Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was born on March 14, 1908, in Rochefort-sur-Mer, France. As with many of his generation, Merleau-Ponty lost his father to the war. Merleau-Ponty first studies philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure and then becomes a high school philosophy teacher at grammar schools in Beauvais, Chartres, and Paris. In 1945 he is granted a Docteur ès  Lettres on the basis of two dissertations: La Structure du Comportement (1942) and his Phenomenology de la Perception (1945) (the Structure of Behavior and the Phenomenology of Perception) Maurice Merleau-Ponty first receives an appointment as professor at Lyons. Next he is appointed to teach psychology and pedagogy at the Sorbonne in Paris, and finally at the Collége de France until his sudden death on May 3, 1961.

 

Merleau-Ponty developed his existential phenomenology by drawing heavily upon the works of Edmund Husserl, although he interprets Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology in an existential direction. In his early years he studied Husserl’s unpublished works at the Husserl archives in Louvain and he read Heidegger’s Being and Time. He believed that philosophy must also be concerned with economics, social and political life. Together with Jean Paul Sartre he founds the journal Les Temps Modernes His other works include Humanism and Terror, Sense and Non-Sense, Adventures of the Dialectic, Signs, and The Visible and the Invisible. In the Preface to the Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty provides an eloquent and often quoted exposition of phenomenological inquiry. In almost all his work his writing style is closely interrelated with his phenomenological reflections. His texts often have a tentative character as if to emphasize that phenomenological knowledge is always incomplete and provisional. Merleau-Ponty is especially known for his phenomenology of the lived body. While most of his work is written in the 1940s and 50s when there was very little literature on embodiment available, his texts are still extremely original, inspiring and insightful. Contemporary authors who now have a wealth of material on which to build their own understandings still feel the need to reckon with Merleau-Pointy’s thinking, as if he could have foreseen all the views that have been developed since his death in 1961.