Reading the Living Signs: A Proposal for a Merleau-Pontian Concept of Species

Chiasmi International 9:96-111 (2007)
Abstract
This paper seeks to propose a direction of research based upon the transformation of Merleau-Ponty's thinking with respect to animal life over the course of his writings. In his earlier works, Merleau-Ponty takes up the position that “life” does not mean the same thing when applied to an animal and a human being because of the manner in which the “human dialectic” alters the human being's relation to life. In his later works, particularly in his lectures on nature, this position softens so that the relationship between animals and humans becomes non-hierarchical, but remains essentially the same: there may be no “rupture” between humans and animals, but they are still essentially distinct insofar as all non-humans can be grouped into a single class of “animality.” I attempt to show that Merleau-Ponty fails to follow through with his most radical insights with respect to the relationships between living beings by preserving this distinction and suggest some ways in which we might today confront this problem through the works of Merleau-Ponty in a way that he did not. The proposal, then, is to take seriously “dialectical” biology and develop a Merleau-Pontian conception of species based upon the interrelations of living beings and their environments rather than focusing solely on organisms as discrete units. The conclusion then considers what the consequences of this understanding might be for our understanding of Merleau-Ponty's ontology in general.
Keywords phenomenology  environmental philosophy  animals  species
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