Intentionality, Constitution and Merleau‐Ponty's Concept of ‘The Flesh’

European Journal of Philosophy 25 (3):677-699 (2017)
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Since Husserl, the task of developing an account of intentionality and constitution has been central to the phenomenological enterprise. Some of Merleau-Ponty's descriptions of ‘the flesh’ suggest that he gives up on this task, or, more strongly, that the flesh is in principle incompatible with intentionality or constitution. I show that these remarks, as in Merleau-Ponty's earlier writings, refer to the classical, early Husserlian interpretations of these concepts, and argue that the concept of the flesh can plausibly be understood to advance a refined account of intentionality and constitution. Instead of a first-personal, unidirectional act or embodied motor project, intentionality is a latent openness to things, where the roles of subject and object are reversible. Whereas the view of constitution as meaning-bestowal is untenable, the flesh has a constitutive role, which is supported by a ‘constitutional passivity’ from the subject. On this reading, Merleau-Ponty's later work aims to develop basic tenets of his earlier thought, albeit at a critical distance, an attempt he thought was continuous with the central problems that Husserl claimed a phenomenological philosophy must grapple with, even if Merleau-Ponty's answers to these problems are not Husserl's.
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Signs.Merleau-Ponty, Maurice
Signes.Merleau-Ponty, Maurice
Phenomenology of Perception.Gurwitsch, Aron; Merleau-Ponty, M. & Smith, Colin

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