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Merleau-Ponty’s Work Philosophy of Perception

This philosophical essay intends to identify and explore the key features of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s approach to the question of perception in “Phenomenology of Perception” by him and discusses the problems or weaknesses if there are any. This philosophy essay expresses argued position on a subject. It presents consideration to be good reasons for the claims that are made and the views defended in this literary piece of work. Furthermore, the essay intends to clearly, distinguishes the philosophical problems addressed in it, and strictly sticks to the reflections upon the issues that are raised by this topic. In order to clarify and develop a point to examine more precisely the common background in the theory of perception in Merleau-Ponty’s work the essay discusses views of others who also have written on the topic (perception).


“Phenomenology of Perception” (1945) is the major work of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one of the founders of phenomenology. The author criticized in this book design Cartesian mentalist and the language, which would make the simple words representations of concepts mentally or objects outside (Merleau-Ponty, 2004, pp.01-589).

Perception is a faculty biophysical or phenomenon physio-sychological and cultural links to the action of living worlds and the environment through the senses and ideologies individual or collective. In humans, perception is also related to the mechanisms of cognition by the abstraction inherent in the idea and concepts learned in thought. The word therefore means perception or sensory ability (the instinct for example), is the process of collecting and processing the information or sensitive sensory (in cognitive psychology, for example), or awareness resulting. In experimental psychology, in the human being, there are scales of perception conscious perception and unconscious, also known as implicit or subliminal (Baldwin, 2007, 33-41). This distinction has been extended to other animals insofar as it is known, or in another measure, can be trained and conditioned to give or not they have received or not a stimulus. The perception of a situation involves senses, the mind, and the ideas at the moment and time.

Fortunately, a close analysis of the overlap between “Phenomenology of Perception” by Merleau-Ponty not only allows us to understand the benefit of hindsight but also to assess the consistency of the analysis of perception. In “Phenomenology of Perception”, Merleau-Ponty (1962, pp.01-589) develops more fully theories of perception, he tries to describe our first experience of living and the world as it is given before any interpretation and scientific knowledge.

Author rejects both empiricism to its choice of atomization and failures to report in general terms of structural models of our experience and rationalism (01-589). Because it separates conscience of the world and proposes an existential perspective that can establish dialectical relationship between the subject and the world, it recognizes the nature of consciousness, mainly due to the situation and the life of the body. Consciousness is consciousness of something and is directed toward the world. “Phenomenology of Perception” “goes further by seeking to discover intentionality operative or pre-reflexive links and predicative that underlie our existence in the world. The first examination of the relationship between man and intentional and the world is through reductions phenomenological method and the first is to put all preconceived outstanding about reality and the natural attitude of everyday life that is “bracketed” and examined in a philosophical or transcendental perspective for understanding the essential dialogue between consciousness and the world.

The precise description of pre-reflective experiences, such as especial articulation, movement, time perception, sensation and sexuality, are one approach. The analysis of pathological cases in which the normal conditions of being in the world are suspended and intentionality weakened and it allows further research. Correspondingly, the human mind has not a pure perceptual function. It is inseparable from the physical data that put thoughts into motion, thus this is the novel form, and more concretely in a modern world, it introduces relativity, which can best grasp this entry in a situation. In short, as the work of Merleau-Ponty keep a referential dimension intrinsic, it is characterized by an effort unrewarding to realism but by the manner of reporting a particular phenomenological point of view (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, pp. 01-589).

Perception is what gives the material concept of the understanding, the “union” forming the sensible object. Perception is reality, which is external, and it is not even given in perception. This perception is a sensation that applies to an object general and not to a specific object. In this sense, the “perceptual judgment” remains purely subjective, opposes “judgment of experience” that is subject to the conditions of necessity and universality. If perception is subjective, so you do not consider as true or as false as it is the understanding that one is able to make a judgment that will have a truth value. When we speak of illusion or appearance is therefore refers not to despise but to perceptions of the mind that makes the mistake of taking subjective mode of representation, perception, an objective mode. The perception, whether sharp or not, shows the registration of rights in a “horizon” which cannot escape, in a space where it is enclosed. The view is thus limited to a certain distance, as well as hearing and touch has their own limitations.

Merleau-Ponty Philosophy
Merleau-Ponty Philosophy

Perception is always wrong because it is too human. Until then, it had always been regarded either as an image or as a sign of external things. In all cases, it was thought as a representation of the thing. I believe that the perception gives something “in the flesh” in his bodily presence unlike the experiences of consciousness (e.g., imagination) that represent things missing. This design is based on the intentionality of consciousness shows that it is by no means a receptacle containing a set of images, but acts of sight. For example, the perception of a cube has nothing to do with the imagination of the same cube, as it is a case of the other “targeted” different kind though their object is the same. Perception is never isolated. We have a perceptual field in which ordered a series of perceptions, what is called perceptual sketches that complement each other in building activity of the meaning of things (Webster, Werner & Field, 2005, pp.241–277).

Based on the reflections of Husserl, Merleau-Ponty (1962, pp.01-589) seeks to demonstrate the first perception. This, he says, is by no means the result of an arrangement of sensations but rather an activity of s open to the world of life. He wants to show that the distinction Husserl between the act of sight and the target object is not primitive and that below it there is a reciprocal implication of subject and object. The experience of perception is the location of this co-belonging of consciousness and the world and that is why perception is a primary experience and precedes speech (301-315).

The suspension of classes and hierarchies that we submit our impressions are often accompanied by a relaxation of the functional perspective on individual objects of our world and a higher prevalence of incongruous detail in the perception of our environment. Such a bet is pending is seen more strongly in times of crisis, when the loss of conscious control over the body and the environment produces a hypersensitivity impressions we reflect normally as trivial and irrelevant. It draws our attention to the operation of pre-reflective and overwhelming our senses, independent of an individual’s personal trauma (LaRock, 2002, pp.231–258).

If knowledge was based entirely on the sensation then it should share the properties of the latter. However, the sensation is a snapshot, not a state but an event that remains vanishes (Merleau-Ponty, 2004, pp.88-136). Sensation is more “mobile” unstable and always singular, it is the result of the encounter between an external object and the ability of sensitive man; meeting takes a different form each time. Thus, knowledge is nothing more than a cluster of sensations that it would be impossible to organize because its elements are incomparable with each other. It is in this sense that we must break away from sense perception to reach true knowledge (Casarett, 1999, pp.125–139).

I agree that sensation is equal to knowledge but it seeks to demonstrate the utility value it for life. For life, it does not mean only that of man but that of any organization. Sensation and movement are the two properties shared by all living beings. The feeling gives access to the outside world and its changes and allows the body to adapt to it and thus to ensure its own survival. Merleau-Ponty (1962, pp. 01-589) gives rise to a true science of sensitive, distinguishing the “sensitive clean” which refers to one of the five senses and not others, and “common sensible” seized all the senses (e.g. movement). He hangs up the existence of a sixth sense, “common sense” that allows the unification of sensitive data from the various sensory organs. In a way, we can say that sensation becomes a real object of knowledge even if it is still not the subject in the sense that it would be knowledge.

I believe sensation is not a reliable source of knowledge. For this, I use the famous example of the “piece of wax.” Initially it presents a set of sensible qualities: it is hard, cold, smells of flowers makes a particular sound when hit etc… Suppose we approach this piece of wax fire, then all of these qualities disappear and replaced by others. However, it does not say much for this thing, which is come before me, is something that I perceived the wax before. This is the same wax that before and after exposure is to fire so this is not what I perceived with the senses that can explain what the wax. However, the imagination, which conceives of something changes, cannot do more because these variations are endless. Only the mind can. Thus, I come to consider the perception rather than as a “vision” but as “an inspection of the mind.” Perception is an act of intellection, producing an idea that can be “imperfect and confused” or “clear and distinct”. In the latter case, there is identification of perception and truth. It is found again in the early 20th century with Alain, which makes perception a “function of understanding.”

The problem of perception has been a central concern of classical philosophy about the origin of knowledge, as evidenced by the famous “Molyneux problem” that looks like this: Suppose a man born blind who has been learned to distinguish by touch a cube and a sphere of the same metal and of equivalent size, find the sense of sight. However, it is noted that the response was generally negative (Webster, Werner & Field, 2005, pp.241–277). Note further that the issue was the assessment of the powers of the senses of sight, often seen as primordial sense, compared to the other senses. The outside world is a construction from sense impressions. One thing, it is the meeting by intelligence, various sensations under the same name, so there is nothing that exists outside of what is perceived. Somehow, the chair I am sitting over there as soon as I left the room. This doctrine is called immaterialism (Casarett, 1999, pp.125–139).

We can also mention the skeptics who do not have little involvement in the devaluation of “knowledge” sensitive. Indeed, a compiled list of cases demonstrates that the perception is sometimes an illusion, an error and in that sense, we should not be proud. Let two of their examples: a square tower we look from a distant point seems round, and a stick dipped in part in water seems twisted (LaRock, 2002, pp.231–258). The list of examples, however, does not answer the question of whether these errors are due to a perception that is itself misleading or judgment that accompanies it. Note finally that the Epicurean Lucretius says it is impossible to demonstrate that the senses deceive us and more importantly, the state would condemn this reason (LaRock, 2002, pp.231–258).

The feeling does not correspond to the coincidence between the subject and the feeling quality (e.g. red) collected. Consciousness is perceptual consciousness. On the contrary, the feeling is embodied in a “horizon of meaning” and is from the perceived meaning that there may be associations with similar experiences (and not vice versa). Printing cannot “wake others”: the perception is not made ​​of sensitive data supplemented by a “projection of memories “in effect, seek to memories presupposes precisely that sensitive data will be formatted and have acquired a sense, then that is what meaning the “projection of memories” was supposed to return (Casarett, 1999, pp.125–139).

Merleau-Ponty (1962, pp. 101-622) explicitly rejects then design Cartesian or mentalist language, which would make the simple phrase of representations mental. The words are not, for him, a reflection of the thought: “the word is not the” sign “of thought”. It cannot be severed from the speech and thought: both are “wrapped in one another, meaning is made ​​in the word and the word is the existence of external sign. He focuses on a conception of the word and the word, which does not reduce to simple signs of thought or the external object, but become the presence of this idea in the sensible world, not the garment (22). He discovered in the conceptual meaning of words an existential meaning emotional (33).

The expression does not that translate well meaning, but realizes or actualizes. The language implies an activity first intentional, which passes through the body itself. Thought is nothing inside; it does not exist outside the world and out of words. There is therefore no thought precedes speech thought is already language (“this inner life is an inner language”) and the language is already thinking.


This philosophy essay explored the key features of Merleau-Ponty’s approach to the question of perception in Phenomenology of Perception problems or weaknesses in of the topic and it found that the body is not a potential object of study for science and an inherence of consciousness and body with the analysis of perception must consider. The primacy of perception signifies a primacy of experience, insofar as perception assumes an active constituent. Maurice Merleau-Ponty analyzes the notion of sensation, despite apparent evidence in the natural attitude and rejects the notion of pure sensation. He then refutes and prejudices the objective world because the perception is rooted in subjectivity that actually produces the indeterminate and confusion. We can conclude with following words that psychology has failed to define the sensation, but the physiology has not been more capable, as the problem of “objective world” arises again and enters in contradiction with the experience to understand what it means to “feel”, we must return to the pre-objective internal experience.


Casarett, D.J., 1999 Moral perception and the pursuit of medical philosophy. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 20(2), pp.125–139

LaRock, E.F., 2002 Against the Functionalist Reading of Aristotle’s Philosophy of Perception and Emotion. International Philosophical Quarterly, 42(2), pp.231–258

Merleau-Ponty, M., 2004 The World of Perception O. Davis, ed., Routledge

Merleau-Ponty, M., 1962 The Phenomenology of Perception, Routledge

Webster, M.A., Werner, J.S. & Field, D.J., 2005 Adaptation and the phenomenology of perception. In C. Clifford & G. Rhodes, eds. Fitting the Mind to the World Adaptation and Aftereffects in High-level Vision Advances in Visual Cognition. Oxford University Press, pp.241–277

Baldwin, T., 2007 Reading Merleau-Ponty : on Phenomenology of perception, Routledge

Maurice Merleau-Ponty Wiki Page

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Steve Jones

My name is Steve Jones and I’m the creator and administrator of the dissertation topics blog. I’m a senior writer at and hold a BA (hons) Business degree and MBA, I live in Birmingham (just moved here from London), I’m a keen writer, always glued to a book and have an interest in economics theory.

One thought on “Merleau-Ponty”

  1. David,I look forward to hiearng your take on Clement Greenberg’s essays, most notably Avant-Garde and Kitsch. I am not persuaded by Greenberg’s argument, which seems incredibly myopic, and I find myself much more attracted to Schapiro’s belief that a work of art, from any era, was a meaningful expression of the mind/personality of its creator (and also a reflection of his/her social and cultural context). Linda Nochlin summed up Schapiro’s take on modern art as an assertion of personal freedom in the face of the increasing oppressiveness and depersonalization of individual life brought about by capitalist institutions. I agree with that statement completely.What do you think of Greenberg vs. Schapiro? Kitsch? The fact that our society has assimilated into our mass media much of the work deemed by Greenberg as the epitome of high art (and therefore made it kitsch) is so intriguing to me.Look forward to seeing you at Brown graduation! Good luck with your blog.-Sarah

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