Motor Imagery and Merleau-Pontyian Accounts of Skilled Action

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 1:169-198 (2014)
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Maurice Merleau-Ponty is often interpreted as claiming that opportunities for action are directly present in perceptual experience. However, he does not provide much evidence for how or why this would occur, and one can doubt that this is an appropriate interpretation of his phenomenological descriptions. In particular, it could be argued the Merleau-Pontyian descriptions mistakenly attribute pre-perceptual or post-perceptual elements such as allocation of attention or judgment to the perceptual experience itself. This paper argues for the Merleau-Pontyian idea that opportunities for action are present in perceptual experience. It further argues that the phenomenological descriptions can be supported and explained via reference to contemporary research on motor imagery. In particular, it will be argued that non-conscious, covert motor imagery is used to prepare for and regulate skilled actions, and that it is plausible that this imagery combines with perception (likely vision) to create a single experience of the environment as enabling action. The paper will also show that contemporary views on motor imagery are broadly compatible with Merleau-Ponty’s aims.

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Joseph C. Berendzen
Loyola University, New Orleans


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