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Reading Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception

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Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) is arguably the greatest thinker of the twentieth century phenomenological movement. Merleau-Ponty took up the thoughts of his predecessors, pushed them forward, and rooted these insights in our concrete lived experience. He opposed the abstract starting point on which psychologists, scientists, and the philosophical tradition have based their expositions of the world. He demonstrates that abstract thought is founded upon pre-conceptual bodily experience and that many problems modern theory runs up against can be resolved by starting from a new ontology rooted in the lived body.

Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological analysis has had a great influence on European philosophy and is currently experiencing a renaissance in the English speaking world. Philosophers, psychologists, feminists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and artificial intelligence researchers have turned to his magnum opus, The Phenomenology of Perception (1945), for a new way to think about the perennial issues of their respective disciplines. Merleau-Ponty has also had a great influence on aesthetics, particularly in the visual arts.

The Phenomenology of Perception, is the best entry point into this remarkably contemporary thinker’s systematic exposition of human life. This class will be a close reading and discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s fundamental text.


Dear Friends :

Loren Stewart, who will be leading the upcoming Phenomenology of Perception seminar (first meeting Monday, November 4), has asked me to forward the following note to the list for those who are interested.

More info on the class is here :

If you have questions about the course please write to Loren at

Love -- David

There some important issues regarding translations of the Phenomenology of Perception and I hope this reaches you before purchasing a copy of the text.

The first translation of the PhP was a rush job done at the time of Merleau-Ponty's death.  It isn't a philosophically informed translation and it's riddled with mistranslations and outright mistakes.  This is not to say it is useless.  People have been reading it for decades and still getting a handle on MP's project.

However, the new translation (2012) is far superior to the older one.  The 2012 translation is philosophically oriented and was approved by a committee of MP scholars.  It is philosophically rigorous and has less typographical errors than the previous translation, but these are not its key strengths.

The key strength of the new translation has to do with the structure of the text.  Following the editors of the German edition of PhP, the translators have embedded MP's detailed table of contents into the text itself (this table of contents was not included in the older English translation at all).  This has required breaking up VERY long paragraphs (five pages plus) and inserting headings that indicate changes in subject matter.  (I know, I know, whenever there is a major topic change a writer will start a new paragraph or chapter.  Apparently, no one told MP about this convention!)  Inserting topical headings has made many paragraphs shorter and has eased the burden for the reader.

The problem stems from MP being a charitable reader of opposing views.  He recounts these views in his own voice and sometimes it is almost impossible to know he is espousing a rival view until AFTER he has given its argument (many pages later!) and goes on to another rival view or to his own view.  This is the primary reason for confusion when reading MP's text.  By inserting the detailed table of contents into the text, the editors have made it easier to decipher MP's views from opposing views.  This makes reading much less frustrating than it has been for readers of the English translation up to now.

Last, the new translation has an excellent preface that outlines the problems MP is trying to solve, introduces key terms, and gets the reader acquainted with MP's argumentative style.

I urge you to get the new translation of the Phenomenology of Perception.  Besides all the advantages listed above, having the same pagination will be convenient for discussion.

Both the old and the new translations are published by Routledge.  Here is the ISBN for the paperback edition of the 2012 translation:  0415834333


Loren Stewart
Monday, November 4, 2013 - 18:30
ADOBE BOOKSTORE :: 3130 24th St., San Francisco, CA more
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