In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maurice Merleau-Ponty

  • Introduction
  • Reference Work
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journal
  • From the Lived Body to the Flesh
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Language/Expression/Speech
  • Merleau-Ponty and the Anglo-Philosophical Context
  • Merleau-Ponty’s Thought in the French Philosophical Context

Philosophy Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Wayne Froman, Meirav Almog
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0373


Merleau-Ponty (b. 1908–d. 1961) was a major 20th-century French philosopher and contributor to phenomenology. He studied at the École Normale Supérieure from 1926 to 1930, received the aggrégation in philosophy in 1930 and the Docteur ès lettres in 1945. After early teaching largely in psychology, culminating with a Sorbonne appointment as professor of child psychology and pedagogy, he was elected in 1952 to the Chair in Philosophy at the Collège de France, as the youngest philosopher ever in this position, which he held until his death. His inaugural lecture was published as Éloge de la philosophie (In Praise of Philosophy). In 1945, Merleau-Ponty became, along with Raymond Aron, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre, a founding editorial board member as well as political editor of Les temps modernes, a journal devoted to “la philosophie engagée.” In 1953 he resigned from the journal. After the Korean conflict, Merleau-Ponty’s political difference with Sartre was acute, and in Les aventures de la dialectique (Adventures of the Dialectic) Merleau-Ponty characterizes Sartre’s position as “ultra-bolshevism.” Eventually, Merleau-Ponty would relinquish Marxist tenets. Merleau-Ponty’s first book, La structure du comportement (The Structure of Behavior), from 1942, is largely a critique of behavioral psychology as lacking a-propos, his stated goal, understanding the relation between nature and consciousness. His second and major completed book is La phénoménologie de la perception (Phenomenology of Perception). In this work Merleau-Ponty undermines classical theories of perception, which rely on “sense data”; introduces his understanding of the “lived body”; accentuates Husserl’s remark that consciousness is initially a matter of an “I can,” not an “I think”; and introduces a gestural analysis of language. While affirming Eugen Fink’s observation that there is no total “reduction” phenomenologically, Merleau-Ponty proceeds under the “epochē,” nonetheless. When he died, Merleau-Ponty was writing what would have been a book of major proportions. The material that he completed was posthumously published as Le visible et l’invisible (The Visible and the Invisible), a title from working notes that were published with it. Critical discussions of reflective philosophy, dialectic, and intuition precede a decidedly ontological project involving: “la chair” (the “flesh”), successor to Phenomenology of Perception’s “lived body,” through which “I live the world”; “reversibility,” the perceptual dynamic operative in our habitation of the world; and “the chiasm” or “intertwining” of different contexts, such as vision and motility. L’oeil et l’esprit (Eye and Mind), intended for inclusion in The Visible and the Invisible but published separately, addresses exploration of these factors in painting.

General Overviews

General overviews of Merleau-Ponty’s work proceed by way of a specific feature of his thought that provides a dynamic schema for understanding the sense of the work overall, or by accentuating the turn from Merleau-Ponty’s earlier work to the ontological context of his later thought, or by specifying an innovative element of Merleau-Ponty’s work vis-à-vis the philosophical tradition, or by specifying limits of Merleau-Ponty’s thought, either once his earlier work was completed or when his work broke off at the time of his death, and indicating a direction for further development. The sub-section Recent provides information regarding particularly significant overviews from recent years and the sub-section Earlier provides information regarding overviews from earlier years that offer approaches and insights that continue to be helpful in different ways.

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