Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908–61)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD045-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 22, 2024, from

5. Language

For many years Merleau-Ponty aimed to extend his account of our perception of ‘visible’ objects to an account of speech about ‘invisible’ truths (hence the title of his last book). His most extended discussion occurs in The Prose of the World, which was written in 1950–2, though published only posthumously. The central claim he makes here is that speech has a transcendental role comparable to that of perception in the constitution of truth. We normally fail to notice this because just as naïve perception encourages the realist illusion of perfect objectivity, our normal uses of language to talk about things encourage a similar realist illusion of language as a transparent vehicle for ready-made meanings. Once, however, we re-awaken an awareness of the genuine phenomenon of ‘speaking language’ within which meanings are forged, it becomes apparent that the expression of truths is a cultural achievement that is only sustained through the use of a common language. Indeed the fact that language is essentially common enables it to play a role comparable to that of the body in relation to perception; it is, Merleau-Ponty says, a form of ‘anonymous corporality’ ([1969] 1974: 140), and as such it sustains our a priori involvement with others in much the way in which our physical corporality sustains our a priori involvement with the physical world in perception. So, in enabling us to share our lives with others, language equally enables us to live in a world of shared, and thus objective, truths.

Citing this article:
Baldwin, Thomas. Language. 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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