Merleau‐Ponty and the significance of style

European Journal of Philosophy 27 (2):468-483 (2018)
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A distinctive feature of Merleau-Ponty’s thought is the central role he assigns style in generally characterizing embodied agents’ perceptual and cognitive functioning. Despite this, he says little to explain how he conceives style itself. This article therefore aims to clarify Merleau-Ponty’s notion of style and its significance within and beyond his work. It begins by surveying his broad application of the term and using his discussions of painting to reconstruct his conception of style, identifying two major roles Merleau-Ponty attributes it in unifying intentional structures and founding conceptual meaning. His view is related to several competing philosophical conceptions of style to highlight its distinctiveness and some conceptual difficulties in adequately defining style. I then argue that Merleau-Ponty succeeds in coherently distinguishing style from rules by recognizing that style conceives pattern formation, especially the relation of general and particular, in a way contrasting with the identity-based thinking inherent in the functioning of rules. With this distinction I conclude that, although Merleau-Ponty overgeneralizes its role, his conception of style has broader philosophical significance in accurately capturing the nonmechanical cohesion of certain embodied intelligent activities (such as painting) and enabling better understanding of the variety of forms such activities can take.



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Andrew Inkpin
University of Melbourne