Merleau-Ponty’s ‘sensible ideas’ and embodied-embedded practice

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 22 (2):1-24 (2021)
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In The Visible and the Invisible Merleau-Ponty develops a notion of ‘sensible ideas’ that conceives general meaning as inseparable from its realization in sensible particulars. Such ideas – exemplified by music – are to capture the specificity of the meaning produced by embodied agency and serve as the foundation of all cognition. This article argues that, although Merleau-Ponty overgeneralizes their application, sensible ideas are philosophically important in enabling better understanding of the diverse forms and functions embodied-embedded practices and cognition can take. It begins by outlining Merleau-Ponty’s conception of sensible ideas and showing how this late ‘ontological’ view takes up and refines themes from his earlier works. It then assesses sensible ideas’ assumed foundational role by considering several embodied practices (mathematics, music, painting), arguing that this does not hold generally and that painting better exemplifies sensible ideas than music. I show that whether a practice is accurately described by sensible ideas depends on how it relates the particular and general, and that sensible ideas have a distinctive philosophical role in understanding the non-identity-based meaning constitution characteristic of some embodied-embedded practices. Finally, a comparison with Kant’s aesthetic ideas is used to clarify the close but non-necessary relation between sensible ideas and art.



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Andrew Inkpin
University of Melbourne

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How the Body Shapes the Mind.Shaun Gallagher - 2007 - Philosophy 82 (319):196-200.
Languages of Art.Nelson Goodman - 1970 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 3 (1):62-63.
Phénoménologie de la perception.M. Merleau-Ponty - 1949 - Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 5 (4):466-466.
Signes.Maurice Merleau-Ponty - 2018 - Chiasmi International 20:229-229.
L'Être et le Néant.J. -P. Sartre - 1943 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 49 (2):183-184.

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