Skill and the Critique of Descartes in Gilbert Ryle and Maurice Merleau-Ponty

In Kascha Semonovitch Neal DeRoo (ed.), Merleau-Ponty at the Limits of Art, Religion, and Perception. Continuum. pp. 63 (2010)
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The mechanistic concept of the body, as inherited from René Descartes, has generated considerable trouble in philosophy—including, at least in part, the mind-body problem itself. Still, the corps mécanique remains perhaps the most prevalent though least examined assumption in recent philosophy of mind. I discuss two notable exceptions. Gilbert Ryle and Maurice Merleau-Ponty rejected this assumption for surprisingly similar reasons. Writing at about the same time, though in different languages and in very different circles, they each attempted to articulate a non-mechanistic concept of the body by stressing the importance of skill: skillful behavior constituting cognition in Ryle’s case, and the skill body constituting perception in Merleau-Ponty’s case. In this article, I turn to their cautions and insights. By drawing out the relation between these two seemingly unrelated theorists, I hope to show that together Ryle and Merleau-Ponty have much to offer philosophy today.

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Gabrielle Jackson
State University of New York, Stony Brook


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