Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology: A summary

merleau ponty a french philosopher

Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology: Body, Dialectics and Perception

Maurice Merleau-Ponty is one of the greatest figures in phenomenology, with Husserl, Sartre and Heidegger. He mainly wrote:

– Behavioral structure (1942)

– Phenomenology of perception (1945)

– Sense and Nonsense (1948)

– The Adventures of dialectics (1955)

– Signs (1960)

Describing concretely the real, understanding human experience, “returning to things”, according to Husserl’s precept: such was Merleau-Ponty’s effort, constantly renewed, actualized throughout his work.

What is existence according to Merleau-Ponty?

Maurice Merleau-Ponty built an existential philosophy: he made his analysis focused on existence, conceived as an act on the world, as this movement by which man is involved in things and engages in a physical and social situation.

– As with Sartre (his former fellow student at the École normale supérieure, with whom he founded, at the Liberation, the review Les Temps Modernes) existence designates, in Merleau-Ponty, the fact of emerging in the world and taking in charge of society and the universe. Simone de Beauvoir, however, spoke of pseudo-sartrism with regard to Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, reproaching him both for appropriating his thought and for distorting it.

This “existence” of which Merleau-Ponty speaks to us is obviously concrete and embodied in a body.

– It is the body, conceived as a set of lived meanings, and not as a material reality in the strict sense, which conditions all our experience and our existence: in the concept of material body is substituted, in Merleau-Ponty, the idea of ​​a clean body, of an organism qualified by its belonging to a destiny.

– Elucidating the meaning of the experience of the body, the philosopher redefines the body diagram, as a unitary and lived representation of our different bodily organs.

– I know the position of each of my members by a “body diagram”, where they are all wrapped.

Thus, Merleau-Ponty is not interested in our abstract reality, but in the animated body and the flesh.

– Mind and body reflect each other, much more than they oppose.

– Let’s talk about a spiritual function of the body and an incarnation of the spirit, instead of opposing two terms, in reality joined and united.

The story at Merleau-Ponty

Anxious for a concrete description, the philosopher could not be indifferent either to history itself, or to the historical dimension of all human experience.

Without accepting a strictly economic explanation of historical becoming, Merleau-Ponty was very often inspired by Marxist analyzes and themes, on which he focused his reflections.

– Marxism is founded on the idea of ​​the intelligibility of history: the meaning of history designates, in Marxism, this notion of a global, oriented and intelligible whole.

– Nuancing these themes, Merleau-Ponty deepens, in an inseparable dialectic, meaning and nonsense, referring to a core of meanings from man, and nonsense, to this (inhuman) background on which all our historic businesses. historical, the

But how can we go beyond traditional oppositions and conceive, in their unity, meaning and nonsense, freedom and necessity?

– Merleau-Ponty has often remained faithful to the work of dialectical thought, conceived as a reunification of opposites, as a negation that does not exhaust itself in excluding the positive, as a thought of the contradictory.

– This Merleau-Ponty dialectic is undoubtedly less systematic and more open than those of Hegel and Marx.

Thus Merleau-Ponty brilliantly questioned the lived universe of perception and concrete existence and, on the other hand, historical and political life. He was a lucid analyst of our time and a major figure in phenomenology in Continental Europe.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology: A summary, April 9, 2020, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 9, 2020,