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1. Introduction

Gallagher and Zahavi, ; see also Legrand, 3. This perspective allows them to distance themselves from representationalist interpretations—for instance, those of Damasio and Crick , among others—that do not recognize that perception is meaningful in itself cf. Gallagher and Zahavi, Talero, ; Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty distinguishes the habitual body—that of general and pre-reflexive existence—from the actual—that of personal and reflexive existence—understanding that both always co-penetrate each other.

He explains that in the behaviors of mentally ill or brain damaged persons the nexus between the habitual and the actual body are broken cf. In these cases, the person can reproduce certain habitual movements, but not those that require an actual understanding of the situation. For instance, a person can perform movements like touching his or her nose with a hand, but cannot respond to an order to touch the nose with a ruler.

In contrast, in the non-pathological subject there is no rupture between either form of movement, since he or she is able to grasp this analogous form of movement toward the nose that the sick person cannot achieve cf. The healthy person is able to come and go from the habitual to the actual. He or she is able to readjust the habitual to the actual. In the linkage of the subject with the world, effective, practical action has primacy. Merleau-Ponty, 4. In their studies, they show that perception is not a passive reception of information, but instead implies activity, specifically, the movement of our body 5.

Merleau-Ponty explains that habitual behavior arises on the basis of a set of situations and responses that, despite not being identical, constitute a community of meaning cf. This is explained by the fact that the subject integrates certain elements of general motility that permit him or her to grasp what is essential to the dance in question and perform it with an ease that is expressed in the mastery of the body over the movements cf.

Gallagher and Zahavi take from Merleau-Ponty this non-automatic understanding of habitual acts that, despite not requiring an express intentionality, nonetheless form part of the operative intentionality that was mentioned at the beginning of this article cf. Gallagher and Zahavi are able, over the course of their book, to demonstrate the error of that naturalism that defends objective natural science as the only legitimate manner of understanding the mind cf. Gallagher and Zahavi, ; one example, among others, of this posture is found in Sellars, and in Dennett, Gallagher and Zahavi, ; see also Gallagher, The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Merleau-Ponty In chap. Sartre and Merleau-Ponty National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Front Hum Neurosci v. Front Hum Neurosci. Published online Jul Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Received Mar 27; Accepted Jul 2. Keywords: habit, Merleau-Ponty, embodiment, pre-reflective knowledge, Gallagher, Zahavi. The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

Many existentialist writers have stressed this primordial, metaphysical function of the work of art as a partial revealing that aims to uncover the totality of Being. It also partly explains why most existentialist philosophers were equally, or in fact more, active as creative writers. According to them, metaphysical inquiry and artistic practice share a fundamental aim: both are ways of revealing to human beings their own freedom and responsibility. The metaphysical and ethical dimensions of human freedom are intimately related.

The existentialists argue that, of all the beings existing in the world, the human being is the only one that can decide what it should be; indeed, it is forced to do so since it has no fixed nature.

Many human beings refuse this burden and flee from their ontological responsibility by accepting pre-given roles. What is the link between the metaphysical and the ethical dimensions of human freedom, and how does this latter concern aesthetics? Let us begin with the first part of the question. We will first approach it by using a mode of argument typical of phenomenology. A mountain climber views a mountain in a way radically different from an intellectual who has devoted his or her life to books. The difference in their perspectives relates to the deep projects of selves that distinguish these two persons.

In other words, behind every perception there is a value influencing the perception in advance and thus ultimately determining its precise content. The very capacity of human beings to conceive something in the world at all is premised on their capacity to posit values Sartre a; Marcel a, for the religious perspective. This answers, then, the second part of the question regarding the relation between the work of art and the ethical aspect of freedom.

For the existentialists, as we saw, the work of art brings to a higher level of reflexivity and consistency the innate capacity of human beings to disclose the world. However, since this capacity is itself rooted in the ethical or religious nature of human beings, the work of art plays a central role in conveying a more acute sense of ethical responsibility.

It follows that there is an intimate link between art and engagement: every aesthetic ordering of the world brings with it a conception of human freedom and suggests ways to use it. This definition of the artwork remains ambiguous inasmuch as it does not specify whose freedom is required. A number of features can be delineated as a result, depending on whose freedom is emphasised in each case. The freedom required by the world is first of all that of the artist.

Every artwork reveals a fundamental, existential attitude towards the world, and is the expression of an existential choice. We will return to the fundamental notion of expression below, but we can already note that putting existential weight on every act of disclosure leads directly to the conclusion that artistic practice is intimately linked to ethical and political choices. This is because existence, freedom and self-determination are, for the existentialists, essentially active and practical notions.

The existential choice is not simply a choice of who one should be, in the sense of a choice of personality or character; the theory of existence does not translate into a theory of genius. Rather, the emphasis is on the active relationship within the world, and especially with others. When the artist presents the world, whether he or she likes it or not this presentation also proposes to others ways to live in the world and possibly at least for the most politically minded authors, such as Sartre, de Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty ways to change it.

Therefore the artwork involves a freedom that is not just that of the artist, but also that of the audience. In this respect, again, they differ from some modernist views. Indeed, this insistence on the representative dimension of art might appear old-fashioned, inasmuch as the more modern insistence on the autonomy of the artwork has marked most late 19 th century aesthetic projects and their 20 th century descendants. So far we have only considered the subjective side of the link between human revelation of the world and the world itself.

Existentialism, however, also emphasizes the objective side of the link; that is, the world itself as object of perception and knowledge, and as the context in which human action takes place. Marcel, despite his critical analyses of what he sees as the ills of modern society, is the most optimistic of all, mainly due to the theological grounding of his ontology.

Ultimately there is no gap for him between the yearning for full participation in the world including in God and the world itself, since we owe our very existence and capacity for participation to the ultimate origin of this world. Although Merleau-Ponty does not share this theological conviction, he agrees with Marcel on a crucial point: our incarnation in the world through our bodies is the fundamental beginning of our learning to inhabit the world meaningfully.

As a result of our being both in and of the world through our bodies, Merleau-Ponty believes that on the whole our presentations of the world reveal objective features of it. Whilst we crave for sense and harmony, the world has nothing to offer but chaos and a random play of blind forces. All our efforts to impose order and sense upon a world that can ultimately accommodate neither are therefore doomed to fail.

The absurd, then, denominates both the most fundamental state of the world and the absurdity of human attempts at overcoming this basic fact. For Camus, one of the ways of liberating oneself from the illusion of meaning and unity is to open up to the beauty of Nature and partake in it, abandoning oneself in privileged moments of hedonistic communion with wild environments, such as the rugged Algerian landscape or the Mediterranean, or in eroticism a; see the moments of happiness in The Outsider , for example, a, 23—24, — His first novel, Nausea , painstakingly chronicles this ontological disgust towards the strangeness of the world.

Admittedly, this applies to some existentialist authors more than others. But these obstacles arise mainly from social institutions notably around marriage and historical events the tragic circumstances of the 20 th century and what Marcel sees as the dangerous objectivism of modern society. As we have noted, some of the best-known passages in their literary writings also describe moments in which the obtrusiveness of the world is overcome, yielding fleeting yet sublime experiences of sensuous communion with nature and others.

Sartre drew some particularly interesting conclusions from the definition of the functions of art on the basis of an existentialist metaphysics.

Kym Maclaren - Department of Philosophy - Ryerson University

Mikel Dufrenne has most thoroughly pursued this ontological approach. The freedom that characterises human subjectivity is manifested most vividly in a specific type of intentionality: the imagining of an object. This distinguishes it from the type of intentionality involved in perception, one of the key aspects of which is precisely the positing of its object as existent. The real, material elements of the artwork are, properly speaking, not the actual elements on which the aesthetic judgement is fixed.

These are fixed instead on a virtual object, i. These two are, however, indistinguishable. The real, says Sartre, is the analogue of the ideal. Existentialist aesthetics generally insists on the unity that artistic expression brings to the world. This implies that the consistency of the existential project, from which the world is revealed in a special way, also commands the consistency of the artwork.

But the quote above also indicates the relation between the different elements that make up the overall composition: in the end, every particular material element that contributes to the general composition is related to the others through a relation of negativity. In the same manner, the existentialist philosophers who dedicated the most attention to the articulation of meaning Sartre and Merleau-Ponty insist on the essentially diacritical essence of the aesthetic element in a given composition: an element has aesthetic significance on the basis of its relation to the other elements, rather than owing to any substantial meaning of its own.

This also implies that often the meaning and aesthetic power of a composition a text, a painting and so on rests just as much on what is not said or not shown; what lies in-between the elements of the composition, rather than on the elements explicitly shown. The existentialists all insist that meaning is largely to be found in a certain form of silence. In the case of a novel:. This means that the different elements of the artwork should not be approached separately or in their immediate reality, but in terms of how they function organically, systematically and negatively.

The colours in a painting, and the choice of words and the rhythm of sentences in a novel are all but traces, ellipses, elisions, and caesuras that suggest in the negative, just as much as the elements positively indicate the contours of a certain perspective onto the world. The artwork is the most striking example of the power of human consciousness to turn towards the world in such a way that it takes in from it certain elements and blanks out others, in accordance to a fundamental existential project.

Artistic practice is one of the most eminent demonstrations of human freedom because it shows how human practice can recreate Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty or recover Marcel a new, more ordered world out of the given world. The existentialist philosophers did not refrain from formulating internal aesthetic and external ethical and political constraints to artistic practice, but their aesthetics fundamentally proclaims the radical freedom of the artist, also seeing in it the privileged exemplar of human freedom in general. Camus, for example, makes artistic activity, the choice of becoming an artist, one of the privileged modes for humans to deal with the absurd Camus b, 86— But radical freedom is ambiguous, as it must work with a facticity a term the existentialists adopted from Heidegger , viz.

In the case of the artist, the ambiguity resides already in the decision and the passion to become an artist. Although a set of genetic and social preconditions influences that decision, it is equally the product of an individual decision in that specific situation. The work of art is caught up in the same ambiguity. On the one hand, it is the free creation of an unconstrained person, a purely idiosyncratic expression of an individuality.


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On the other, it is constrained by various factors that exert influence on its very structure: the audience, the historical period that will receive the work, the material elements that make up the artwork, and in particular, the already signifying elements that the artist reuses and recomposes to create a new work. It can be argued that this theory of expression captures and makes explicit thoughts that a number of other existentialist writers shared on these questions. In The Prose of the World , Merleau-Ponty explored the emergence and logic of meaning and meaning-giving activity, of signification and expression, using the example of literary works particularly the novel.

Stendhal provided him with a paradigmatic case study. Such an attempt to draw deep philosophical conclusions from artworks is typical of existentialist practice. Firstly, the literary work can help us understand the phenomenon of meaning and meaning-giving by seeing the writer as creating new meanings, indeed a new language a Joycean version of English, a Flaubertian French, and so on by recomposing a language he or she shares with an entire historical community.

This is a truly ambiguous aspect that can be taken on one hand as the proof of the mystery of expression, evidence of a creative power required to make possible the emergence of the new out of the old, while on the other hand this new is possible only on the basis of the already-instituted. But this initial remark points to a much deeper level; here, it is painting that offers the most precious indications.

Intentionality can be said to coincide with the establishment of a perspective in a world where there is, prior to human presence, none. For reality to appear in all its different qualities and structures, human consciousness is required. What distinguishes the artist from other language-users is the consistency and coherence of a specific outlook onto the world.

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Such coherent perspective introduces an element of regularity and structure in the chaos of the world. It introduces directions: a high and a low, a right and a left. That is, it introduces sense. This link between artistic expression and meaning leads to a major re-evaluation of the notion of style.

Rather than a superficial way of formulating meanings that remain unchanged by their expression, style in this context now indicates a fundamental perspective from which the world can be approached; it indicates a perspective that would not have existed prior to the expressive act. On this model, style does not express pre-existing meaning, but creates it. Camus, in the pages of The Rebel devoted to the aesthetic dimensions of rebellion, developed a concomitant conception of artistic expression:.

This in turn gives a more specific meaning to the relation of the new and the old in expression. True expression whether the first genuine self-expression of the learning speaker, a new scientific meaning, or true artistic achievement is both totally idiosyncratic, and a re-composition of shared elements; it transforms the old. This explains the puzzling fact that a true expression must be at once a true creation, something unheard of, and yet can be understood only if the language it uses natural, scientific or artistic is known.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Artistic communication also has a certain capacity to transcend the ages and cut across languages. Beyond the historical situatedness of artistic communication the fact that an artistic language re-uses the language of its contemporaries , the task of giving sense on the basis of being-in-the-world is part of the metaphysical condition of being human, and so applicable to all humans throughout history. Merleau-Ponty, for his part, insists on the underlying unity of the history of painting, which allows us to find traces and echoes of past painters in modern ones.

The history of painting is a microcosmic image of history, and a testament to the capacity of present generations to understand the actions and passions of the past Merleau-Ponty b, It shows how, despite the spatiotemporal distance that separates historical contexts, humans can still understand each other, historians can understand previous times, anthropologists other peoples, and we can somehow access some of the meanings of past artistic practices. The expressive achievements of other peoples are both radically alien, and yet the result of expressive gestures that are commensurable to ours, inasmuch as they are the product of a common human capacity, viz.

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A central, shared assumption of existentialist aesthetics, beyond the stark religious and political differences of the existentialists, is the essential ambiguity of the human condition: I am radically free as consciousness, yet radically determined by my facticity, the physical, social and other circumstances in which my consciousness comes to the world. An important implication of the emphasis on human facticity is that it forges a vital link between philosophy and the arts, which from this perspective similarly aim to explore the metaphysical ambiguity of the human condition.

Indeed, many other existentialist writers made similar statements reflecting their own life choices, in particular their decision to pursue a philosophical and literary career. The personal dimension that can be found in many existentialist writings grants these texts a special status in the history of philosophy, since it blurs a boundary that has been essential to the definition of the genre of philosophical writing, viz.

Sartre also wrote an autobiographical account of his discovery of the world of words, Les Mots , without doubt one of his masterpieces. Beyond their own personal practice, the existentialists also find philosophical significance in the lives of great artists, and are interested in the moment they chose to become artists and how this primordial choice unfolded over the course of their lives. Indeed, this is true not just of writers and painters but also of actors.

International Journal of Philosophical Studies 19 5 - Bryan Smyth University of Mississippi. Abstract This paper clarifies the relationship between Merleau-Ponty? Although Fink? Reconstructing the basic methodological claims of each text, in particular with regard to the being of the phenomenologist, the nature of the productivity that makes phenomenology possible, and the problem of methodological self-reference, I show that Phenomenology of Perception is premised on a decisive rejection of the main theses affirmed in the Sixth Cartesian Meditation.

In contrast to Fink? Albeit with a Marxian inflection, Merleau-Ponty thus related phenomenology much more closely to Kant. This may not be a better philosophical position, but circa it was Merleau-Ponty? Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Continental Philosophy. Edit this record. Mark as duplicate. Find it on Scholar. Request removal from index. Revision history. From the Publisher via CrossRef no proxy dx. Configure custom resolver. Maurice Merleau-Ponty - - Gallimard.