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Augustine and phenomenology

Ok, ok. I’m sure the suspense is killing you. I promised in my last post that I would reveal a surprising and amazing fact about the relation between Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, as MP understood it. And I’ve left the issue hanging for almost a week now. So here it is…

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this revelation is that it turns on the interpretation of a passage from Augustine. Augustine does not figure in any major way in either Husserl’s or Merleau-Ponty’s work. But in the Preface to PoP Merleau-Ponty, perhaps surprisingly, references a passage from Augustine’s early work De Vera Religione. The passage, in context, reads as follows: noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi. in interiore homine habitat ueritas. Roughly, this translates as, “Do not wish to go outside (foras), return into yourself. Truth dwells in the inner man.” Merleau-Ponty’s point in referring to this passage is to deny its truth. Indeed, he says, “Truth does not ‘inhabit’ only the ‘inner man.’ Or more accurately, there is no inner man; man is in the world, it is within the world that he knows himself” (p. v). The point here seems to be to deny any kind of Augustinean return to the subject, on the grounds that our experience is not a purely subjective one, but is rather one that already involves us in a world. This is part and parcel of Heidegger’s denial that any kind of Cartesian subjectivity characterizes us, and is consistent with Heidegger’s idea that we are being-in-the-world, a unitary phenomenon that doesn’t distinguish between a radically subjective inner realm and a radically objective outer world towards which the subject is intentionally directed. Merleau-Ponty is using Augustine, in other words, as a foil. Augustine’s conception of the inner man is phenomenologically bereft, on Merleau-Ponty’s account.

But why choose Augustine to make this point? Augustine’s account of the inner man is not the fully developed Cartesian account of subjectivity, even if it is an ancestor of that aspect of Cartesianism. (Note: I say “Cartesianism” to avoid exegetical issues about whether Descartes himself was actually a Cartesian in this sense. Whether he was or not, he was certainly understood to be so by the tradition, and that is what matters for our purposes here.) In any case, Augustine’s view seems peculiarly abstruse. Even Heidegger, who certainly knew his Church Fathers, didn’t spend much time attacking Augustine on this issue. So the footnote to Augustine seems to stick out like a sore thumb, begging for explanation.

And boy is there an explanation. Merleau-Ponty, as it turns out, is not the only phenomenologist to refer to this passage in Augustine. Husserl cites it too. And not just anywhere: this passage occurs as the final sentence to the Cartesian Meditations, a manuscript still unpublished at the time Merleau-Ponty was writing, but one he had definitely read and which he cites regularly by name in PoP. Merleau-Ponty is not just picking a random passage from Augustine, in other words; he is picking the very passage that Husserl himself referred to in characterizing his most developed phenomenological view. For this reason it seems to me clear that MP isn’t just citing Augustine, but is citing Husserl’s treatment of Augustine as it occurs in Cartesian Meditations. He is offering an explicit invitation, in other words, subtle but undeniable, an invitation for the reader to compare his own (i.e., Merleau-Ponty’s) account of the meaning of this passage with the account that Husserl earlier gave. By seeing how each philosopher situates himself with respect to Augustine, we can see what MP understands to be the relationship between his phenomenological views and those of Husserl.

So what do we find? Well, unlike MP, who denies that there is any truth to Augustine’s notion of the inner man, Husserl is much more sanguine. Indeed, he takes his phenomenological method, centered as it is on the loss of the world through the phenomenological epoché, to give new meaning to Augustine’s account of interiority. “I must lose the world by epoché,” he writes, “in order to regain it by a universal self-examination” (157). Thus, Augustine’s claim that truth dwells in the inner man is for Husserl not the claim that I will find God by reflection, but rather the claim that by “losing the world,” as one does in the epoché, one can focus solely on the inner realm; in this way, one can truly describe the phenomena of lived experience, according to Husserl.

The difference, then, is dramatic. On the one hand we have Husserl’s idea that the inner man is that to which one returns in order to do phenomenology properly; on the other hand we have Merleau-Ponty’s idea that there is no inner man, man is always in the world. These accounts could not be more different. And it seems to me that by referencing the passage from Husserl (without, by the way, letting the reader know that the passage occurs in Husserl!) Merleau-Ponty is explaining to the careful reader something about his interpretation of Husserl’s method. He is saying that he knows that Husserl would disagree, and indeed that he did disagree explicitly, with Merleau-Ponty’s radical Heideggerean idea that we are being-in-the-world.

Does this mean that Merleau-Ponty was being dishonest? After all, what could he have meant when he said that all of Sein und Zeit springs from an indication in Husserl? And especially what could he have meant in saying this if he knew that Husserl wouldn’t have thought it himself? But there is no dishonesty here. For the point is that MP feels he understands Husserl’s method better than even Husserl did. Indeed, the very core of Merleau-Ponty’s interpretive principle, as he says in his essay on Husserl, “The Philosopher and his Shadow,” is that great philosophers, like great artists, are often the least good at knowing the general direction in which their philosophy points. So even if it is true that Husserl believed explicitly in the realm of the inner man, divorced from the world, as the realm of true experience, that is no challenge to the claim that Husserl’s phenomenological method - when understood in its most genuine and authentic sense - has no room for such a realm. MP takes himself, and took Heidegger, to be carrying the implications of Husserl’s method to their logical conclusion, a conclusion that, as it happens, was diametrically opposed to what Husserl explicitly took himself to doing. That, it seems to me, is the importance of the reference to Augustine.

Who’d have thought?

Comments

Perfect!

Wow! So that is not just any old quote but the punch line of CM!

I think everything you say sounds right but I would add my own more unflattering interpretation. Namely, that MP is signaling to the attentive reader that he is a Heideggerian and rejects Husserlian phenomenology through and through, but he is doing so without daring to come right out and say so explicitly. Indeed, the point is that he’s doing it in a way that can’t be quoted and used against him by the anti-Hedeggerians at the Sorbonne.

With all due respect, I must say that I find it a bit astonishing that you present the link between Merleau-Ponty’s allusion to Augustine in the Preface to PhP, and Husserl’s at the end of CM, as a revelation. Frankly, unless PhP is being read completely out of context, it’s pretty transparent. There can be little doubt that readers of PhP circa 1945 would have been familiar with Peiffer and Levinas’ translation of CM, which appeared in 1931. Contrary to what you say, it was only the German version of CM, owing originally to Husserl’s growing (and understandable) dissatisfaction with it, that was not published until after PhP. This factual error (recently also made by Gutting) perhaps accounts for the surprising manner in which you present the connection concerning the Augustinian reference. As it was, though, CM was the one major work of Husserl’s that was available in French prior to 1945. Although those who were more seriously interested in phenomenology had read other as-yet-untranslated works, (e.g., LU, Ideen 1, FTL), CM was a key point of reference amid the French reception of phenomenology. For it was primarily this work that was held up against known – and generally better received – works by Heidegger and Scheler as exemplifying Husserl’s transcendental approach. In trying to take up and redeem this approach ( pace Bert, the claim that Merleau-Ponty rejected Husserlian phenomenology through and through is simply untenable), albeit along unorthodox existential lines, Merleau-Ponty put himself into a tricky situation, trying to stake out a position that cut at once against (a) the French philosophical establishment, (b) the dominant tendency in the reception of phenomenology in France, and (c) the prevailing interpretation of CM as a kind of transcendental idealism. It is in this context that the polemical nature of the Preface to PhP needs to be approached. (Recall that, at least according to Geraets – who, to be sure, gave no evidence, the Preface to PhP was written in response to Brunschvicg’s request for a clear statement from Merleau-Ponty as to the meaning of “phenomenology”.) That is, we need to approach the Preface as a multifaceted philosophical polemic. Through his quick survey of the basic tenets of transcendental phenomenology as he saw it, Merleau-Ponty sought to recover a defensible Husserlian figure – as someone who made a decisive move beyond Kant’s ‘Copernican’ revolution – by selectively making points, not just against Heidegger, but also against Sartre, Gurwitsch, and Wahl, among others; as well as against the more conservative defence of Husserl’s transcendentalism that Berger was propounding at the time. The upshot, then, is that we can’t draw sound conclusions from isolated polemical points that Merleau-Ponty makes in the Preface. (In particular, on the basis of a single point ostensibly directed against Husserl, it’s far too simplistic to draw a straightforward Heideggerian conclusion.) This is because it’s not obvious how – or even if – these points hang together coherently. Specifically, given the other claims he makes, it’s not clear whether Merleau-Ponty ultimately succeeds in substantiating his denial of an Augustinian ‘inner man’. Or if he does (and I think he does), then it’s not immediately clear how he does this (“Foi et bonne foiâ€? is relevant here). The key to Merleau-Ponty’s reinterpretation of transcendental phenomenology – which, to my mind, is driven by a methodological Auseinandersetzung with Fink – is his repeated identification of transcendental subjectivity with intersubjectivity. It is with this complex, elusive assertion, properly contextualized, that we first need to come to terms, if we want to assess soundly the meaning and status of the particular polemical claims that Merleau-Ponty makes in the Preface.

“Das an sich erste Sein, das jeder weltlichen Objektivität vorangehende und sie tragende, ist die transzendentale Intersubjektivität…”

My sense of the Cartesian Meditations is that Husserl was never fully satisfied with the apodicticity of the transcendental Ego, and the whole thing is a mess because of it. Or quite subtle if you’d rather.

Husserl presents interiore homine not as a naive metaphyical entity but as a methodological starting point. Merleau-Ponty rejects that, choosing instead to start with the undeniable reality of the lifeworld.

“We have discovered, with the natural and social worlds, the truly transcendental, which is not the totality of constituting operations whereby a transparent world, free from obscurity and impenetrable solidity, is spread out before an impartial spectator, but that ambiguous life in which the forms of transcendence have their Ursprung, and which, through a fundamental contradiction, puts me in communication with them, and on this basis makes knowledge possible” (PoP, 264-265).

So basically what Bryan says makes sense to me.

I’ve just found the blog and am enjoying it hugely - currently working my way through past posts.

I must say that with regards to this issue, I have to agrre with Bryan Smyth that (a) The Merleau-Ponty/Augustine/Husserl link is hardly news. Just Google the three names! (b) The idea that MP rejects Husserlian phenomenology through and through is untenable. It just makes too many bits of PP utterly inexplicable.

While you are on the subject, it is of course worth adding that Charles Taylor structured his whole “Sources of the Self” around the Augustine-Descartes-Husserl axis, citing that particular line in his chapter title on Augustine, “In Interiore Homine,” and the whole thing on p. 129. But he doesn’t acknowledge that Husserl and Merleau-Ponty primed him to elevate Augustine to the significance his narrative attributes to him (and that line of his in particular).

Congrats on a great blog!

Dear Sean,

In above, I agree with Professor Dreyfus’s “unflattering interpretation” on the issue. I shall later, emphasize this issue, by posting Prof. Dreyfus’s interview.

On the other hand, I think, Heidegger is primarily rejecting Husserlian phenomenology in “Sein und Zeit”, and in return, accepting the Aristotlean Nichomachean Ethics (Book VI). Basically, Heidegger is accepting the Aristotlean’s phenomenological interpretation.

Comments are welcome!

Let me now, bring Husserl into the picture.

Along the same ideas wrt Heidegger, Aristotle and Phenomenology, I would like to refer you to another excellent paper by Prof. Thomas Sheehan, which was published way back during the Summer of 1975 in “PHILOSOPHY TODAY.” Sheehan’s paper elaborates the groundbreaking study of Heidegger’s phenomenological interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy. In the beginning, Shehan notes <<…It is common knowledge that the Aristotelian problem of the analogy of Being (Das Sein), first awakened in him by his 1907 reading of Brentano’s book on Aristotle, remained “the ceaseless impetus for the treatise Sein und Zeit, which appeared two decades later.”…>> (Fruehe Schriften (Frankfurt, 1972), p. x. Trans. Hans Siegfried, “Martin Heidegger: A Collection”: Man and World, 3 (1970), 4.).

Besides, the paper is well argued for the “Husserl is the Plato to Heidegger’s Aristotle..” and the paperalso discuss the phenomenological program of Aristotle in Heidegger. Sheehan wish to show, how Heidegger reads Aristotle as a prototypical (as Heidegger later develops his prototype of Aristotle’s phenomenology in SuZ) “phenomenologist” and how this reading lays the groundwork for a transformation of Aristotelian problematic of Being (Das Sein) into the problematic of SuZ.

I can see that there are a lot of issues here, so I won’t try to get to them all at once. Most of them seem to stem in one way or another, though, from Bryan Smyth’s post. Even so, I’m not sure if everyone who says they agree with Bryan is actually saying the same thing. So let me pick out some of the comments more or less at random.

First, and most importantly, I should admit a mistake. Bryan points out that CM was published in 1931 and not, as I say in the post, unpublished at the time of PhP. That is certainly right. Nothing I said in the post hangs on the claim that the text was unpublished instead of published - indeed, I think it makes my point stronger instead of weaker - but it was still sloppy to make this mistake. I’m very happy to have it corrected.

Next, Joel Smith says that the MP/Husserl/Augustine link is hardly news. Here I’m inclined to be a little less apologetic. My claim was never that the idea that there is some link or other among these figures is a revelation. Lots of people have written about all three of them, as a google search of the three names will indeed reveal. My claim was that the particular use of that Augustine quote as a reference to the last line of CM was a revelation - and indeed it was to me. But I didn’t mean to suggest that the reference was completely heretofore opaque. I am certain that Bryan is right that it would have been recognized by au courant French philosophers of the day as a reference to CM - and that’s precisely why it’s such a good clue to MP’s views about Husserl; the fact that he needed to send the message in a kind of code suggests that it wasn’t a particularly popular one. Now, beyond the refence being familiar to a certain set of French philosophers circa 1945, Bryan suggests further that it is well-known and well-understood among contemporary MP scholars as well. If that is true then I confess it must be discussed in some part of the secondary literature with which I’m less familiar. In short, that French philosophers in 1945 would have recognized the reference seems likely; that Anglo-American philosophers in 2006 not only recognize it but have spent time discussing it as a clue to MP’s understanding of Husserl is possible, but if so unknown to me. So to Bryan: could you give me a reference for some papers where this is discussed? I’d be very happy to give credit where credit is due.

Third, I seem to have been saddled - explicitly by Joel and perhaps implicitly by Bryan - with Bert’s extreme claim that MP rejected Husserl’s view through and through. I hope it was clear both from my post and from Bert’s comment that he and I disagree about that. Indeed, the whole point of the post is to suggest that there is a difference between what MP took Husserl explicitly to believe and what MP took Husserl’s unthought to commit him to. The latter seems to me close to what MP’s own view of phenomenology is, and I think that Bryan’s idea that he arrived at this position through a methodological Auseinandersetzung with Fink is probably right.

Finally, it is certainly true that Sources has a chapter on this passage in Augustine - and that it is organized around the Augustine/Descartes/Husserl axis. I am a big fan both of Charles Taylor and of his work, and it’s nice to have him in the picture. As Samuel points out, though, Taylor doesn’t say much in that book about MP. Indeed, there are not many places in his whole ouevre where CT talks about MP, though I suspect this is rather because the influence is too close than too far.

Well, that will do for starters. There’s lots more rich stuff in the comments - especially some of the historical details in Bryan’s post - but I’ll stop here for breath and to see what people think.

Dear all,

Why I agree with Bert Dreyfus’s “unflattering interpretationâ€? on the issue? Because, when Husserl sounds like he is talking like Merleau-Ponty, it’s not at all Merleau-Ponty. When Husserl talks about the body, he talks about what he calls kinaesthesia, feeling in the body, of position of the body, and of the movement of body, which is exactly the opposite of Merleau-Ponty who talks, that sort of Husserl, while you (a person is sitting, in the case of MP, it is called ‘Situated Body’) are sort of sitting still and feeling your body whereas in Merleau-Ponty, it is always about the body in action and in action so involved that one doesn’t have any feeling of one’s own body at all, but it is completely absorbed in the situation. And, Husserl doesn’t know about this.

Also, Merleau-Ponty owed all his phenomenological study to Husserl, while during the 2nd World War, it won’t be a prestigious hono(u)r for MP (it would have been very difficult for MP), to express the gratitute to Heideggerian phenomenology, because of Heidegger’s connection to the Nazism (National Socialism).

Does this make sense? Comments are welcome!

Let me express some more comments, which may help us, to understand the issues, brewing underneath.

The relationship between Husserl’s and Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the body, suggesting that they are having continuity and yet Development:

  1. The distinction between presentational and kinaesthetic sensations is clearly drawn in Husserl, with the latter being the kinds of sensations that are linked to the position and movement of the body. (Do not confuse them with Empfindnisse, which controls the account of touch, and are a hybrid variant.). Husserl does approach Leib from the side of our bodily experience, i.e., from the side of consciousness, and understand their relationship not in terms of causality but motivation, a term that deeply impressed Merleau-Ponty.

  2. Merleau-Ponty does not have any disagreement with Husserl’s account of kinaesthetic sensations (nor does Head (1), from whom Merleau-Ponty draws his account). Indeed they are crucial for his analysis. What he adds, however, is the idea of a body schema, which are the different habitual “styles” of action—themselves “unconscious”—-that script different types of movement. They are “motor programs” (Gallagher and Cole’s term, in 2) that “run” in conjunction with the kinaesthesia. And he clearly distinguishes them from the various “representations” of the body that we might have.

  3. Merleau-Ponty has a somewhat better account of action than Husserl, but he does have some difficulty connecting this to “conscious intentions,” which is Husserl’s strong point. Husserl, on the other hand, has an account of movement but not action, which involves what Merleau-Ponty calls “operative intentionality,” in contrast to intentional acts. Neither, I would say, offers an adequate account of what I would call “actional intentionality” and this is where interesting work can be done.

Merleau-Ponty teaches us that the body is the source of our knowledge of the world precisely because it is an entity like all other entities in the world. To see one must be visible, to touch one must be able to be touched, so on and so forth. Human beings are different from animals and other things by virtue of their capacity to distantiate themselves from the incarnate-self and retain knowledge of the phenomenal world. This knowledge will always be imperfect, but the body cannot be denied for the sake of “absolute knowledge”, for it is the very finitude of our bodies and perception that enables us to understood the world and self in human terms. Finite truths require finite bodies.

References:

  1. Head, Henry. “Sensory Disturbances from Cerebral Lesions.” Brain, 34 (1911), 102-254. (with Gordon Holmes)
  2. See the article by Gallagher and Cole in Donn Welton’s collection Body and Flesh (Blackwell)
Merleau-Ponty teaches us that the body is the source of our knowledge of the world precisely because it is an entity like all other entities in the world.

This doesn’t really make sense. For one, it can’t be enough: if it is just like other entities, then what gives the body any leverage as being that entity which makes knowledge possible? Second, I don’t have PoP here with me, but my dim recollection is that he highlights how special our body is in the act of perception. The gaze, for instance, which enables visual experience, is not just another entity in the world. I took this to be a central recurring theme in PoP.

Thanks, Eric for your thoughtful remarks (put carefully). Actually, I only posted one-third of my comments. More comments on the issues are due. In short, I agree with you.

Well, it seemed, that, my argument “Merleau-Ponty teaches us that the ‘body’ is the source of ‘our knowledge’ of the ‘world’ precisely ‘because it is an entity like all other entities’ in the world” is isolating the MP’s plausible argument’s on the concept of embodiment. Thanks, Eric for pointing towards an important phenomenon of visual experience.

So, I would like to correct myself. According to my reading of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, that, the body helps to shape our perception of things. We experience ourselves through several bodies. The body functions as anchorage in the world and the body is grasping of the motor significance of our actions. Another points, I would like to make, that, the technologies around us become extensions of our bodies (In the language of embodiment, Merleau-Ponty is talking on account of the way in which technologies may be embodied -such as the blind man’s cane or woman’s feathered hat). We learn to use them (technologies) not rationally but through the give and take of practice (Praktische handeln). I understand, the MP’s concept of embodiment as the “whole body concept and perception.”

Comments are welcome!

Dear Sean,

Sorry if it sounded as though I were attributing Professor Dreyfus’ view to you. It wasn’t intended, either explicitly or otherwise.

The google reference was to (paragraph 6 of) this,

http://www.ucd.ie/philosop/courses%202005-06/tm%20ma%20pref.htm

which comes up on the first page of hits for “merleau-ponty husserl augustine”. [You’ll be pleased to know that this very blog comes in at hits 1 & 2!].

Not sure whose notes these are, perhaps Tim Mooney’s?

As for contemporary discussion of this point, I think it may be mentioned somewhere in Toadvine & Embree (eds.), Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Husserl. I’ll look into it…

I feel I should reiterate. I think this blog is really excellent - potentially one of the most worthwhile philosophical blogs around.

Joel: Thanks for the compliment on the blog! Of course, if it is a success then it’s due in large part to the excellent comments that have been coming in - especially in the last week or two.

Thanks also for the google reference. I’ll look at it, and will look more closely at the Toadvine and Embree book for a discussion of this issue on Augustine, Husserl, and MP. And while we’re reiterating, I should do some of my own. When I spoke of my “revelation,” I certainly didn’t mean to be suggesting that I had evidence that nobody else had ever discussed the issue in question. Indeed, if something about this issue ends up going into the comments section of the translation, I’ll be very grateful for some references.

Sean, no such papers come to mind. No doubt the Augustinian allusion to Husserl crops up in many general introductions to Merleau-Ponty – or maybe not, I don’t really know. In any event, I’d actually be rather surprised if an extended discussion of the allusion exists anywhere in the secondary literature. The reason that I expressed some astonishment at the fact that this connection was a revelation for you is not because it’s a widely discussed topic. (As far as I know, it’s not and probably has never been.) Rather, it was simply because CM is fairly standard reading for those interested in PhP in a serious way – thus, in The Phenomenological Movement, Spiegelberg refers to Merleau-Ponty’s “obvious allusion to Husserl’s climactic quotation from St. Augustine at the end of the Paris lectures and the Cartesian Meditations […]� (3rd edition, 551). And it’s obvious solely on the basis of the two texts themselves (CM and PhP) – no secondary literature is required to point this out. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I do have the impression (no proof) that, yes, even in 2006 most serious readers of PhP recognize that the quote from Augustine is really a reference to Husserl (needless to say, that’s by no means a necessary condition of being such a reader). But at the same time, no, I don’t think anyone has “spent time discussing it as a clue to Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of Husserl.� No doubt some have made initial attempts; but I suspect that they soon realized that the definite content to work with here is virtually nil – in and of itself, the allusion is much less a clue than a puzzle; an explanandum, not an explanans. This is the main point that I had wanted to make. It’s not that I think the allusion is meaningless – far from it. But I do think that its meaning can only be discerned by situating it within a broader account of Merleau-Ponty’s reinterpretation of phenomenology, and that it would therefore be misguided to attempt to draw any significant conclusions on the basis of the allusion taken in isolation. So while it is widely recognized, there is no substantial, direct discussion of it because there is nothing really substantial in it as such to discuss. Granted, it can be read as minimally indicating Merleau-Ponty’s allegiance to a quasi-Heideggerian idea of In-der-Welt-Sein (I may have overread your argument; but still, I didn’t mean to attribute Bert’s view to you). But Merleau-Ponty says as much (and more) much more clearly and forcefully in many other places (btw, you might want to raise Merleau-Ponty’s être-au-monde as a translation issue, if you haven’t already). I am thus puzzled as to why you think it’s “such a good clue� – and also how this sits with its being expressed in “a kind of code.� If not the fuller picture, then with what further clues would we decipher the coded ones?

Bryan: Your comment reminds me of the story about the math professor. At a certain stage in the proof he said to the class, “And from this it is obvious that…” A puzzled student raised his hand and said, “I’m sorry professor, but it’s not obvious to me how that follows from what we know so far. Could you explain it?” The professor put his hand to his head, squinted uncomfortably, paced up and down in front of the blackboard, and finally walked out of the room. Twenty minutes later he came back smiling and happy and announced to the class, “Yes, yes. It really is obvious.” And continued with the proof.

The point of this is that you can’t very well insist that “it is widely recognized” and then not be able to show me where it’s widely discussed. If I’m to be criticized for my ignorance - of which I’ll happily admit plenty - then at least I ought to be criticized for ignorance of things I really might have learned about through diligent study of the secondary texts. (I assume, of course, that you are not suggesting I am unfamiliar with CM itself. I hope it will be obvious that it is possible to have read and studied that important text without remembering - in the context of reading a different text - that it ends with a tip of the hat to Augustine. As important as this may be as an epitaph, one can hardly be criticized for having paid more attention to the substance of the text than to its historical symbolism.)

That said, there is an important part of your comment that I agree with wholeheartedly: and that is that no account of MP’s interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenology should be made to stand or fall on the analysis of a couple of sentences. I hope you will recognize, both from the main post here and from the rest of my published work on Husserl and MP, that that was never the intent.

Still, I think there is something to be gotten out of the analysis of this passage. It is interesting, for one thing, that MP does not himself make explicit reference to CM here. That’s why it seems to me a kind of coded message - intended only for those who will recognize the reference without it’s being labeled as such. One sends a message in code when it is dangerous or unpopular to send it in plain text. So it is a clue that MP thought it would be dangerous or unpopular to suggest about Husserl whatever his discussion of this passage from Augustine does. Interestingly, what his discussion of the Augustine passage seems to suggest is that he is at odds with what Husserl says explicitly about our capacity to examine ourselves. Since the rhetoric of the Preface suggests the opposite of this - indeed since it seems to say outright that MP thinks Husserl’s method is deeper and more interesting than Heidegger’s - then this clue tells us that we must go back and think through again what MP’s real relationship to Husserl is. Of course we must do this in the context of the broader corpus of each of their works. And no doubt there is room for a multiplicity of interpretations here. But to dismiss the reference as obvious and insubstantial seems to me to underplay the subtlety and originality of MP’s work.

Since Sean Kelly mentioned “The Philosopher and His Shadow” in the original post, it may be of interest to add that M-P came back to the Augustine quotation in that essay. In this passage, the point is not to emphasize that Husserl’s inner man does not exist, but that Husserl himself provided the way beyond it: “[L]ocating obstacles is the very meaning of [Husserl’s] inquiry. One of its ‘results’ is the realization that the movement of return to ourselves — of ‘re-entering ourselves,’ St. Augustine said — is as if rent by an inverse movement which it elicits. Husserl rediscovers the identity of ‘re-entering self’ and ‘going-outside self’…” Signs, p. 161. But already in PP, of course, M-P is not rejecting Husserl so much as claiming to think his unthought.

This notion of the unthought is coming from Merleau-Ponty’s lecture notes on Origins of Geometry?

We are not quite on the same page here, but I am having trouble accepting the notion that the unthought is key to how Merleau-Ponty interprets Husserl in PoP. Can this be clarified?

The footnote to the passage I cited above reads:

“Husserl in his last period concedes that all reflection should in the first place return to the description of the world of living experience (Lebenswelt). But he adds that, by means of a second ‘reduction’, the structures of the world of experience must be reinstated in the transcendental flow of a universal constitution in which all the world’s obscurities are elucidated. It is clear, however, that we are faced with a dilemma: either the constitution makes the world transparent, in which case it is not obvious why reflection needs to pass through the world of experience, or else it retains something of that world, and never rids it of its opacity. Husserl’s thought moves increasingly in this second direction, despite many throwbacks to the logicist period—as is seen when he makes a problem of rationality, when he allows singificances which are in the last resort ‘fluid’ (Erfahrung und Urteil, p. 428), when he bases knowledge on a basic δoξa).”

In my opinion, Husserl is well aware of such a dilemma from the gitgo. Whether or not Merleau-Ponty is correct about the direction of Husserl’s thought, we are still dealing here with a question of interpreting Husserl’s thought based on his explicit statements, and a bold deduction or conclusion drawn by Merleau-Ponty here and there. (And of course we have Merleau-Ponty’s own thinking.)

Do we need a special meaning of unthinking to understand what Merleau-Ponty’s doing vis-a-vis Husserl in PoP?

Sean, just to be clear, I never made ignorance the grounds of any criticism. No single reader of PhP knows all its details, and I doubt that the process of discovering new ones will cease anytime soon. In any case, we certainly shouldn’t assume that that process is over for any of us – I think you would agree with that.

Granted, I did express surprise that the particular textual connection between PhP and CM in question was for you a revelation; but on that particular score my comment was meant fairly neutrally. What led me to use the relatively strong term “astonishment� – aside from what I saw as two factual errors: (i) that concerning CM, which you concede, and (ii) the claim, which you seem to have reiterated, that this was not just a private revelation – was the hastiness with which you seemed to move from the fresh discovery of the textual connection as such, to the claim to this presents us with “a surprising and amazing fact about the relation between Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.� It was this hastiness alone that I wanted to criticize – in other words, your insistence that something philosophically significant can be said about this allusion in advance of it being situated within a carefully worked-out reconstruction of Merleau-Ponty’s reinterpretation of Husserlian phenomenology – even if, as we agree, it is ultimately only from that standpoint that the whole story could be told.

What seems pivotal in your view is this claim: the fact that Merleau-Ponty did not explicitly mention Husserl self-evidently indicates that there is something esoteric going on here, and that therefore whatever Merleau-Ponty is saying is in some sense “dangerous or unpopular.� I think that this suggestion is premature and unhelpful. Do you think that it was Merleau-Ponty’s standard practice in PhP to carefully and diligently cite every source, especially those that would have been transparent to his contemporary philosophical audience? Surely we need to establish the norm in order to recognize an aberration. For my part, I don’t expect that we’d find that the allusion in question is strongly aberrational in this regard. Both in the Preface, and throughout the text, we find many similarly implicit references. A well-known – I won’t say “obvious� – example is his claim that “nous sommes condamnés au sens,� which, qua textual fact, is self-evidently a play on Sartre’s famous claim that “nous sommes condamnés à la liberté.� No footnote is required, neither then nor now. But it hardly follows that it is esoterically coded. Nor, however, is the philosophical meaning of this statement self-evident. That could only result from a considerable amount of comparative exegetical and hermeneutical work.

To take another example, Merleau-Ponty refers several times to the ideas of natura naturata and natura naturans throughout PhP. He needn’t tell us that he has Spinoza in mind, although sometimes he does so. More particularly, on two occasions Merleau-Ponty cites – each time without explicitly identifying it – a phrase from the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, namely, “habemus ideam veram� [we have a true idea]. I see no reason to think that just because Merleau-Ponty didn’t remind us of the source of this dictum that he was therefore invoking it esoterically, or that he was trying to guard himself against some sort of danger or unpopularity (whatever that might mean). Contrary to what you suggest, it’s perfectly coherent (although possibly false) to say (a) that this is widely recognized as a allusion to Spinoza, without (b) it being widely discussed in the secondary literature (Pietersma has discussed it, perhaps others as well). And none of this is directly connected to the question of its philosophical significance. The latter can only be assessed within much broader textual and contextual horizons. It is precisely the absence of a properly worked-out account of these interpretive horizons that makes it possible for such implicit allusions to be at once widely recognized as to their source, and yet not widely explored as to their meaning.

Likewise for the Augustinian allusion to Husserl. I’m pretty sure that my claims about this being ‘insubstantial’ were always carefully qualified (“in itself,â€? “as such,â€? “on its own,â€? etc.) – the point being that the philosophical meaning of the lines in question is not to be found in those lines themselves. To be sure, this makes mine a fairly trivial (but true) point. But please don’t misunderstand it: it is the mere fact of the allusion qua textual connection that is obvious; its philosophical meaning is not. And I’ve never said anything to belittle – let alone dismiss – this meaning. On the contrary, my point was to counter what seemed to me to be a rather impulsive interpretative leap on your part that could fetter the philosophical investigation of the allusion by restricting the interpretive horizons within which it is approached. Before we declare that Merleau-Ponty was writing “in codeâ€? because of potentially ‘dangerous’ conditions and a concern for ‘popularity’, we would need to identify and answer certain pertinent questions – for example: Is it actually significant that Merleau-Ponty did not name Husserl? Who else might be implicated in this allusion? Who would have objected if Husserl were named? Why would Merleau-Ponty have cared? (After all, he says lots of things that are much more philosophically dangerous and unpopular than denying the Augustinian ‘inner man’!) Also, on the other side, we need to ask: is Husserl’s citation of Augustine itself substantial to CM (as it clearly is according to your original post), or just a matter of “historical symbolism,â€? a mere “tip of the hatâ€? (as you subsequently put it)? This would make a big difference.

I think we have the same goal in mind, namely, to come to terms with the “subtlety and originality of Merleau-Ponty’s work.� The allusion in question is a good clue to this, if by “clue� we mean – rather unconventionally – the occasion for numerous new questions, the answers to which, should we manage to work them out, might supply fresh insight into Merleau-Ponty’s thought. If we dismiss anything, let it be hermeneutical haste.

Bryan: Thanks for your lengthy and considerate comment. I’m sure you’re right that we have the same goal in mind - to come to terms with the subtlety and originality of Merleau-Ponty’s work - and also that I could learn a lot from further discussions with you (and others here!) about the particular ways in which this subtlety and originality manifests itself in PhP. I’m inclined, however, to move on from the current topic, if it’s ok with you. The problem is that further discussion looks like it will focus on such uninteresting issues as what I meant when I said the reference was an interpretive “clue,” or what you meant when you said it was “insubstantial.” And as fun as this conversation would be to have over beer some night, I think it will quickly become indulgent in the current context. Rather than trying to decide, then, whether you were right to be astonished at my hubris, or whether I was in fact less self-aggrandizing than it might have seemed on the surface, perhaps I can suggest we try to dig into some of the many other substantive issues that arise. For you are certainly right that there are numerous new questions that come out of this, and I’m very interested to find out what we can learn about those. And just to be clear: I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I haven’t learned anything from this discussion - quite the opposite! Among other things I’ve learned that I’d like very much to hear what you have to say about other topics. So less by way of closing this thread than by way of making room to open others, shall we agree to move on?

Yes, most definitely. (And apologies for lengthiness.)

“Merleau-Ponty does not add, no doubt because he did not think it necessary, that Husserl had ended his Cartesian Meditations by quoting the very same Augustinian epigram, but with evident approval.” Thomas Baldwin, in his introduction to Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings, p. 26

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