Merleau-Ponty’s Gordian knot: Transcendental phenomenology, science, and naturalism

Continental Philosophy Review 50 (1):81-104 (2017)

Jack Alan Reynolds
Deakin University
In this paper I explore a series of fertile ambiguities that Merleau-Ponty’s work is premised upon. These ambiguities concern some of the central methodological commitments of his work, in particular his commitment to transcendental phenomenology and how he transforms that tradition, and his relationship to science and philosophical naturalism and what they suggest about his philosophical methodology. Many engagements with Merleau-Ponty’s work that are more ‘analytic’ in orientation either deflate it of its transcendental heritage, or offer a “modest” rendering of its transcendental dimensions. This is also true, albeit perhaps to a lesser extent, of the work of the more empirically-minded phenomenological philosophers who engage very seriously with Merleau-Ponty—e.g. Hubert Dreyfus, Shaun Gallagher, Evan Thompson, Alva Noë, and others. At the same time, many other scholars contest these proto-scientific and more naturalistic uses of Merleau-Ponty’s work on hermeneutical and exegetical grounds, and they likewise criticise the deflated reading of his transcendental phenomenology that tends to support them. By working through some of the key passages and ideas, this paper establishes that the former view captures something pivotal to Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. I also extend these interpretations by arguing that, at least around the time of Phenomenology of Perception, his philosophy might be reasonably regarded as a form of minimal methodological naturalism.
Keywords Merleau-Ponty  Phenomenology  Naturalism  Science
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DOI 10.1007/s11007-016-9395-z
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