Dermot Moran: Introduction to Phenomenology

[Readings] (08.29.08, 4:56 pm)


Moran gives an overview and biography of Merleau-Ponty’s life. Merleau-Ponty was influenced by Christian socialism, and later transitioned into Marxism. He studied works on behaviorism and perception, and criticized behaviorism of suffering from “feigned anesthesia”, in that behaviorism requires that the subject feels nothing. Merleau-Ponty is credited with linking gestalt psychology with phenomeonlogical “being in the world”.

Sartre and Merleau-Ponty had a collaborative relationship the Second World War, in their pursuit of existentialism and phenomenology. The two were considered offering rival interpretations of existential phenomenology.

Merleau-Ponty joined Sartre in the French communist party, and they supported the USSR through its various failings. Later, Merleau-Ponty came to see, via the Korean War, Soviet communism as an imperialist force, which was a break with Sartre.

Eventually, they reconciled, and in the later years of Merleau-Ponty’s life, he did work trying to build connections from phenomenology to structuralism. Additionally published on science and how modern science needs to understand its relation with the world.

Merleau-Ponty was primary mission was philosophy, and his overall goal was to use Husserl to uncover the ‘roots of rationality’. Philosophy is a means of understanding awareness, which of course relates strongly to phenomenology.

A challenge is to uncover pre-conceptual experience (which is done in cognitive science, and learning theory, discovering how people build models). Objective thought (reason?) does not generally acknowledge models as being perceived or constructed though. Furthermore, analysis in this level of understanding draws down to the “irreducibility of the real world”: “The real is to be described not constructed or constituted”. Experience requires a self, and this self is inseparable from the world.

Merleau-Ponty was influenced by Levi-Strauss, and by the non-historicality of structuralism that Levi-Strauss posed. Specifically, Merleau-Ponty saw temporal thinking as interfering with language: “The congealing of temporal thinking into language and concepts acts to fix meanings, to give the appearance of absoluteness.” The ideas of structure and system and language were seen as heavily connected to perception.

Merleau-Ponty is rejecting a linear or single-explanation of history. Instead, time is something that is experienced and lived within, and cannot be seen from the outside.

Levi-Strauss did some work on looking at anthropology from a structuralist perspective, composed of binary oppositions. Ie, raw and cooked, or up/down, light/dark, etc. These could potentially be seen as embodied understandings. It still seems odd in association with phenomenology, but connection can be made via embodiment.

Merleau-Ponty is influenced by the method of Husserl, which is the principle of *reduction*.

The human body is an expressive space, which contributes to human action. Speech is not only the expression of ideas, but it may have power of signification.

Phenomenology lives between two extremes- Cartesian, which understands the mind and understands thought as a fully internal thing, which interacts with the outside world through very prescribed means of perception. This has an internalized means of understanding the self as subject and the world and the body as objects. A second extreme is behaviorism, which eliminates the matter of mind entirely, it comes from the scientific perspective, which looks objectively at how behaviors occur.

Phenomenologists reject the traditional subject, object relationship, and reject the position of knowing things abstractly (which operates against Descartes and follows from Kant), and they reject the objectivity of science and demand consciousness (operating against behaviorism).

Reading Info:
Author/EditorMoran, Dermot
TitleIntroduction to Phenomenology
Tagsdms, embodiment, phenomenology, philosophy
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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