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This 1945 “Preface” is intended to answer the question “What is phenomenology?” and to justify it as the methodology of the long work of philosophical psychology to follow. Merleau-Ponty approaches this task by first setting out the apparent paradoxes and contradictory claims that have been advanced by phenomenology, in a long and eloquent survey section that is built on a series of “X, but also Y” rhetorical devices. He then surveys four prominent themes of phenomenology. Just as he does in the introductory section of the essay “The Philosopher and His Shadow,” Merleau-Ponty here presents himself as the chief interpreter and champion of Husserl's later philosophy. The first major theme considered is that phenomenology is a matter of describing the field of perception. This sets it in contrast to the prevalent explanatory methodologies of a) scientific empiricism and b) metaphysical idealism. Empirical science (such as mathematical physics) begins with observation, but then abstracts entirely from lived experience to consider idealized schematic cases (such as motion across a frictionless surface) that may reveal universal laws. Such a methodology is obviously fruitful in important respects, but is nonetheless naïve and dishonest in its renunciation of the specifics of observed events. The metaphysical idealism of Kant or Descartes likewise abstracts from the experienced particularity of perception to posit an “inner man” that constitutes the world according to 2 internal, transcendental principles. Merleau-Ponty's criticism is the same, whether these principles are “reason” of Rationalism, “the categories of understanding” of Critical Rationalism, or the rules governing the “association of ideas” posited by Empiricism. Phenomenology indicates that perception is not an act but a fact; the world is not an object but rather the unified setting of perception; and the inner man is a myth, along with his allegedly privileged access to univocal truth. The second theme is the technique of “phenomenological reduction,” the suspension of belief in the assemblage of everyday assumptions known as the “natural attitude.” Husserl's understanding of the reduction long led him to an idealist position: that all particular consciousnesses are united in a transcendental ego..
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