‘There is no brute world, only an elaborated world’: Merleau-Ponty on the intersubjective constitution of the world

South African Journal of Philosophy 32 (4):355-371 (2013)
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In his later works, Merleau-Ponty proposes the notion of ‘the flesh’ (la chair) as a new ‘element’, as he put it, in his ontological monism designed to overcome the legacy of Cartesian dualism with its bifurcation of all things into matter or spirit. Most Merleau-Ponty commentators recognise that Merleau-Ponty's notion of ‘flesh’ is inspired by Edmund Husserl's conceptions of ‘lived body’ (Leib) and ‘vivacity’ or ‘liveliness’ (Leiblichkeit). But it is not always recognised that, for Merleau-Ponty, the constitution of the world of perception, the problem of embodiment or incarnation, is at the very same time one with the problem of the experience of others in what Husserl called Einfühlung or Fremderfahung and indeed one with the problem of the constitution of the commonly shared world ‘for all’. As Merleau-Ponty put it in his late essay ‘The Philosopher and His Shadow’ in Signs, ‘the problem of Einfühlung, like that of my incarnation, opens on the meditation of sensible being, or, if you prefer, it betakes itself there’. In other words, the problem of the apprehension of the other is part of the overall apprehension of the transcendent world. In this paper I want to meditate on the relations between embodiment, experience of others, and experience of the world in Merleau-Ponty's philosophy. I will take particular note, as in the title of this presentation, of the claim made by Merleau-Ponty in The Visible and the Invisible that ‘there is no brute world, only an elaborated world’ (il n'y a pas de monde brut, il n'y a qu'un monde élaboré).



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Dermot Moran
Boston College