Amin Erfani


Merleau-Ponty: Bio-bibliography


Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961)

He studied at the École Normale Superieure in the 30's when he received his aggregation in philosophy and then began teaching philosophy at high schools. From 1933 he started being interested in pathology as a method to comprehend “normal” behavior. He completed his Docteur es Lettres based on two dissertations, the Structure of Behavior (1942) and the Phenomenology of Perception (1945). He took the chair of child psychology at the Sorbonne in 1947, and in 1952 he was elected to the chair of philosophy at the Collège de France, the youngest ever appointed to the position, which he held until his death 1961.

            His work on language can be divided in four parts:

            - Phenomenology on Perception: relationship between body and speech

            - his lectures on de Saussure and child psychology (1946) : Inscriptions.

            - Phenomenology of language, Signs (1960) and the Prose of the World  published posthumously.

            - The Visible and the Invisible, on which he was still working before he died and was collected by Claude Lefort.

He was part of the editorial board of les Temps Modernes, with Sartre, De Beauvoir, Raymond Aron etc. Aron comes back from Berlin in 1933 and introduces “phenomenology” to his circle of freinds: all decide to pack up and travel to Germany and study Husserl and Heidegger.


MP and Phenomenology:

Background on Husserlian phenomenology:

Transcendental Ego

Transcendental (eidos)                            Chalkness


Empirical                                                    Chalk


MP rejects the eidetic definition and applies a method of “eidetic variation”: reaching the limits of an idea (i.e. chalkness) so that it loses it’s essence and is defined by it’s alterity or what stands outside of the domain of that idea. i.e understanding normal behavior through the study of pathologies. MP keeps rejecting the Husserlian transcendental and states that the eidos is existential. (Preface of Phenomenology of Perception)

            MP baises his studies on the Gestalt psychology (psychology of the form) practiced by Kohler, Koffka, Gelb and Goldstein.

            -> the figure against the background: the ambiguous figure

            -> the whole is bigger than the summation of the parts.

            -> Imitation exists as part of a linguistic system: the child imitates adults in order to attain a goal, not to just for the sake of imitation. (Gesture)

            -> “tendre vers”: to orient oneself towards an expression without achieving it yet, intentionality (Direction)

            -> movement towards expression and meaning.


MP argues against two types of classical theory of perception: Associationalism (scientific) and rationalism (idealistic). His own approach is based on sense experience as meaning and reference to the body: perception is not just a collection of data but stands at the basis of a linguistic system (body/language).

            - “nous sommes condamnes au sens” (we are condemned to the meaning)

            - “sens” (French): sense, meaning, direction

            - In Husserl: “Sinn” means eidos, “Sinngebung” means giving meaning or intentionality.

            - Phenomenological field: field of experience (lived, le vecu).

            -> sense: aspect of embodiment (incarnation: becoming bodily). i.e. holding or sensing a bottle. (Meaning is a sensual experience)


            Since the phenomenological field is limited to (altered by) the 5 senses, MP applies the eidetic variation rule to approach a pre-scientific life of consciousness, an experiential field that already exists before one can reflect on it. Also referred to as “ambiguous field”, it is a place where meanings are interwoven, not fixed.

            ->spatiality and motility of our body as it is lived and not as projection. We live the world bodily or sexually.

            -> Similarly language is not defined by words and syntax but by “gesture” and “expression”. We use language as we use our limbs to express and understand the world.

            - the speaking subject : subjectivity is existential

            -> there is no subject apart from speaking or being bodily: thought is language.


             Sartre states that “consciousness is consciousness of something” (or of an “object”), and that consciousness is only an “emotive consciousness”. For MP, consciousness is “tendre vers”, the essence of language acquisition, intentionality: living the world in an embodied way (the body is neither an object nor an outsider).