Merleau-Ponty and the transcendental problem of bodily agency

In Rasmus Thybo Jensen & Dermot Moran (eds.), The Phenomenology of Embodied Subjectivity, Contributions to Phenomenology 71. Springer. pp. 43-61 (2013)
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Abstract

I argue that we find the articulation of a problem concerning bodily agency in the early works of the Merleau-Ponty which he explicates as analogous to what he explicitly calls the problem of perception. The problem of perception is the problem of seeing how we can have the object given in person through it perspectival appearances. The problem concerning bodily agency is the problem of seeing how our bodily movements can be the direct manifestation of a person’s intentions in the world. In both cases what, according to Merleau-Ponty, obscures a recognition of the phenomenon in question is a conception of our bodily capacities, i.e. our sensibility and our motility, which reduces these to the workings of mechanisms that are blind to meaning. I argue that both the problem concerning perception and the problem concerning bodily agency can be properly called transcendental. The problem of perception is transcendental because it concerns the very intelligibility of appearances and judgements with empirical content. The problem of bodily agency is transcendental in the sense that it concerns the very intelligibility of our bodily capacity to carry out intentions and by implication the intelligibility of our intentions as such.

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Rasmus Thybo Jensen
University of Tokyo

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