Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.




Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908–61)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD045-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved July 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–61) was a key figure in twentieth-century French philosophy and one of the principal proponents of existential phenomenology. Through his subtle and wide-ranging descriptions of lived and embodied experience, particularly in his major text Phenomenology of Perception (1945), Merleau-Ponty made significant contributions on a variety of topics, including behaviour, perception, habit acquisition, language, expression, history and politics. His broader interests in the philosophical consequences of these descriptions led him to address many classical philosophical problems (for example, freedom, temporality, the relation of the soul and body, ontology, etc.). Perhaps his most lasting contribution was in directing philosophical inquiry to the role of the lived body in the operative structures of meaning across all human experience. This aspect of his work has been a starting point for contemporary studies of embodiment in both philosophy and other disciplines, from new approaches in cognitive science to phenomenological contributions in performance studies, gender studies and applied sciences. Merleau-Ponty’s interests evolved throughout his career, leading to a greater engagement with structuralism in the early 1950s and to a more explicit attempt to answer ontological questions about nature and philosophical methodology in the late 1950s. At the time of his death in 1961, Merleau-Ponty was developing a phenomenological ontology in a manuscript that was published posthumously as The Visible and the Invisible (1964). He argued that human experience is marked by a certain reversibility in that we are at once subjects and objects, touching and touched, seeing and seen. Our bodies are both of the world and open to the world; we are a node or a moment in the flesh of the world. For Merleau-Ponty, in this unfinished ontological project the notion of ‘flesh’ appears to name an ontological principle or element by which a folding back occurs via a self-reflexive experience and thus the spacing takes place where experience and being can appear.

Citing this article:
Landes, Donald A.. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908–61), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD045-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Articles