Last modified on 15 May 2014, at 19:57

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Maurice Merleau-Ponty (March 14, 1908May 3, 1961) was a French phenomenological philosopher.


  • The function [of objective thinking] is to reduce all phenomena which bear witness to the union of subject and world, putting in their place the clear idea of the object as in itself and of the subject as pure consciousness. It therefore severs the links which unite the thing and the embodied subject, leaving only sensible qualities to make up our world (to the exlusion of the modes of appearance which we have described), and preferably visual qualities, because these give the impression of being autonomous, and because they are less directly linked to our body and present us with an object rather than introducing us into an atmosphere. But in reality all things are concretions of a setting, and any explicit perception of a thing survives in virtue of a previous communication with a certain atmosphere. p. 374
  • Montaigne [puts] not self-satisfied understanding but a consciousness astonished at itself at the core of human existence.
    • Signs, trans. R. McCleary (Evanston: 1964), p. 203
  • [The sensate body possesses] an art of interrogating the sensible according to its own wishes, an inspired exegesis
    • The Visible and the Invisible, trans. A. Lingis (Evanston: 1968), p. 135

In Praise of Philosophy (1963)Edit

Éloge de la philosophie, 1953
  • It is a great good fortune, as Stendhal said, for one “to have his passion as a profession.”
    • p. 4
  • Even those who have desired to work out a completely positive philosophy have been philosophers only to the extent that, at the same time, they have refused the right to install themselves in absolute knowledge. They taught not this knowledge, but its becoming in us, not the absolute but, at most, our absolute relation to it, as Kierkegaard said. What makes a philosopher is the movement which leads back without ceasing from knowledge to ignorance, from ignorance to knowledge, and a kind of rest in this movement.
    • p. 5
  • Thought without language, says Lavelle, would not be a purer thought; it would be no more than the intention to think. And his last book offers a theory of expressiveness which makes of expression not “a faithful image of an already realized interior being, but the very means by which it is realized.”
    • p. 8
  • Theology recognizes the contingency of human existence only to derive it from a necessary being, that is, to remove it. Theology makes use of philosophical wonder only for the purpose of motivating an affirmation which ends it. Philosophy, on the other hand, arouses us to what is problematic in our own existence and in that of the world, to such a point that we shall never be cured of searching for a solution.
    • p. 44
  • De Lubac discusses an atheism which means to suppress this searching, he says, “even including the problem as to what is responsible for the birth of God in human consciousness.”
    • p. 45
  • Socrates reminds us that it is not the same thing, but almost the opposite, to understand religion and to accept it.
    • p. 45
  • Lichtenberg … held something of the following kind: one should neither affirm the existence of God nor deny it. … It is not that he wished to leave certain perspectives open, nor to please everyone. It is rather that he was identifying himself, for his part, with a consciousness of self, of the world, and of others that was “strange” (the word is his) in a sense which is equally well destroyed by the rival explanations.
    • pp. 45-46
  • Thinking which displaces, or otherwise defines, the sacred has been called atheistic, and that philosophy which does not place it here or there, like a thing, but at the joining of things and words, will always be exposed to this reproach without ever being touched by it.
    • p.46
  • The philosopher will ask himself … if the criticism we are now suggesting is not the philosophy which presses to the limit that criticism of false gods which Christianity has introduced into our history.
    • p. 47
  • Philosophy is in history, and is never independent of historical discourse. But for the tacit symbolism of life it substitutes, in principle, a conscious symbolism; for a latent meaning, one that is manifest. It is never content to accept its historical situation. It changes this situation by revealing it to itself.
    • p. 57
  • Machiavelli is the complete contrary of a machiavellian, since he describes the tricks of power and “gives the whole show away.” The seducer and the politician, who live in the dialectic and have a feeling and instinct for it, try their best to keep it hidden.
    • p. 59

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