Anonymity and Sociality: The Convergence of psychological and philosophical Currents in Merleau-Ponty’s ontological Theory of Intersubjectivity

Chiasmi International 5:295-309 (2003)
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In the prospectus for his later work pronounced in 1952, Merleau-Ponty announced that his move beyond the phenomenological to the ontological level of analysis is motivated by issues of sociality, notably communication with others.' I propose to interrogate this priority attributed by the author to this interpersonal bond in his reflections on corporeality in general, marking a departure from The Structure of Behavior and The Phenomenology of Perception, which privileged the starting point of consciousness and the body proper. My interest lies particularly in exposing the psychological sources of Merleau-Ponty's thinking about the primacy of sociality. Referring to his lectures on Child Psychology and Pedagogy, which he delivered as Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1949-52,2 I will develop the contention that the developmental psychology of child sociality significantly informed his understanding of relations between self and other laid out in the later texts, and henceforth informed also his conception of the flesh. Specifically, the psychological hypotheses about the anonymous and fusional form initially taken by human sociality appears to play a determining role in his conception of interpersonal life formulated on the ontological plane. I will then point to the internal tensions involved in the theory of sociality based on the thesis of anonymity and disclose an alternative theoretical account, which has the merit of preserving the advantages of the anonymity thesis while avoiding its drawbacks; it also facilitates continued dialogue between Merleau-Ponty's philosophy and recent developmental psychology.

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Beata Stawarska
University of Oregon


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