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Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty

(1908-03-14)14 March 1908
Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente-Inférieure, France
Died 3 May 1961(1961-05-03) (aged 53)
Alma mater École Normale Supérieure, University of Paris
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Phenomenology
Existential phenomenology
Embodied phenomenology
Western Marxism
Main interests
Psychology, embodiment, metaphysics, perception, Gestalt theory, epistemology, philosophy of art, Western Marxism
Notable ideas
Invagination, Gestalt, anonymous collectivity, motor intentionality, the flesh of the world, incarnation, chiasm (chiasme), speaking vs. spoken language, institution

Maurice Jean Jacques Merleau-Ponty ( 14 March 1908 – 3 May 1961) was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. The constitution of meaning in human experience was his main interest and he wrote on perception, art, politics, religion, psychology, psychoanalysis, language, nature, and history. He was the lead editor of Les Temps modernes, the leftist magazine he established with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in 1945.

At the core of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy is a sustained argument for the foundational role perception plays in our experience of the world. Merleau-Ponty understands perception to be an ongoing dialogue between one's lived body and the world which it perceives, in which perceivers passively and actively strive to express the perceived world in concert with others. He was the only major phenomenologist of the first half of the twentieth century to engage extensively with the sciences and especially with Gestalt psychology. It is through this engagement that his writings became influential in the project of naturalizing phenomenology, in which phenomenologists use the results of psychology and cognitive science.

Merleau-Ponty emphasized the body as the primary site of knowing the world, a corrective to the long philosophical tradition of placing consciousness as the source of knowledge, and maintained that the body and that which it perceived could not be disentangled from each other. The articulation of the primacy of embodiment (corporéité) led him away from phenomenology towards what he was to call “indirect ontology” or the ontology of “the flesh of the world” (la chair du monde), seen in his final and incomplete work, The Visible and Invisible, and his last published essay, “Eye and Mind”.

In his earlier work, Merleau-Ponty supported Soviet communism while remaining critical of Soviet policies and Marxism in general, adopting a skeptical stance which he termed Western Marxism. His reluctant endorsement of the Soviet show trials and prison camps was published as Humanism and Terror in 1947, though he would later denounce Soviet terror as being counter to the purportedly humanist aims of the revolution.

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