Merleau-Ponty and Liberal Naturalism

In Routledge Handbook of Liberal Naturalism. New York: Routledge (2022)
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As neither a classical naturalist nor a non-naturalist, Merleau-Ponty appears to be a moderate or liberal naturalist. But can a phenomenologist really be a naturalist, even a liberal one? A lot hinges on how we tease this out, both as to whether it is plausible to claim Merleau-Ponty as a liberal naturalist (I argue it is), and as to whether it is an attractive and coherent position. Indeed, despite its important challenges to orthodox naturalism, there are arguably two traps to avoid. If it becomes too liberal, we get: dualism or an ontological pluralism that is difficult to distinguish from a constructivism; or, in seeking to sidestep that metaphysical dilemma, there is sometimes an insistence on an overly neat methodological separation between description/understanding and explanation that is belied in practice (both scientific and philosophical). It is doubtful that such positions can legitimately claim to be naturalist in orientation, liberal or not. Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy avoids these traps, however, and it is thus a useful resource for contemporary work trying to navigate between scientific naturalism and non-naturalism

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Jack Alan Reynolds
Deakin University


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