Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Maurice Merleau -Ponty (born 14 March 1908 in Rochefort- sur -Mer, † May 3, 1961 in Paris) was a French philosopher and phenomenologist.


Merleau -Ponty was raised primarily by his mother, to whom he maintained throughout his life a close bond, in the Catholic sense. He became known in 1926 with Jean -Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Hyppolite, after he had completed in 1924 his school career with the " baccalauréat ".

In 1930, he put his Agrégation into philosophy. Have influenced him, especially the writings of Henri Bergson and Léon Brunschvicg. Also, the writer, philosopher and historian Émile Bréhier and Jean Laporte influenced him. From 1931-35 was Merleau-Ponty teachers in Beauvais and Chartres. This was followed by 1935-39 a job as a tutor at the École normale supérieure. 1935-37 he also worked on the journal Esprit, heard in 1935 Hegel lectures by Alexandre Kojève and began the study of Karl Marx.

From 1939-40 Merleau -Ponty worked as a philosophy teacher at various schools in Paris. 1944/1945 he was the successor to Jean -Paul Sartre at the Paris Lycée Condorcet. In 1945 he received his doctorate. After a university career in Lyon joined, where he taught as a professor of philosophy. In 1948 he was co-founder of the Comité français d' échanges avec l' Allemagne nouvelle in Paris. From 1949-52 he worked as a professor of child psychology and pedagogy at the Sorbonne. In 1952, Merleau- Ponty, a professor of philosophy at the prestigious Collège de France. In 1955 he broke with Sartre and Beauvoir. In 1959, he increasingly devoted himself to the work of The Visible and the Invisible, which he could not finish. On May 3, 1961 Merleau -Ponty died unexpectedly.


Merleau -Ponty is next to Paul Ricoeur, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean -Paul Sartre, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Levinas and Aron Gurwitsch one of the most important representatives of French phenomenology.

Because of its close ties to Jean -Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, he is often mistaken for a existentialists; though the existentialism flows into the work of Merleau -Ponty, it can not be assigned to this philosophical direction because of its (rather conservative ) rejection of any provision of existence as absolute or isolated yet. Despite all the differences between the philosophical designs many of its individual phenomenological analyzes are those such as Jean -Paul Sartre congruent.

Merleau -Ponty's philosophy can enter the phenomenology in an intensive dialogue with the thinking styles of structuralism, Gestalt theory, psychology, and various philosophical traditions of thought. The focus of his extremely diverse and far -thinking ausspannenden work is the role of the body, as the human beings experience themselves and the world here.

Basic idea

After an intense confrontation with Husserl and his assistant and pupil, Heidegger, Merleau -Ponty offers a "third way " to illuminate the fundamental relationship of existence and world by seeing the basic constitution of the subject not as Husserl in the intentionality of consciousness, and also not in its being as Dasein in Heidegger's sense, but in its corporeality, he works out in an oscillating conversation between empiricism and intellectualism. The to-understand from their original world experience, he sets against the worldly being of Dasein in Heidegger and against the constitution of the world in Husserl, which he sees as a subsequent reconstruction and assess as far from a phenomenological Deskription. Especially at this point, shows the positive critical extension of phenomenology by Merleau -Ponty. One of the major consequences which he draws from the study of Husserl's phenomenology, is the impossibility of complete reduction. Important terms of the philosophy of Merleau -Ponty and for their understanding are constitutive

  • Ambiguity
  • Body ( le corps propre )
  • Intentionality,

Which are used by the philosopher in the specific meaning of Husserl's phenomenology. Today, the ambiguity turns out to be problematic term that Merleau-Ponty is different again in a good and a bad ambiguity in his later thinking. Merleau -Ponty uses the coined by Husserl concept of " acting intentionality " that takes place behind the conscious orientation to objects. It remains the self-reflection of the ego a secret for long, since it is the condition of possibility of self-reflection. Accordingly, the operative intentionality is a fundamental, human nature immanent prerequisite for the intentionality of consciousness.


The body of the world is an expression that Merleau-Ponty coined for the intermediate region between subject and object. This body he summarized thematically with the term "ambiguity " ( ambiguity ).

A key example of this ambiguity is that of self- touching hands. In this phenomenon the ambiguiöse experience emerges. Since we are here for us neither pure consciousness - because then we would perceive ourselves completely in our abundance - still pure thing - because then we would be in the dissolved beyond what we are (see also Sartre ) -, our being is oscillating both as the experience of " touching the Touched " shows. Like a puzzle picture we are looking at an intermediate realm of meaning, in is not the one-sided resolution, but the most enduring of the Open. While we embrace our own hands, but do not capture it entirely. The body is therefore ambiguiös according to Merleau -Ponty, because he is neither a pure thing still pure consciousness.

Being seen not in its fullness, it eludes complete transparency (see " shadowing " in Husserl ). The limits of perception are illustrated by the correspondence between the visible and the invisible. The invisible is not a not-yet- seen - being, but a fundamental concealment (see also Heidegger and his concept of " aletheia " ), which is established in seeing itself ( perspectivism ). An object is on a non- themed background. One in all perspectives at the same time seen object is unthinkable or even impossible to imagine.


Body is the mediating agency between mind and body for Merleau -Ponty. Since he as mentioned above, moves empiricism and intellectualism, between the two positions, the body is the term for the place of foundation of the people in the world. Method applied, Merleau- Ponty before so that he finished the example of the considerations theories of empiricism and intellectualism its implications and consequences shows, so it hits their statement boundaries and focuses her Thoughtless. In this context, he brings a wealth of examples of psychopathology, particularly descriptions of the Gestalt psychologists Adhemar yellow and Kurt Goldstein. By using these cases to trace the explanatory models of psychology, but also philosophy, he shows their limitation to explain. About this descriptions and analyzes Merleau- Ponty came to his concept of the body as an intermediary between these two positions: the body refers to a "third dimension " beyond empiricism and intellectualism. So he comes, for example, to the conclusion that space is not to be understood as an extract of an intellectual power, but:

This is Merleau-Ponty everyday conviction on the head, which perceives his own body as part of the room. To this he opposes, however, that if this were so, we would have an abstract, cognitive access to the world - but which contradict the phenomenological analysis. On the contrary, the space that surrounds us, seems to be rather a consequence of our original physical anchorage in the world. Because we are the body, we have room. Thus, for example, the geometry of "only" a result of a " restriction " our life-world space relationship.


Husserl's notion of intentionality is constitutive of Merleau -Ponty's thinking. Intentionality in Husserl has the following features, which are only taken over some of Merleau -Ponty:

  • The directedness to a thing, a situation, etc.
  • Intentionality is divided into that to which consciousness is directed ( noema ) and the intendierende consciousness itself ( noesis ).

Up to this point both authors agree. The following three aspects considered Merleau-Ponty as problematic:

  • On the noesis page can in turn be distinguished between experience types: sensory data, the intentional states of consciousness and the mere sense-data, which are not even intentional, but as a " carrier " of the states of consciousness ( the act does not, however, as Husserl sometimes ambiguous and in the sense of represent empiricism [ Husserl revised this term in his later philosophy again ] ).
  • These acts constitute the stream of consciousness, which in turn, Husserl,
  • Refers to an ego as the Identitätspol of consciousness ( precisely herein lies the later Merleau -Ponty's criticism justified).

The considerations of a horizon and the resulting world concept can be adopted by Merleau- Ponty so again:

  • On the noema page there is an article which is intended by a purpose and a meaning.
  • The subject is not understood in the context of a necessary number of themed meaning structure that Husserl calls " horizons ". The synthesis of all horizons is the world.

Merleau -Ponty criticizes the phenomenological concept of intentionality Husserl, where this is understood as a directedness to an object. Which it presupposes an original intentionality, which consists in a " physical relation of oneself " to the phenomena that is vorprädikativ and closely follows the concept of the lifeworld in Husserl.

Major works

In particular, in the structure of the behavior and the Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty is making an attempt to overcome the traditional dichotomies between mind and body, intellectualism and objectivism. In The Visible and the Invisible, a posthumously published collection of texts by Merleau -Ponty, the perceiving body resigns as central idea.

In his main work " The Phenomenology of Perception " Merleau-Ponty provides a complete phenomenological analysis of the world with which he wants to bring to an end Husserl's claim " To the things themselves ." Starting point of Merleau -Ponty 's description of the experience before each epistemological construction. World is therefore according to Merleau -Ponty, a phenomenon that is not to construct, but to describe applies. This is accompanied by the assumption that objective knowledge without any prejudice is not possible. There is for Merleau-Ponty thus not independent, unitary sensations, impressions or insights that would be made only subsequently by associations in a relationship. The experience of the world, namely the perception not, results from a retrospective compilation of previously independently existing elements, but rather provides a world mainly single preceding original totality dar. The scientific analysis of individual moments so go by that preceding totality of.

The perception can therefore be neither explained by the empiricism of an idealistic transcendental philosophy, as both abstract and forget that the perception is concrete and tied to a sense that results in a ratio of one's body to the world of her. Indicative of this ratio is, the structure object - horizon: All objects show up only on a background, a horizon. The horizon, however, is different than the respective object transcendent (as such also a real horizon just never reach ). So it can not come to a consideration of this as a separate object in the experience of the world, because the body is always located in the middle of it and communicates through his behavior with her. Accordingly, the world can not be confined to separate properties, but always forms a milieu whose components are connected to each other, as for example not the mere property are red, but only a red carpet or sky.

This corresponds to the representation of perception as a phenomenological field in which the perceived references to each other and is dependent and which the posture and movement of the body is an appropriate and comprehensible only through the latter. For example, space is never experienced as rigid- geometric, but is always conditioned by the situation of his own body, and also the perception of things is always of their significance, their meaning, intended for the own body, while an objective perception only in the abstract, so reductionist, can be thought of. However, this usefulness is not subjectivism, because the body is always already engaged in the world that transcends it, and dealing with others, the objects are not merely an inescapable dimension of existence. In order to meet this, we need a new Cogito that no longer uses Cartesian subject, but about the experience of time as a mode of perception, not an objective sequence, which I understand as of situated in a world phenomenon, as in the world I bonded to each other, as they without one causing the other, motivate each other throughout.

Later philosophy

In the later philosophy of the approach is radicalized. Instead of the body of the "meat " occurs, called by Merleau -Ponty, " chair", in the center, in which case the term "meat" expresses that the philosopher is looking for an original, non- mediated experience. Here, too, especially in the work occurs, The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau -Ponty's motivation to days, " the still mute experience to express ". Merleau -Ponty starts from a chiasm ( intertwining ) of body and world in the flesh ( chair ):

"... The seen world is not 'in' to my body, and my body is ultimately not 'in' the visible world: as meat, it has to do with a flesh surrounds him neither the world, nor is it of surrounded him. [ ... ] There is a mutual Eingelassensein and intertwining of one to the other. " ( Merleau -Ponty 1994, p 182)

The 'meat' ( chair ) is here to be confused neither with the body, nor with mere materiality. Instead, it is lived, experienced may, phenomenally experienced materiality. The "meat" is thus precisely the point at which the body and the world meet: The body is always already part of the visible world - at the same time, the world is always experienced through the body. Merleau -Ponty in this context, again and again the example of the left hand touching the right. At the moment of touching feeling the hand is an inside and outside at the same time - it reveals itself as belonging to the same time in the world ( because of outside touchable and visible) as well as noticeable from the inside.

Effect and reception

Unlike his famous colleague Jean -Paul Sartre, Merleau -Ponty has never reached its widespread impact. The confrontation with his thought was essentially limited to the university context, not least because of the complex issues and which the reader hard -disclosing of thought and expression. Lately, however, the reception Merleau- Ponty is increasing in fields that deal thematically with the mind-body dualism. In particular, this happens (called by some representatives also aware of " body psychotherapy" ) in the directions of body psychotherapy and Gestalt therapy ( primarily as an "integrated" understanding formation of Hilarion Petzold ). Interesting points of contact made ​​with the thinking of the philosopher Michel Foucault in the area of ​​" body disciplines ". About this thinking branch then result also links to feminist philosophy. Merleau -Ponty's philosophy is also the basis for the theory of perception, Alva Noë and Kevin O'Regans and, for technical theory Gilbert Simondon. Finally, his essays influenced about Paul Cézanne, " Cézanne's Doubt " (1945 ) and " The eye and the mind " (1961), more recent art history. Especially the older of the two essays is now regarded as the standard work of Cézanne research.

Political commitment

Maurice Merleau -Ponty was a long time in the shadow of Jean -Paul Sartre, with the one connected him the intention to substantiate the Husserlian phenomenology, on the other, the will to interpret the political situation after 1945 and to become politically active. The literature on Merleau -Ponty, however, whose political writings have so far been largely ignored ( Humanism and Terror from 1947, meaning and Nicht-Sinn/1948, The Adventures of Dialektik/1955 ).

His work Humanism and Terror. An experiment of communism was a response to Arthur Koestler's book eclipse, in which the latter published his personal reckoning with communism after the great Stalinist purges and show trials. Merleau -Ponty considered the problem of communist violence as a political phenomenon. It was not a question that communism does not respect the principles established by liberal thinking rules, because they were only human in the abstract, but not in practice. Liberalism is based on the exploitation of colonies and twenty wars. His humane ideas are a liberal mystification, because without his acts of violence is not the liberalism conceivable. More important question is whether the violence that performers communism, is revolutionary and therefore capable of producing human relationships between people in real life. Using the example of Bukharin and Trotsky, he went to the historical role of terror under communism and the possibilities of Marxist humanism to overcome terrorism. This original 1946/1947 resulting font was in 1966, after the start of the massive American involvement in the Vietnam War, launched by Edition Suhrkamp again appeared in the many texts that were read and discussed in the student movement of the 60s.

Marriage some of the arguments are addressed, which show why this sharpened phenomenology and Merleau -Ponty's policy remained one another contingent, recall the obvious strength of Merleauschen ' Leib' phenomenology: Phenomenology can be described as a kind of thinking that keeps undecided between those philosophies that explain awareness on the anthropological core, and those which give the holder an ' unconscious ' that position. In the broad field of phenomenology of Merleau -Ponty's philosophy wants a fundamental redefinition of the relationship between consciousness and nature. From the inclusion of the phenomenon of the body in the philosophical reflection Merleau- Ponty expected to overcome the alternative ' realism - idealism '. He tries to overcome the dualism of body and mind, by phenomenologically that whole describes as which human beings experience themselves. The body takes on the philosophical reflection Merleau -Ponty's an excellent position and is therefore the basis for a redefinition of existence and the world. However, he preferred an indirect method of approaching phenomena. He has less apart on practical consequences as sure to follow an ethos of perception. This way of thinking difficult Merleau -Ponty access to a political philosophy or political affairs.