Merleau-Ponty’s Immanent Critique of Gestalt Theory

Human Studies 40 (2):191-215 (2017)
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Merleau-Ponty’s appropriation of Gestalt theory in The Structure of Behavior is central to his entire corpus. Yet commentators exhibit little agreement about what lesson is to be learned from his critique, and provide little exegesis of how his argument proceeds. I fill this exegetical gap. I show that the Gestaltist’s fundamental error is to reify forms as transcendent realities, rather than treating them as phenomena of perceptual consciousness. From this, reductivist errors follow. The essay serves not only as a helpful guide through parts of The Structure of Behavior for newcomers, but also offers a corrective to recent trends in philosophy of mind. Such influential commentators as Hubert Dreyfus, Taylor Carmen, and Evan Thompson have, I argue, risked serious misunderstanding of Merleau-Ponty’s view, by mistakenly treating “circular causality” as central to Merleau-Ponty’s own acausal view of forms. [The version archived at Philpapers is closer to the author's preferred format. Formatting requirements in the published version make the section/subsection hierarchy needlessly difficult to follow. There are some changes to content in the published version. Please cite only the published version.]

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