Institution as the Model of Meaning: Gehlen and Merleau-Ponty on the Question of Anthropology

Filosoficky Casopis 66 (6):869-888 (2018)
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[This paper is written in Czech language.] The aim of the article is to re-evaluate the still-surviving anthropological trope which, in reaction to an inquiry into the essence of man, compares humans with animals and points to culture as the means by which humans complete their “deficient” nature. This motif contrasting humans with animals has been extended by A. Gehlen who characterises humans as “beings of deficiencies”. In his view, the morphological-instinctive insufficiency of the human being must be stabilised by cultural institutions, i.e. complexes of habitual actions. Merleau-Ponty, however, demonstrates that bodily beings always relate to their environment in an indirect way, on the basis of certain “standards” and “norms” of interaction, which exist by way of institution. The anthropological trope confronting humans and animals thus cannot produce, as in Gehlen, a contrast between an allegedly “direct” relationship to the world in animals, and a supposedly “indirect” relationship to the world in humans. It can be meaningfully retained only if it is interpreted in a Merleau-Pontyan way, that is, as an invitation to understand the transformation of the norms of indirect interaction with the world found in animals into those found in people, that is, if viewed as a comparison of their respective institutions.



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Jan Halák
Palacky University

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