Category Archives: Merleau-Ponty

Merleau-Ponty – tear down the Cartesian wall…

Merleau-Ponty, my newest adventure, is about to resolve my thirteen year dilemma of trying to justify objective truth through subjective experience. Not he alone, of course. It required a culmination of experiences. They all had to be in order for the whole thing to make sense. Stein to Hussserl to Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty. Had the order been reversed I think I would have ricocheted off the atmosphere. But what Merleau-Ponty is about to tell me as we walk together along the river bank is that there is no dilemma in the first place. I’ve spent thirteen years fighting a non-existent opponent.

The world has never escaped Descartes’ dualism of perception, he will say. This Cartesian mess goes as follows. The world is full of objects (objective). We cannot trust what we see (Methodical Doubt); therefore, what I perceive is only “an idea” in my mind. It references the object but is not the object. What I perceive is only “in my own head” (I think therefore I am). Therefore we have a split in perceptual understanding – an objective reality that I only can understand subjectively, as an idea in my own mind. As my subjective understanding merely is “an idea in my own mind,” I cannot possibly say that my perception is true, or reality.

That almost perfectly describes the world today. It is the source of our bitter contestations of ideologies. Merleau-Ponty says balderdash to Descartes. Such a split between an objective world and a subjective world of ideas does not exist. It’s a terrible model that is crippling humanity. I sort of know where he’s going based on the other phenomenologists (Stein, Husserl, Heidegger). What he, and the rest of them, are saying to us is, you are starting off badly. Let’s go back, as Husserl says, “to the things themselves.”

This is the refreshing thing about the phenoms. People *too often* see them as “subjective.” They think it is about “perception” and not objective reality. Not at all. It is the opposite. The phenoms are trying to say that it is through subjective experience that we understand objective truths. Through experiential intuition, we know reality, the world as it is, “the things themselves.” Descartes built a wall between the two, between the world and the mind. What Merleau-Ponty is about to tell me as I walk along the river bank with him is (imagine Pink Floyd playing in the background) “tear down the wall!”

Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of ‘singing the world’

I’m already learning a couple of things from my newest adventure into the mind of Merleau-Ponty. One is a relief, expressing the success of my model; the other is a conviction, revealing the failure of my project. Had I read MP eight years ago, I likely would not have felt a need to go on, but then again, eight years ago, I would not have known how to receive MP. The biggest learning lesson early on is the understanding of where I’m failing. That’s what I need to know.”

Philosophy, re-conceived by Merleau-Ponty as expressing the world, as ‘singing the world;’ chanter le monde (PP 187, PP-F 218), is an endless task, but not a futile one. It is the ongoing work of renewing our connections to the world, of embracing our very being as flesh and nature, of remaining alive to our being with each other. At the same time, it is also about celebrating the creative, transformative powers of thought, language, and philosophy itself.” ~ Lawrence Hass. Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy (Studies in Continental Thought) (Kindle Locations 184-186). Kindle Edition.

The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty

Phenomenology of Perception does not seem to be available in Kindle at the moment. But this book is highly recommended by reviewers and looks like a good investment. I have to get my arms around these phenoms.

I’m thinking Merleau-Ponty might be a key to my next phase which is to understand how we can have such empathy with almost anyone at the level of perception and intuition but dissipate so widely in the vulgarity of socio-politics.

Merleau-Ponty left the Church for socialism. I left everything for the Church. Why can I (it seems with only my toe in the water) related to his thoughts so well?

Walking along a river bank with Merleau-Ponty

“What then have we learned from our examination of the world of perception? We have discovered that it is impossible, in this world, to separate things from their way of appearing.” ~ Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception (p. 70). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

I am reading a short book of Merleau-Ponty’s lectures he read over French radio around 1948. I am likely going to need to break down and get his opus Phenomenology of Perception. These lectures are fascinating. The French style is very different than the German. The French talk about what they’re thinking, while the Germans tell you what they’re thinking, and in precise order.

I imagine walking along a river bank with Merleau-Ponty. I would be fascinated with his lecturing but would not know quite what to say. Have you ever been around someone fascinating who turns to you for a reaction, and you’re not quite sure what to say because you’re not entirely sure what they said. But you liked it, so you just sort of deflect with a “yeah, cool!” kind of remark.

How is it that one can identify with another at the level of perception but then disagree so vehemently at the vulgar level of politics? That’s what has me thinking. I can read Merleau-Ponty or Sartre with delight. But how do we end up so differently in the practical world?

Merleau-Ponty hints at the answer himself. We never escape the influence of those with whom we choose to agree. He left the Church for socialism. I left everything for the Church. But walking side-by-side on that river bank, I find him delightful.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty and meaning before technocracy

I finished the book on Husserl and decided to make one more stretch into Maurice Merleau-Ponty, yet another phenomenologist, an associate of Sartre and Camus, and greatly influenced by Husserl and Heidegger.

It did not take long to feel the impact. Merleau-Ponty saw art, music, and phenomenological philosophy as the solution to our modern entrapment by scientism and technocracy. We have lost touch with the world around us. We are told to ignore meaning for the sake of technology. What is meaningful is not important. That’s just a subjective product of your own mind. Science, on the other hand, is real! MP says, no. Actually the world of perception and meaning is real. Science is merely a shadow of that reality. But the biggest light that turned on for me was this…

It is not so much what I developed in my phenomenological model I have worked on for over a decade. It’s that I did develop it! I stepped beyond the world of corporations, technocracy, and “the natural attitude.” In doing so I stepped into a world of perceptual meaning that transcends the technocratic order. That was Merleau-Ponty’s point.

And to prove this point, I am finding true commonality, true empathy (though not necessarily ideological agreement) with the likes of Leftist Marxists such as Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Camus, with national socialists such as Heidegger, and with Carmelite saints such as Edith Stein. There is a commonality of meaning that transcends the awful state in which we find ourselves, whereby I can reach the humanity of a wide array of fellow travelers, most with whom I disagree at the lower, more vulgar domain of politics.

*That* is why we need art, and music, and… phenomenology. Folks, we do not have much time. We need a new way of thinking, a new way of communicating, and pathway to transcendent empathy.