense" has many uses. So there is no common word for this utterly familiar bodily sense of the intricacy of our situations, along with the rapid [Page 347]weighing of more alternatives than we can think separately. In therapy we now call it a "felt sense." That phrase can say the ...— but only if it brings the ... along with it.

Notice that a ... is implicitly intricate in a way that is more than what is already formed or distinguished. In my example it includes many alternative moves, but more: The ... implies a next move—it demands, it urges, it is the implying of—a next move, but after-and-with all that it includes, that move is as yet unformed.

In these functions of the body we have found two of the three themes of Merleau-Ponty which I mentioned at the start: Something prior to language and concepts, and not-yet-formed, is still now constantly provided by the body. And so also with the third theme: The ... is interaction. It is the body's way of living its situation. Your situation and you are not two things, as if the external things were a situation without you. Nor is your bodily sense separate from the situation and merely internal. It is certainly not just an emotional reaction to the danger. It is that, but it also includes more of the intricacy of your situation than you can see or think. Your bodily ... is your situation. It is not a perceived object before you or even behind you. The body-sense is the situation, inherently an interaction, not a mix of two things.

Could one still argue that the ... is merely indeterminate? I argue that such a ... is not at all indeterminate. Rather, it is more determinate than anything that is already formed. You can see this because the next move, when it comes, will have taken account of more than anything formed can bring. You can see that this bodily function is more than just the contradictory alternatives. If only they were there, they could not be together—they would cancel each other out. But your body can have them together, and what is more, has them weighed and interrelated as possible next moves. If you fight, there are too many of them; if you shout you might be attacked immediately; if you run, so will they; if you enter a building, they will come in after you; if you ... . You don't have time to think each of the possible moves separately, but they are implicitly at work in your bodily sensed ... which functions to determine your actual move.

Therefore this cannot be called "ambiguous" (Merleau-Ponty is so often interpreted with a use of this word) or "indeterminate"—which would mean less determined than one alternative. Rather, it is more determined. The alternatives are not choices that lie side by side; rather they (and the other implicits) play their inner detail on your move that will come.

Of course this shaping is not ideal. There is no exhaustive "all" as if the body totaled up all possibilities. Later you might think of something that should have entered in and didn't. My point is only that a ... is far from indeterminate. Rather, much more goes into determining a next move, when [Page 348] one moves from such a bodily ... . A ... is more determining than anything already formed.

Should you "trust" it, as is often counseled, rather than analyze the situation? No not "rather than." You would want all the explicit thinking you can manage. But certainly, even if you have time, you would not want to proceed without the more that is in the ... . For example, suppose among the moves you can think of the only hopeful one is to turn a corner and quickly enter a building, but suppose that this idea gives you a trapped feeling in your body. Suppose you cannot figure out why it feels that way. Should you do it? I would say no. Wait a moment; something better might come, or do one of the others.

Suppose now that you are not alone but with a companion who has a lot of experience on streets in bad neighborhoods, perhaps her job for many years involved protecting herself on such streets at night. Now suppose you suggest turning a corner and entering a house, but the idea makes her body feel intensely uneasy—but suppose she can't think why. Would you want to ignore that ... ?

Later she may think of some past experience that was implicit in the... . Perhaps she was once caught between an open entry door and an inner one that was locked. But the ... is not at all limited to old, already-formed information. You can see that it is more, because after and with so much that is old, the bodily ... can imply and generate something new.

From contradictory forms alone one could only get indeterminacy. But the animal body functions also after and with all the human elaborations. It lives the alternatives further and can shape something new. When at last you make your move, it may well be something you never heard of.

An artist stands before an unfinished picture, pondering it, seeing, feeling, bodily sensing it, having a ... . Suppose the artist's ... is one of some dissatisfaction. Is that an emotional reaction, simply a feeling-tone? No indeed. Implicit in the ... is the artist's training, experience with many designs, and much else. But more: the ... is also the implying of the next line, which has not yet come. The artist ponders "what it needs." It needs some line, some erasure, something moved over, something ... . The artist tries this and that, and something else, and erases it again each time. The ... is quite demanding. It recognizes the failure of each attempt. It seems to know precisely what it wants and it knows that those attempts are not it. Rather than accepting those, a good artist prefers to leave a design unfinished, sometimes for years.

In this example, the design is new; it has never existed before, and neither has the next move. A bodily ... can very demandingly imply something that has never existed before. And, if it doesn't come, it may never exist at all, except as implied by a ... .

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Should we think of this as an unaccountable intuition? Or can we think of the living body in such a way that it could have or be such information and such demanding novelty?

The body urges and implies exhaling after we inhale. It implies feeding when hungry, and defecating when digestion is done. Living bodies imply their own next steps. This implying and shaping of next steps is usually attributed only to repetitious processes. But we see that the body also takes on the elaborations of quite novel situations, and then it also implies a next step, and may shape one.

The living body is an ongoing interaction with its environment; of course it therefore is environmental information. The bodily ... can contain information that is not (or not yet) capable of being phrased. But can we conceive of the body so that we could understand how it can contain (or be) information? It is not the usual use of the word "body."

Merleau-Ponty rescued the body from being considered merely as a sensed thing among other sensed things (as it still is in physiology). For him the body, sensing from inside, is an internal-external orienting center of perception, not just perceived, but perceiving.

That was a very big step in philosophy. Now let us move a step further. We have noticed that the body is not just an orienting center of perceiving, nor only a center of motions, a but also of acting and speaking in situations.

So far I have tried to show, first why one must not begin with perception, and then that the body-sense satisfies Merleau-Ponty's three themes: The body-sense after language moves beyond language. It is more than formed, and interactional.

Now I take up just two more points: thinking on the edge, and the order of primacy.

3.1 Thinking on the edge

How is it that the bodily ... has all this information, more than we can think item by item, and is also capable of such finely tuned novelty? According to the usual conception of the physiological body, it could not do any of that. Since it can, let us try to think of a living body in such a way that it could be information and novelty.

If we think of the living body—not as a piece of merely perceived machinery, nor as perceiving, but as interaction with its environment, then of course, the body is environmental information.

Animals' bodies are complex interactions with their environments. From one ancient bone one can reconstruct not only the whole animal, but from its body also the kind of environment in which it lived. From the kind of [Page 350] feet it had one can infer the kind of ground on which it moved. From its stomach cavity one can know what it fed on and chased. The body even as a dead structure still contains all that implicit information about its environment. When alive, its bodily life-process is much more implicit information. And this bodily sentience implies and generates the animal's next move.

Much more arrives at birth than a blank tablet. The body arrives already implying its environment very intricately. The human infant implies the breast and the mother. (Stem, 1985) Perceptions enter into an already intricate implied environment in which the five senses are already related. Infants come with good mothering already implicit, interpersonal communication already ongoing, the complexity of syntax already in place. They need not first be made from perceptions.

Of course we do not now have the body just as it existed before and without language. But that first body still functions now. After and with language it implies and moves beyond language.

Your body before language continues to live also beyond language now, as you listen to me. While you hear my words, you are not thinking your own words. Nevertheless your live body retains who you are, your past and all you know. What I say comes into all of that.

If we understand the body as environmental interaction we need not limit ourselves to sentient animals. Plants, quite without perception are bodily ongoing life processes. They also imply their own next moves.

In saying this of plants I am using this conception of our interactional body to develop a conception of living bodies that could evolve into ours.

Going now the other way, this conception of living bodies—even plants—would explain why, if such a body sensed itself, that body-sense would be a vast amount of environmental information—and why, if it lived this information forward further, it could move in new ways. And then, if such a self-sensing body could also think, and could use its bodily ... in its thinking, well, it would always think after, with, but with more than conceptual and language forms. This more would be realistic since it would be the body-environmental interaction.

All thinking involves the bodily ... to some degree. Take for example any ordinary sentence. In the middle of it you have an unfinished sense of how ... .You don't know the end, and yet, all through it, as the sentence wends its way ... .

It has seemed, recently, that there is no language in which to discuss what is more than language. Since we find that still functioning all the while we talk, of course it functions also to let me talk about its functioning.

And it is also with such a ... that we think. We pose ourselves some problem or some chain of thought. There is this, and that, that other, and then ... . If we get distracted and lose hold of the ..., we go over the [Page 351] familiar ground. This, and that, and that other, and ah ... . That is where new thinking happens.

But it isn't a grand mystery. We must think with a ... in many situations every day. Even if the situation is only slightly troubling, it gives us pause. We know the routine things we can say and do, but ... . How the body is being the situation is more than we can think in concepts or words. So we better think with the ..., think with the way the body has, lives in, is—the situation.

So it is not the case that you have only your perceptions of me, that our perceptions of each other are between us. Rather, we affect each other, bodily and situationally, whether we sense or see it or not. My warmth or hostility will affect your ongoing bodily being whether you perceive it or not. You may find it there, if you sense how your body has the situation.

The bodily ... is realistic. It is the interaction, and since the interaction is already happening, of course it is a possible interaction in the world. So, of course we can learn something about reality from it. The ... is always realistically an interaction and therefore right about something. As therapy shows, it can be chiefly (never entirely) a past situation. It can be realistic also about something that it newly lives and makes, something that has never been done before. So we understand how the body can think beyond anything ever formulated before—how it senses on the edge of human thinking.

That is why I encourage my students to attend very carefully to any sense of excitement, puzzlement, confusion or unclear un-ease, that might come as they read and think. What a human organism registers is never just nothing, never an indeterminate limbo. At first it seems to be just autistic. But the body is always already interaction; it cannot fail to contain implicit information with and from which we can think. Any human who attends to a ... thinks on the edge of human knowledge. It does also require some conceptual and philosophical skills which I cannot go into, here. One needs at least to be familiar with many theoretical strategies and many traditional moves, so as not just to fall into one with no recourse.

Laying something out in distinct parts changes it. Laying it out can kill it, but not if we keep the whole ... with us as we think. Laying something out can also carry the ... further, change it in a way that lets it develop. When we do think further in new distinct steps, we can also find and correct many errors. From a ... there are more than logical criteria that let us know what move carries it forward, what line satisfies the design that is not yet, or (in thinking) when laying a ... out "develops" rather than "kills" it.

We sense what continues our plant and animal life, and what does not. We sense what next move is stultifying, too comfortable, guiltily avoidant. We can sense when what we think is glued together, internally closed so [Page 352] that we cannot enter. We know when we have woven a thin bridge of superficial logic over a problem that still remains.

These internal criteria of carrying forward a bodily ... do not insure against error, but they do show that there is error—and therefore also truth—in thinking with more than form.

3.2 The order

Let us begin with the body as we just re-conceived it, rather than the traditional order in philosophy which begins with perception first. Then relations or interactions are added, and then language and thought.

For example, Peirce called sensations "firstness." They are assumed to be opaque: What I mean by opaque is exemplified by bits of color, smell, or touch. These are just what they are. Examine them as deeply as you might, in color there is just color. (See Moen, 1992, for a reading of Peirce in which firstness is not opaque.)

When reality is assumed to have opaque things at the bottom, then any relations among them must be external relations, brought to them. Nothing within a color or a smell inherently insists on its being related to some other color or smell. There is nothing within a color, but color. To relate these opaques, some force or movement must impact on them. Peirce called it "secondness." Then, thirdly come the relations of language, thought, and universals, kinds, conceptual forms.

This order stems from the seeming opaqueness and unrelatedness of the sense-data of perception. Anything more complex must be brought to them, imposed on them from the top down. Empiricism depends on adding our procedures to nature, "torturing nature" as Bacon said. You must always bring something to the sensations because they have nothing within themselves. Therefore Heidegger went to the outermost generalities to find ultimate determinants of thought, above the very top of this top-down order. Therefore, for Hegel and Derrida everything is distinctions.

Merleau-Ponty moves far beyond all this but his "first flesh" and "second flesh" still retain something of the old order of first and second. Let us upset that ancient order altogether. If one begins with the body of perception, too much of interaction and intricacy has to be added on later. Perception is not the bottom. There is an implicit interactional bodily intricacy that is first—and still with us now. It is not the body of perception that is elaborated by language, rather it is the body of interactional living in its environment. Language elaborates how the body implies its situation and its next behavior. We sense our bodies not as elaborated perceptions but as the body-sense of our situations, the interactional whole-body by which we orient and know what we are doing.

[Page 353] What will you say about my paper? You have not formulated much of it in words since you have been perceiving my words. And yet your reaction to my paper has been accumulating all this while. Where? You have not had time to lay it out in discrete thoughts, and yet—there it is. If you want to speak now, where would you put your attention to find your comment? It is a bodily sense—perhaps of excitement or perhaps of unease and discord—and yet you can sense that it is internally intricate, a bodily implying of speech and thought. Where do you find that? Is it implicit in external perceptual patterns? No. But if you now attend to your bodily sense, many incipient thoughts ... .


Foucault, M., "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History." Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays. Ed. D.F. Bouchard. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.

Gendlin, E.T., "Thinking Beyond Patterns." The Presence of Feeling in Thought. Eds. B. den Ouden and M. Moen. New York: Peter Lang, 1992, 21-151.

Gendlin, E.T., "Crossing and Dipping." Subjectivity and the Debate over Computational Cognitive Science. Eds. M. Galbraith and W.J. Rapaport. Technical Report, Center for Cognitive Science, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1991, 37-58.

Moen, M., "Feeling, Body, Thought." The Presence of Feeling in Thought. Eds. B. den Ouden and M. Moen. New York: Peter Lang, 1992, 215-243.

Stern, D.N., The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Born14 March 1908
Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente-Maritime, France
Died3 May 1961(1961-05-03) (aged 53)
Paris, France
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
University of Paris
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Existential phenomenology
Embodied phenomenology[1]
Western Marxism

Main interests

Psychology, embodiment, metaphysics, perception, Gestalt theory, epistemology, philosophy of art, Western Marxism

Notable ideas

Phenomenology of perception, anonymous collectivity,[4] motor intentionality,[5][6] the flesh of the world, "the perceiving mind is an incarnated mind,"[7] chiasm (chiasme), distinction between words as gestures having sedimented meaning and spoken words as gestures having existential meaning,[8]invagination

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (French: [mɔʁis mɛʁlo pɔ̃ti]; 14 March 1908 – 3 May 1961) was a French phenomenologicalphilosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. The constitution of meaning in human experience was his main interest and he wrote on perception, art, and politics. He was on the editorial board of Les Temps modernes, the leftist magazine established by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1945.

At the core of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy is a sustained argument for the foundational role perception plays in understanding the world as well as engaging with the world. Like the other major phenomenologists, Merleau-Ponty expressed his philosophical insights in writings on art, literature, linguistics, and politics. He was the only major phenomenologist of the first half of the twentieth century to engage extensively with the sciences and especially with descriptive psychology. It is through this engagement that his writings have become influential in the recent project of naturalizing phenomenology, in which phenomenologists use the results of psychology and cognitive science.

Merleau-Ponty emphasized the body as the primary site of knowing the world, a corrective to the long philosophical tradition of placing consciousness as the source of knowledge, and maintained that the body and that which it perceived could not be disentangled from each other. The articulation of the primacy of embodiment led him away from phenomenology towards what he was to call “indirect ontology” or the ontology of “the flesh of the world” (la chair du monde), seen in his final and incomplete work, The Visible and Invisible, and his last published essay, “Eye and Mind”.


Maurice Merleau-Ponty was born in 1908 in Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente-Maritime, France. His father died in 1913 when Merleau-Ponty was five years old.[14] After secondary schooling at the lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris, Merleau-Ponty became a student at the École Normale Supérieure, where he studied alongside Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, and Jean Hyppolite. He attended Edmund Husserl's "Paris Lectures" in February 1929.[15] In 1929, Merleau-Ponty received his DES degree (diplôme d'études supérieures (fr), roughly equivalent to an MA thesis) from the University of Paris, on the basis of the (now-lost) thesis "La Notion de multiple intelligible chez Plotin" ("Plotinus's Notion of the Intelligible Many"), directed by Émile Bréhier.[16] He passed the agrégation in philosophy in 1930.

An article published in French newspaper Le Monde in October 2014 makes the case of recent discoveries about Merleau-Ponty's likely authorship of the novel Nord. Récit de l'arctique (Grasset, 1928). Convergent sources from close friends (Beauvoir, Elisabeth "Zaza" Lacoin) seem to leave little doubt that Jacques Heller was a pseudonym of the 20-year-old Merleau-Ponty.[17]

Merleau-Ponty taught first at the Lycée de Beauvais (1931–33) and then got a fellowship to do research from the Caisse nationale de la recherche scientifique (fr). From 1934–1935 he taught at the Lycée de Chartres. He then in 1935 became a tutor at the École Normale Supérieure, where he was awarded his doctorate on the basis of two important books: La structure du comportement (1942) and Phénoménologie de la Perception (1945).

After teaching at the University of Lyon from 1945 to 1948, Merleau-Ponty lectured on child psychology and education at the Sorbonne from 1949 to 1952.[18] He was awarded the Chair of Philosophy at the Collège de France from 1952 until his death in 1961, making him the youngest person to have been elected to a Chair.

Besides his teaching, Merleau-Ponty was also political editor for Les Temps modernes from the founding of the journal in October 1945 until December 1952. In his youth he had read Karl Marx's writings[19] and Sartre even claimed that Merleau-Ponty converted him to Marxism.[20] Their friendship ended over a quarrel as he became disillusioned about communism, while Sartre still endorsed it.

Merleau-Ponty died suddenly of a stroke in 1961 at age 53, apparently while preparing for a class on René Descartes. He is buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.



In his Phenomenology of Perception (first published in French in 1945), Merleau-Ponty developed the concept of the body-subject (le corps propre) as an alternative to the Cartesian "ego cogito." This distinction is especially important in that Merleau-Ponty perceives the essences of the world existentially. Consciousness, the world, and the human body as a perceiving thing are intricately intertwined and mutually "engaged." The phenomenal thing is not the unchanging object of the natural sciences, but a correlate of our body and its sensory-motor functions. Taking up and "communing with" (Merleau-Ponty's phrase) the sensible qualities it encounters, the body as incarnated subjectivity intentionally elaborates things within an ever-present world frame, through use of its pre-conscious, pre-predicative understanding of the world's makeup. The elaboration, however, is "inexhaustible" (the hallmark of any perception according to Merleau-Ponty). Things are that upon which our body has a "grip" (prise), while the grip itself is a function of our connaturality with the world's things. The world and the sense of self are emergent phenomena in an ongoing "becoming."

The essential partiality of our view of things, their being given only in a certain perspective and at a certain moment in time does not diminish their reality, but on the contrary establishes it, as there is no other way for things to be copresent with us and with other things than through such "Abschattungen" (sketches, faint outlines, adumbrations). The thing transcends our view, but is manifest precisely by presenting itself to a range of possible views. The object of perception is immanently tied to its background—to the nexus of meaningful relations among objects within the world. Because the object is inextricably within the world of meaningful relations, each object reflects the other (much in the style of Leibniz'smonads). Through involvement in the world – being-in-the-world – the perceiver tacitly experiences all the perspectives upon that object coming from all the surrounding things of its environment, as well as the potential perspectives that that object has upon the beings around it.

Each object is a "mirror of all others." Our perception of the object through all perspectives is not that of a propositional, or clearly delineated, perception; rather, it is an ambiguous perception founded upon the body's primordial involvement and understanding of the world and of the meanings that constitute the landscape's perceptual gestalt. Only after we have been integrated within the environment so as to perceive objects as such can we turn our attention toward particular objects within the landscape so as to define them more clearly. This attention, however, does not operate by clarifying what is already seen, but by constructing a new Gestalt oriented toward a particular object. Because our bodily involvement with things is always provisional and indeterminate, we encounter meaningful things in a unified though ever open-ended world.

The primacy of perception[edit]

From the time of writing Structure of Behavior and Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty wanted to show, in opposition to the idea that drove the tradition beginning with John Locke, that perception was not the causal product of atomic sensations. This atomist-causal conception was being perpetuated in certain psychological currents of the time, particularly in behaviourism. According to Merleau-Ponty, perception has an active dimension, in that it is a primordial openness to the lifeworld (the "Lebenswelt").

This primordial openness is at the heart of his thesis of the primacy of perception. The slogan of Husserl's phenomenology is "all consciousness is consciousness of something", which implies a distinction between "acts of thought" (the noesis) and "intentional objects of thought" (the noema). Thus, the correlation between noesis and noema becomes the first step in the constitution of analyses of consciousness. However, in studying the posthumous manuscripts of Husserl, who remained one of his major influences, Merleau-Ponty remarked that, in their evolution, Husserl's work brings to light phenomena which are not assimilable to noesis–noema correlation. This is particularly the case when one attends to the phenomena of the body (which is at once body-subject and body-object), subjective time (the consciousness of time is neither an act of consciousness nor an object of thought) and the other (the first considerations of the other in Husserl led to solipsism).

The distinction between "acts of thought" (noesis) and "intentional objects of thought" (noema) does not seem, therefore, to constitute an irreducible ground. It appears rather at a higher level of analysis. Thus, Merleau-Ponty does not postulate that "all consciousness is consciousness of something", which supposes at the outset a noetic-noematic ground. Instead, he develops the thesis according to which "all consciousness is perceptual consciousness". In doing so, he establishes a significant turn in the development of phenomenology, indicating that its conceptualisations should be re-examined in the light of the primacy of perception, in weighing up the philosophical consequences of this thesis.


Taking the study of perception as his point of departure, Merleau-Ponty was led to recognize that one's own body (le corps propre) is not only a thing, a potential object of study for science, but is also a permanent condition of experience, a constituent of the perceptual openness to the world. He therefore underlines the fact that there is an inherence of consciousness and of the body of which the analysis of perception should take account. The primacy of perception signifies a primacy of experience, so to speak, insofar as perception becomes an active and constitutive dimension.

Merleau-Ponty demonstrates a corporeity of consciousness as much as an intentionality of the body, and so stands in contrast with the dualist ontology of mind and body in Descartes, a philosopher to whom Merleau-Ponty continually returned, despite the important differences that separate them. In the Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty wrote: “Insofar as I have hands, feet; a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent on my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way that I do not choose” (1962, p. 440).

The question concerning corporeity connects also with Merleau-Ponty's reflections on space (l'espace) and the primacy of the dimension of depth (la profondeur) as implied in the notion of being in the world (être au monde; to echo Heidegger's In-der-Welt-sein) and of one's own body (le corps propre).[21]


The highlighting of the fact that corporeity intrinsically has a dimension of expressivity which proves to be fundamental to the constitution of the ego is one of the conclusions of The Structure of Behavior that is constantly reiterated in Merleau-Ponty's later works. Following this theme of expressivity, he goes on to examine how an incarnate subject is in a position to undertake actions that transcend the organic level of the body, such as in intellectual operations and the products of one's cultural life.

He carefully considers language, then, as the core of culture, by examining in particular the connections between the unfolding of thought and sense—enriching his perspective not only by an analysis of the acquisition of language and the expressivity of the body, but also by taking into account pathologies of language, painting, cinema, literature, poetry and song.

This work deals mainly with language, beginning with the reflection on artistic expression in The Structure of Behavior—which contains a passage on El Greco (p. 203ff) that prefigures the remarks that he develops in "Cézanne's Doubt" (1945) and follows the discussion in Phenomenology of Perception. The work, undertaken while serving as the Chair of Child Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of the Sorbonne, is not a departure from his philosophical and phenomenological works, but rather an important continuation in the development of his thought.

As the course outlines of his Sorbonne lectures indicate, during this period he continues a dialogue between phenomenology and the diverse work carried out in psychology, all in order to return to the study of the acquisition of language in children, as well as to broadly take advantage of the contribution of Ferdinand de Saussure to linguistics, and to work on the notion of structure through a discussion of work in psychology, linguistics and social anthropology.


Merleau-Ponty distinguishes between primary and secondary modes of expression. This distinction appears in Phenomenology of Perception (p. 207, 2nd note [Fr. ed.]) and is sometimes repeated in terms of spoken and speaking language (le langage parlé et le langage parlant) (The Prose of the World, p. 10). Spoken language (le langage parlé), or secondary expression, returns to our linguistic baggage, to the cultural heritage that we have acquired, as well as the brute mass of relationships between signs and significations. Speaking language (le langage parlant), or primary expression, such as it is, is language in the production of a sense, language at the advent of a thought, at the moment where it makes itself an advent of sense.

It is speaking language, that is to say, primary expression, that interests Merleau-Ponty and which keeps his attention through his treatment of the nature of production and the reception of expressions, a subject which also overlaps with an analysis of action, of intentionality, of perception, as well as the links between freedom and external conditions.

The notion of style occupies an important place in "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence". In spite of certain similarities with André Malraux, Merleau-Ponty distinguishes himself from Malraux in respect to three conceptions of style, the last of which is employed in Malraux's The Voices of Silence. Merleau-Ponty remarks that in this work "style" is sometimes used by Malraux in a highly subjective sense, understood as a projection of the artist's individuality. Sometimes it is used, on the contrary, in a very metaphysical sense (in Merleau-Ponty's opinion, a mystical sense), in which style is connected with a conception of an "über-artist" expressing "the Spirit of Painting". Finally, it sometimes is reduced to simply designating a categorization of an artistic school or movement. (However, this account of Malraux's notion of style—a key element in his thinking—is open to serious question.[22])

For Merleau-Ponty, it is these uses of the notion of style that lead Malraux to postulate a cleavage between the objectivity of Italian Renaissance painting and the subjectivity of painting in his own time, a conclusion that Merleau-Ponty disputes. According to Merleau-Ponty, it is important to consider the heart of this problematic, by recognizing that style is first of all a demand owed to the primacy of perception, which also implies taking into consideration the dimensions of historicity and intersubjectivity. (However, Merleau-Ponty's reading of Malraux has been questioned in a recent major study of Malraux's theory of art which argues that Merleau-Ponty seriously misunderstood Malraux.)[23] For Merleau-Ponty, style is born of the interaction between two or more fields of being. Rather than being exclusive to individual human consciousness, consciousness is born of the pre-conscious style of the world, of Nature.


In his essay "Cézanne's Doubt", in which he identifies Paul Cézanne's impressionistic theory of painting as analogous to his own concept of radical reflection, the attempt to return to, and reflect on, prereflective consciousness, Merleau-Ponty identifies science as the opposite of art. In Merleau-Ponty's account, whereas art is an attempt to capture an individual's perception, science is anti-individualistic. In the preface to his Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty presents a phenomenological objection to positivism: that it can tell us nothing about human subjectivity. All that a scientific text can explain is the particular individual experience of that scientist, which cannot be transcended. For Merleau-Ponty, science neglects the depth and profundity of the phenomena that it endeavors to explain.

Merleau-Ponty understood science to be an ex post facto abstraction. Causal and physiological accounts of perception, for example, explain perception in terms that are only arrived at after abstracting from the phenomenon itself. Merleau-Ponty chastised science for taking itself to be the area in which a complete account of nature may be given. The subjective depth of phenomena cannot be given in science as it is. This characterizes Merleau-Ponty's attempt to ground science in phenomenological objectivity and, in essence, institute a "return to the phenomena."


Anticognitivist cognitive science[edit]

Merleau-Ponty's critical position with respect to science was stated in his Preface to the Phenomenology— he described scientific points of view as "always both naive and at the same time dishonest". Despite, or perhaps because of, this view, his work influenced and anticipated the strands of modern psychology known as post-cognitivism. Hubert Dreyfus has been instrumental in emphasising the relevance of Merleau-Ponty's work to current post-cognitive research, and its criticism of the traditional view of cognitive science.

Dreyfus's seminal critique of cognitivism (or the computational account of the mind), What Computers Can't Do, consciously replays Merleau-Ponty's critique of intellectualist psychology to argue for the irreducibility of corporeal know-how to discrete, syntactic processes. Through the influence of Dreyfus's critique and neurophysiological alternative, Merleau-Ponty became associated with neurophysiological, connectionist accounts of cognition.

With the publication in 1991 of The Embodied Mind by Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch, this association was extended, if only partially, to another strand of "anti-cognitivist" or post-representationalist cognitive science: embodied or enactive cognitive science, and later in the decade, to neurophenomenology. In addition, Merleau-Ponty's work has also influenced researchers trying to integrate neuroscience with the principles of chaos theory.[24]

It was through this relationship with Merleau-Ponty's work that cognitive science's affair with phenomenology was born, which is represented by a growing number of works, including

  • Ron McClamrock's Existential Cognition: Computational Minds in the World (1995),
  • Andy Clark's Being There (1997),
  • Naturalizing Phenomenology edited by Petitot et al. (1999),
  • Alva Noë's Action in Perception (2004),
  • Shaun Gallagher's How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005),
  • Grammont, Franck Dorothée Legrand, and Pierre Livet (eds.) 2010, Naturalizing Intention in Action, MIT Press 2010 ISBN 978-0-262-01367-3.
  • The journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.

Feminist philosophy[edit]

Merleau-Ponty has also been picked up by Australian and Nordic philosophers inspired by the French feminist tradition, including Rosalyn Diprose and Sara Heinämaa (fi).

Diprose's recent work takes advantage of Merleau-Ponty's conception of an intercorporeity, or indistinction of perspectives, to critique individualistic identity politics from a feminist perspective and to ground the irreducibility of generosity as a virtue, where generosity has a dual sense of giving and being given.[citation needed]

Heinämaa has argued for a rereading of Merleau-Ponty's influence on Simone de Beauvoir. (She has also challenged Dreyfus's reading of Merleau-Ponty as behaviorist[citation needed], and as neglecting the importance of the phenomenological reduction to Merleau-Ponty's thought.)

Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of the body has also been taken up by Iris Young in her essay "Throwing Like a Girl," and its follow-up, "'Throwing Like a Girl': Twenty Years Later." Young analyzes the particular modalities of feminine bodily comportment as they differ from that of men. Young observes that while a man who throws a ball puts his whole body into the motion, a woman throwing a ball generally restricts her own movements as she makes them, and that, generally, in sports, women move in a more tentative, reactive way. Merleau-Ponty argues that we experience the world in terms of the "I can" – that is, oriented towards certain projects based on our capacity and habituality. Young's thesis is that in women, this intentionality is inhibited and ambivalent, rather than confident, experienced as an "I cannot."


Ecophenomenology can be described as the pursuit of the relationalities of worldly engagement, both human and those of other creatures (Brown & Toadvine 2003).

This engagement is situated in a kind of middle ground of relationality, a space that is neither purely objective, because it is reciprocally constituted by a diversity of lived experiences motivating the movements of countless organisms, nor purely subjective, because it is nonetheless a field of material relationships between bodies. It is governed exclusively neither by causality, nor by intentionality. In this space of in-betweenness phenomenology can overcome its inaugural opposition to naturalism.[25]

David Abram explains Merleau-Ponty's concept of "flesh" (chair) as "the mysterious tissue or matrix that underlies and gives rise to both the perceiver and the perceived as interdependent aspects of its spontaneous activity," and he identifies this elemental matrix with the interdependent web of earthly life.[26] This concept unites subject and object dialectically as determinations within a more primordial reality, which Merleau-Ponty calls "the flesh," and which Abram refers to variously as "the animate earth," "the breathing biosphere," or "the more-than-human natural world." Yet this is not nature or the biosphere conceived as a complex set of objects and objective processes, but rather "the biosphere as it is experienced and lived from within by the intelligent body — by the attentive human animal who is entirely a part of the world that he, or she, experiences. Merleau-Ponty's ecophenemonology with its emphasis on holistic dialog within the larger-than-human world also has implications for the ontogenesis and phylogenesis of language, indeed he states that "language is the very voice of the trees, the waves and the forest."[27] Merleau-Ponty himself refers to "that primordial being which is not yet the subject-being nor the object-being and which in every respect baffles reflection. From this primordial being to us, there is no derivation, nor any break..."[28] Among the many working notes found on his desk at the time of his death, and published with the half-complete manuscript of The Visible and the Invisible, several make evident that Merleau-Ponty himself recognized a deep affinity between his notion of a primordial "flesh" and a radically transformed understanding of "nature." Hence in November 1960 he writes: "Do a psychoanalysis of Nature: it is the flesh, the mother."[29] And in the last published working note, written in March 1961, he writes: "Nature as the other side of humanity (as flesh, nowise as 'matter')."[30]


The following table gives a selection of Merleau-Ponty's works in French and English translation.

YearOriginal FrenchEnglish Translation
1942La Structure du comportement (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1942)The Structure of Behavior trans. by Alden Fisher, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963; London: Methuen, 1965).
1945Phénoménologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1945)Phenomenology of Perception trans. by Colin Smith (New York: Humanities Press, and London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962); trans. revised by Forrest Williams (1981; reprinted, 2002); new trans. by Donald A. Landes (New York: Routledge, 2012).
1947Humanisme et terreur, essai sur le problème communiste (Paris: Gallimard, 1947)Humanism and Terror: An Essay on the Communist Problem trans. by John O'Neill, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969)
1948Sens et non-sens (Paris: Nagel, 1948, 1966)Sense and Non-Sense trans. by Hubert Dreyfus and Patricia Allen Dreyfus, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964).
1949–50Conscience et l'acquisition du langage (Paris: Bulletin de psychologie, 236, vol. XVIII, 3–6, Nov. 1964)Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language trans. by Hugh J. Silverman (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973).
1949–52Merleau-Ponty à la Sorbonne: résumé de cours, 1949-1952 (Grenoble: Cynara, 1988)Child Psychology and Pedagogy: The Sorbonne Lectures 1949-1952 trans. By Talia Welsh (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2010)
1951Les Relations avec autrui chez l’enfant (Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire, 1951, 1975)The Child’s Relations with Others trans. by William Cobb, in The Primacy of Perception ed. by James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 96-155.
1953Éloge de la Philosophie, Lecon inaugurale faite au Collége de France, Le jeudi 15 janvier 1953 (Paris: Gallimard, 1953)In Praise of Philosophy trans. by John Wild and James M. Edie, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963)
1955Les aventures de la dialectique (Paris: Gallimard, 1955)Adventures of the Dialectic trans. by Joseph Bien, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973; London: Heinemann, 1974)
1958Les Sciences de l’homme et la phénoménologie (Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire, 1958, 1975)Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man trans. by John Wild in The Primacy of Perception ed. by James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 43–95.
1960Éloge de la Philosophie et autres essais (Paris: Gallimard, 1960)-
1960Signes (Paris: Gallimard, 1960)Signs trans. by Richard McCleary, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964).
1961L’Œil et l’esprit (Paris: Gallimard, 1961)Eye and Mind trans. by Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception ed. by James Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 159-190. Revised translation by Michael Smith in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader (1993), 121-149.
1964Le Visible et l’invisible, suivi de notes de travail Edited by Claude Lefort (Paris: Gallimard, 1964)The Visible and the Invisible, Followed by Working Notes trans. by Alphonso Lingis, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968).
1968Résumés de cours, Collège de France 1952-1960 (Paris: Gallimard, 1968)Themes from the Lectures at the Collège de France, 1952-1960 trans. by John O’Neill, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970).
1969La Prose du monde (Paris: Gallimard, 1969)The Prose of the World trans. by John O’Neill, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973; London: Heinemann, 1974


  1. ^Rasmus Thybo Jensen, Dermot Moran (eds.), The Phenomenology of Embodied Subjectivity, Springer, 2014, p. 292; Douglas Low, Merleau-Ponty in Contemporary Context, Transaction Publishers, 2013, p. 21; Jack Reynolds, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida: Intertwining Embodiment and Alterity, Ohio University Press, 2004, p. 192.
  2. ^Alan D. Schrift (2006), Twentieth-Century French Philosophy: Key Themes And Thinkers, Blackwell Publishing, p. 46: "While Merleau-Ponty saw structuralism and phenomenology as compatible, with the former providing an objective analysis of underlying social structures that would complement the latter’s description of lived experience, the structuralists themselves were much less convinced of the need for or value of phenomenology as they engaged in their various structuralist inquiries."
  3. ^Lawrence Hass & Dorothea Olkoskwi, Rereading Merleau-Ponty: Essays Beyond the Continental-Analytic Divide, Humanity Books, 2000: "Merleau-Ponty's thought — arguably, the first genuinely poststructuralist philosophy..."
  4. ^Martin C. Dillon, Merleau-Ponty Vivant, SUNY Press, 1991, p. 63.
  5. ^Evan Thompson, Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind, Harvard University Press, 2007, p. 313.
  6. ^Mark A. Wrathall, Jeff E. Malpas (eds), Heidegger, Coping, and Cognitive Science - Volume 2, MIT Press, 2000, p. 167.
  7. ^Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, Northwestern University Press, 1964, p. 3.
  8. ^Richard L. Lanigan, Speaking and Semiology: Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenological Theory of Existential Communication, Walter de Gruyter, 1991, p. 49.
  9. ^Merleau-Ponty, M., 2002, Phenomenology of Perception, Colin Smith (tr.), New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp. 66–68.
  10. ^Dermot Moran, "Husserl's transcendental philosophy and the critique of naturalism" (2008), p. 20.
  11. ^Lester Embree, "Merleau-Ponty's Examination of Gestalt Psychology", Research in Phenomenology, Vol. 10 (1980): pp. 89–121.
  12. ^Maurice Merleau-Ponty - BiographyArchived 2012-11-28 at the Wayback Machine. at
  13. ^Lacan, Jacques. "The Split between the Eye and the Gaze" (1964).
  14. ^Thomas Baldwin in Introduction to Merleau-Ponty's The World of Perception (New York: Routledge, 2008): 2.
  15. ^Ted Toadvine, Lester Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty's Reading of Husserl, Springer Science & Business Media, 2013, p. 229.
  16. ^Donald A. Landes, The Merleau-Ponty Dictionary, A&C Black, 2013, p. 2.
  17. ^Emmanuel Alloa, "Merleau-Ponty, tout un roman", Le Monde, 23.10.2014.
  18. ^Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Child Psychology and Pedagogy: The Sorbonne Lectures 1949-1952. Translated by Talia Welsh. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2010.
  19. ^Martin Jay, (1986), Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas, pages 361–85.
  20. ^Martin Jay, (1986), Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas, page 361.
  21. ^For recent investigations of this question refer to the following: Nader El-Bizri, "A Phenomenological Account of the ‘Ontological Problem of Space’," Existentia Meletai-Sophias, Vol. XII, Issue 3–4 (2002), pp. 345–364; see also the related analysis of space qua depth in: Nader El-Bizri, "La perception de la profondeur: Alhazen, Berkeley et Merleau-Ponty," Oriens-Occidens: sciences, mathématiques et philosophie de l’antiquité à l’âge classique (Cahiers du Centre d’Histoire des Sciences et des Philosophies Arabes et Médiévales, CNRS), Vol. 5 (2004), pp. 171–184. Check also the connections of this question with Heidegger's accounts of the phenomenon of "dwelling" in: Nader El-Bizri, 'Being at Home Among Things: Heidegger’s Reflections on Dwelling', Environment, Space, Place 3 (2011), pp. 47–71
  22. ^See: Derek Allan, Art and the Human Adventure, André Malraux's Theory of Art, Rodopi, 2009.
  23. ^Derek Allan, Art and the Human Adventure: André Malraux's Theory of Art, Rodopi, 2009.
  24. ^Skada, Christine; Walter Freedman (March 1990). "Chaos and the New Science of the Brain". Concepts in Neuroscience. 1: 275–285. 
  25. ^Charles Brown and Ted Toadvine, (Eds) (2003). Eco-Phenomenology: Back to the Earth Itself. Albany: SUNY Press. 
  26. ^Abram, D. (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than Human World. Pantheon Books, New York. p. 66. 
  27. ^Abram, D. (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than Human World. Pantheon Books, New York. p. 65. 
  28. ^The Concept of Nature, I, Themes from the Lectures at the Collège de France 1952-1960. Northwestern University Press. 1970. pp. 65–66. 
  29. ^The Visible and the Invisible. Northwestern University Press. 1968. p. 267. 
  30. ^The Visible and the Invisible. Northwestern University Press. 1968. p. 274. 


  • Abram, D. (1988). "Merleau-Ponty and the Voice of the Earth." Environmental Ethics 10, no. 2 (Summer 1988): 101–20.
  • Alloa, E. (2017) Resistance of the Sensible World. An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty, New York: Fordham University Press.
  • Barbaras, R. (2004) The Being of the Phenomenon. Merleau-Ponty's Ontology Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Carbone, M. (2004) The Thinking of the Sensible. Merleau-Ponty's A-Philosophy, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  • Clark, A. 1997. Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Gallagher, Shaun 2003. How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Johnson, G., Smith, Michael B. (Eds.) (1993) The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, Chicago: Northwestern UP 1993.
  • Landes, D. (2013) Merleau-Ponty and the Paradoxes of Expression, New York-London: Bloomsbury.
  • Lawlor, L., Evans, F. (Eds.) (2000) Chiasms: Merleau-Ponty's Notion of Flesh, Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Petitot, J., Varela, F., Pachoud, B. and Roy, J-M. (eds.). 1999. Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Toadvine, T. (2009) Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Nature. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  • Xavier Tilliette, Maurice Merleau-Ponty ou la mesure de l'homme, Seghers, 1970.
  • Varela, F. J., Thompson, E. and Rosch, E. 1991. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.

External links[edit]

Merleau-Ponty's grave at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where he was buried with his mother Louise and his wife Suzanne

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