The Kantian Roots of Merleau-Ponty's Account of Pathology

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One of the more striking aspects of Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception (1945) is his use of psychological case studies in pathology. For Merleau-Ponty, a philosophical interpretation of phenomena like aphasia and psychic blindness promises to shed light not just on the nature of pathology, but on the nature of human existence more generally. In this paper, I show that although Merleau-Ponty is surely a pioneer in this use of pathology, his work is deeply indebted to an earlier philosophical study of pathology offered by the German Neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer in the third volume of the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1929). More specifically, I argue that Merleau-Ponty, in fact, follows Cassirer in placing Kant's notion of the productive imagination at the centre of his account of pathology and the features of existence it illuminates. Recognizing the debt Merleau-Ponty's account of pathology has to the Kantian tradition not only acts as a corrective to more recent interpretation of Merleau-Ponty's views of pathology (Dreyfus, Romdenh-Romluc), but also recommends we resist the prevailing tendency to treat Merleau-Ponty's philosophy as anti-Kantian. Instead, my interpretation seeks to restore Merleau-Ponty's place within the Kantian tradition.
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Archival date: 2018-01-10
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