Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908–61)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD045-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

Merleau-Ponty belongs to the group of French philosophers who transformed French philosophy in the early post-war period by introducing the phenomenological methods of the German philosophers Husserl and Heidegger. His central concern was with ‘the phenomenology of perception’ (the title of his major book), and his originality lay in his account of the role of the bodily sense-organs in perception, which led him to develop a phenomenological treatment of the sub-personal perceptions that play a central role in bodily movements. This account of the sub-personal aspects of life enabled him to launch a famous critique of Sartre’s conception of freedom, which he regarded as an illusion engendered by excessive attention to consciousness. None the less, he and Sartre cooperated for many years in French political affairs, until Merleau-Ponty became exasperated by the orthodox Marxism-Leninism of the French Communist Party in a way in which Sartre, who remained a fellow-traveller, did not. As well as several substantial political essays, Merleau-Ponty wrote widely on art, anthropology and, especially, language. He died leaving some important work incomplete.

Although his work is still esteemed within the French academic establishment, his influence in France has waned, because of a tendency there to study his German forebears almost to the exclusion of all else. But elsewhere, and most notably in the USA, Merleau-Ponty’s work is widely studied, especially now that questions about the distinction between personal and sub-personal aspects of life have become so prominent.

    Citing this article:
    Baldwin, Thomas. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908–61), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD045-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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