Maurice Merleau‐Ponty's concept of motor intentionality: Unifying two kinds of bodily agency

European Journal of Philosophy 26 (2):763-779 (2018)
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I develop an interpretation of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's concept of motor intentionality, one that emerges out of a reading of his presentation of a now classic case study in neuropathology—patient Johann Schneider—in Phenomenology of Perception. I begin with Merleau-Ponty's prescriptions for how we should use the pathological as a guide to the normal, a method I call triangulation. I then turn to his presentation of Schneider's unusual case. I argue that we should treat all of Schneider's behaviors as pathological, not only his abstract movements, as is commonly acknowledged in the secondary literature, but also crucially his concrete movements. Using these facts of Schneider's illness, I reconstruct a ‘fundamental function’ of consciousness, as Merleau-Ponty called it, in which there are two kinds of bodily agency: the power of the body to be solicited by a situation and the power of the body to project a situation. I propose that these powers became dissociated in Schneider's case, as evidenced by his abstract and concrete movements, while in the normal case, these powers comprise a dynamic unity, enacted as motor intentionality. I also discuss how my interpretation complements Merleau-Ponty's assertion that motor intentions exist between mind and matter.

Author's Profile

Gabrielle Jackson
State University of New York, Stony Brook


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