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Northwestern University Press
Merleau-Ponty Reader

Merleau-Ponty Reader


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The first reader to offer a comprehensive view of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's (1908-1961) work, this selection collects in one volume the foundational essays necessary for understanding the core of this critical twentieth-century philosopher's thought.

Arranged chronologically, the essays are grouped in three sections corresponding to the major periods of Merleau-Ponty's work:  First, the years prior to his appointment to the Sorbonne in 1949, the early, existentialist period during which he wrote important works on the phenomenology of perception and the primacy of perception; second, the years of his work as professor of child psychology and pedagogy at the Sorbonne, period especially concerned with language; and finally, his years as chair of modern philosophy at the College de France, a time devoted to the articulation of a new ontology and philosophy of nature. The editors, who provide an interpretive introduction, also include previously unpublished working notes found in Merleau-Ponty's papers after his death. Translations of all selections have been updated and several appear here in English for the first time.

By contextualizing Merleau-Ponty's writings on the philosophy of art and politics within the overall development of his thought, this volume allows readers to see both the breadth of his contribution to twentieth-century philosophy and the convergence of the various strands of his reflection.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810120433
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 08/28/2007
Series: Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 504
Sales rank: 651,950
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Ted Toadvine is an assistant professor of philosophy and environmental studies at University of Oregon and the co-editor of Merleau-Ponty’s Reading of Husserl (Springer, 2002) and Eco-Phenomenology: Back to the Earth Itself (SUNY, 2003). He is also the co-translator (with Leonard Lawlor) of  Renaud Barbaras’s The Being of the Phenomenon (Indiana, 2004).
Leonard Lawlor is Faudree-Hardin University Professor of Philosophy at the University of Memphis and the author of The Challenge of Bergsonism: Phenomenology, Ontology, Ethics (Continuum, 2003) and Thinking through French Philosophy: The Being of the Question (Indiana, 2003).  He is also the editor and co-translator (with Bettina Bergo) of Merleau-Ponty’s Husserl at the Limits of Phenomenology (Northwestern, 2001) and the co-translator (with Ted Toadvine) of Renaud Barbaras’s The Being of the Phenomenon (Indiana, 2004).

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By Ted Toadvine Leonard Lawlor
Northwestern University Press
Copyright © 2007

Northwestern University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8101-2043-3

Chapter One The Relations of the Soul and the Body and the Problem of Perceptual Consciousness

Part 1. The Classical Solutions

1. Naive Consciousness and Its Empirical Realism

That naive consciousness is realistic has been affirmed too much. Or at least a distinction should be made in this regard between the opinions of common sense, the manner in which it verbally accounts for perception, and the perceptual experiences themselves; verbalized perception should be distinguished from lived perception. If we return to objects as they appear to us when we live in them without speech and without reflection and if we try to describe their mode of existence faithfully, they do not evoke any realistic metaphor. If I adhere to what immediate consciousness tells me, the desk which I see in front of me and on which I am writing, the room in which I am and whose walls enclose me beyond the sensible field, the garden, the street, the city and, finally, the whole of my spatial horizon do not appear to me to be causes of the perception which I have of them, causes which would impress their mark on me and produce an image of themselves by a transitive action. It seems to me rather that my perception is like a beam of light which reveals the objects there where they are and manifests their presence, latent until then. Whether I myself perceive or consider another subject perceiving, it seems to me that the gaze "is posed" on objects and reaches them from a distance-as is well expressed by the use of the Latin lumina for designating the gaze. Doubtless I know that my present experience of this desk is not complete, that it shows me only some of its aspects: be it the color, the form, or the size, I know very well that they would vary under another lighting, from another point of view and standing in another place; I know that "the desk" is not reducible to the determinations with which it is presently clothed. But in immediate consciousness this perspectival character of my knowledge is not conceived as an accident in regard to it, as an imperfection relative to the existence of my body and its proper point of view; and knowledge by "profiles" is not treated as the degradation of a true knowledge which would grasp the totality of the possible aspects of the object all at once. Perspective does not appear to me to be a subjective deformation of things but, on the contrary, to be one of their properties, perhaps their essential property. It is precisely because of it that the perceived possesses in itself a hidden and inexhaustible richness, that it is a "thing." In other words, when one speaks of the perspectivism of knowledge, the expression is equivocal. It can mean that only the perspectival projection of objects would be given to primitive knowledge; and in this sense the expression is inexact, since the first reactions of an infant are adapted, for example, to the distance of objects-a fact which excludes the idea of a phenomenal world originally without depth. From the beginning perspectivism is known as such and not something to which we are subject. Far from introducing a coefficient of subjectivity into perception, it provides it on the contrary with the assurance of communicating with a world which is richer than what we know of it, that is, of communicating with a real world. The profiles of my desk are not given to direct knowledge as appearances without value, but as "manifestations" of the desk. Although naive consciousness never confuses the thing with the manner which it has of appearing to us, and precisely because it does not make this confusion, it is the thing itself which naive consciousness thinks it is reaching, and not some inner double, some subjective reproduction. It does not imagine that the body or that mental "representations" function as a screen between itself and reality. The perceived is grasped in an indivisible manner as "in-itself," that is, as gifted with an interior which I will never have finished exploring; and as "for-me," that is, as given "in person" through its momentary aspects. Neither this metallic spot which moves while I turn my gaze toward it, nor even the geometric and shiny mass which emerges from it when I look at it, nor finally, the set of perspectival images which I have been able to have of it are the ashtray; they do not exhaust the sense of the "this" by which I designate it; and, nevertheless, it is the ashtray which appears in all of them. This is not the place to analyze further the paradoxical relation of the "aspects" to the thing, of the "manifestations" to that which is manifested by them and beyond them. But what we have said is sufficient to show that this relation is original and founds a consciousness of reality in a specific manner. The perspectival aspect of the ashtray is not to the "ashtray itself" what one event is to another event which it indicates, or what a sign is to that which it signifies. Neither the sequence of "states of consciousness" nor the logical organization of thought accounts for perception: the first, because it is an external relation while the perspectival appearances of the ashtray are representative of each other; the second, because it presupposes a mind in possession of its object while my will is without direct action on the unfolding of the perceived perspectives and because their concordant multiplicity is organized of itself. A "cube" is not what I see of it, since I see only three sides at a time; but no more is it a judgment by which I link together the successive appearances. A judgment, that is, a coordination conscious of itself, would be necessary only if the isolated appearances were given beforehand, which is counter to the hypothesis of intellectualism. Something of the empiricism which it surmounts always remains in intellectualism-something like a repressed empiricism. Thus, to do justice to our direct experience of things it would be necessary to maintain at the same time, against empiricism, that they are beyond their sensible manifestations, and, against intellectualism, that they are not unities in the order of judgment, that they are incarnated in their apparitions. The "things" in naive experience are evident as perspectival beings: it is essential to them both to offer themselves without interposed milieu and to reveal themselves only gradually and never completely; they are mediated by their perspectival appearances; but it is not a question of a logical mediation, since it introduces us to their carnal reality; I grasp in a perspectival appearance, which I know is only one of its possible aspects, the thing itself which transcends it. A transcendence which is nevertheless open to my knowledge-this is the very definition of a thing as it is intended by naive consciousness. Whatever difficulty one may find in conceptualizing perception described in this way, it is for us to accommodate ourselves to it; this is the way that we perceive and that consciousness lives in things. Nothing is more foreign to perception, therefore, than the idea of a universe which would produce in us representations which are distinct from it by means of a causal action. To speak Kantian language, the realism of naive consciousness is an empirical realism-the assurance of an external experience in which there is no doubt about escaping "states of consciousness" and acceding to solid objects-and not a transcendental realism which, as a philosophical thesis, would posit these objects as the ungraspable causes of "representations" which alone are given.

The bodily mediation most frequently escapes me: when I witness events that interest me, I am scarcely aware of the perpetual breaks which the blinking of the eyelids imposes on the spectacle, and they do not figure in my memory. But after all, I know very well that I am able to interrupt the spectacle by closing my eyes, that I see by the intermediary of my eyes. This knowledge does not prevent my believing that I see the things themselves when my gaze is posed upon them. This is because the body proper and its organs remain the bases or vehicles of my intentions and are not yet grasped as "physiological realities." The body is present to the soul as external things are present; in neither case is it a question of a causal relation between the two terms. The unity of the human has not yet been broken; the body has not been stripped of human predicates; it has not yet become a machine; and the soul has not yet been defined as existence for-itself. Naive consciousness does not see in the soul the cause of the movements of the body, nor does it put the soul in the body as the pilot in his ship. This way of thinking belongs to philosophy; it is not implied in immediate experience. Since the body itself is not grasped as a material and inert mass or as an external instrument but as the living envelope of our actions, the principle of these actions has no need of being a quasi-physical force. Our intentions find their natural clothing or their embodiment in movements and are expressed in them as the thing is expressed in its perspectival aspects. Thus, thinking can be "in the throat," as the children questioned by Piaget say it is, without any contradiction or confusion of the extended and the non-extended, because the throat is not yet an ensemble of vibrating cords capable of producing the sonorous phenomena of language, because it remains that privileged region of a qualitative space where my signifying intentions are unfolded in words. Since the soul remains coextensive with nature, since the perceiving subject does not grasp himself as a microcosm into which messages of external events would make their way mediately and since his gaze extends over the things themselves, to act upon them is not for him to get outside the self and provoke a local movement in a fragment of extension; it is to make an intention explode in the phenomenal field in a cycle of significative gestures, or to join to the things in which he lives the action which they solicit by an attraction comparable to that of the first unmoved mover. One can say, if you like, that the relation of the thing perceived to perception, or of the intention to the gestures which realize it, is a magical relation in naive consciousness; but it would still be necessary to understand magical consciousness as it understands itself and not to reconstruct it from subsequent categories. The subject does not live in a world of states of consciousness or representations from which he would believe himself able to act on and know external things by a sort of miracle. He lives in a universe of experience, in a milieu which is neutral with regard to the substantial distinctions between the organism, thought, and extension; he lives in a direct commerce with beings, things, and his own body. The ego as a center from which his intentions radiate, the body which carries them, and the beings and things to which they are addressed are not confused: but they are only three sectors of a unique field. Things are things, that is, transcendent with respect to all that I know of them and accessible to other perceiving subjects, but intended precisely as things; as such they are the indispensable moment of the lived dialectic which embraces them.

2. The Philosophical Realism of the Sensible

But on the other hand consciousness discovers, particularly in illness, a resistance of the body proper. Since an injury to the eyes is sufficient to eliminate vision, we must then see through the body. Since an illness is sufficient to modify the phenomenal world, it must be then that the body forms a screen between us and things. In order to understand this strange power of the body to upset the entire spectacle of the world, we are obliged to renounce the image of it which direct experience gives us. The phenomenal body, with the human determinations which permitted consciousness not to be distinguished from it, is going to take on the status of appearance; the "real body" will be the one which we know through anatomy or, more generally, through the isolating methods of analysis: an ensemble of organs of which we have no notion in immediate experience and which interpose their mechanisms, their unknown powers, between ourselves and things. One could still conserve the favorite metaphor of naive consciousness and admit that the subject perceives according to his body-as a colored glass modifies what the beam illuminates-without denying him access to the things themselves or putting them outside him. But the body appears capable of manufacturing a pseudo-perception. Thus certain phenomena of which it is the seat must be the necessary and sufficient condition for perception; the body must be the necessary intermediary between the real world and perception, which are henceforth disassociated from each other. Perception can no longer be a taking-possession of things which finds them in their proper place; it must be an event internal to the body and one which results from their action on it. The world divides in two. There will be the real world as it is outside my body and the world as it is for me, numerically distinct from the first; the external cause of perception and the internal object which it contemplates will have to be separated. The body proper has become a material mass and, correlatively, the subject withdraws from it to contemplate its representations within himself. Instead of the three inseparable terms bound together in the living unity of an experience which a pure description reveals, one finds oneself in the presence of three orders of events which are external to each other: the events of nature, the organic events, and those of thought, which will explain each other. Perception will result from an action of the thing on the body and of the body on the soul. First it is the sensible, the perceived itself, to which the functions of extramental things are attributed; then the problem is to understand how a duplicate or an imitation of the real is aroused in the body, then in thought. Since a picture makes us think of what it represents, it will be supposed-based on the privileged case of the visual apparatus-that the senses receive "little pictures" of real things which excite the soul to perceive them. The Epicurean "simulacra" or the "intentional forms," "all those little images fluttering through the air" which bring the sensible aspect of things into the body, only transpose the ideal presence of the thing to the perceiving subject into terms of causal explanation and real operations. It is the former, as we have seen, which is an evidence for naive consciousness. In default of a numerical identity the philosopher seeks to maintain a specific identity between the perceived and the real, to have the distinctive characteristic of the perceived come from the things themselves; this is why perception is understood as an imitation or a duplication in us of sensible things, or as the actualization in the soul of something which was potentially in an external sensible thing.


Excerpted from THE MERLEAU-PONTY READER by Ted Toadvine Leonard Lawlor
Copyright © 2007 by Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Editors’ Introduction
Part I. The Pre-Sorbonne Period (preceding 1949)
Chapter 1. The Relations of the Soul and the Body and the Problem of Perceptual Consciousness
Chapter 2. The War Has Taken Place

Chapter 3. What is Phenomenology?
Chapter 4. Cézanne's Doubt
Chapter 5. The Contemporary Philosophical Movement
Chapter 6. The Primacy of Perception and its Philosophical Consequences

Chapter 7. Reality and its Shadow
Part II. The Sorbonne Period (1949-1952)
Chapter 8. A Note on Machiavelli
Chapter 9. The Adversary is Complicit

Chapter 10. The Child’s Relations with Others
Chapter 11. Human Engineering: The New ‘Human’ Techniques of American Big Business
 Chapter 12. Man and Adversity
Chapter 13. Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence
Chapter 14. An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus of his Work

Part III. The Collège de France Period (1952-1961)

Chapter 15. Epilogue to Adventures of the Dialectic
Chapter 16. Preface to Signs
Chapter 17. Eye and Mind

Chapter 18. Merleau-Ponty in Person
Chapter 19. The Intertwining—The Chiasm
Chapter 20. New Working Notes from the Period of The Visible and the Invisible

Biography of Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Chronological Bibliography of Merleau-Ponty's Works

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