Was Merleau-Ponty a ‘transcendental’ phenomenologist?
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Whether or not Merleau-Ponty’s version of phenomenology should be considered a form of ‘transcendental’ philosophy is open to debate. Although the Phenomenology of Perception presents his position as a transcendental one, many of its features—such as its exploitation of empirical science—might lead to doubt that it can be. This paper considers whether Merleau-Ponty meets what I call the ‘transcendentalist challenge’ of defining and grounding claims of a distinctive transcendental kind. It begins by highlighting three features—the absolute ego, the pure phenomenal field, and the reduction—that Husserl had used to justify claims of a specifically transcendental kind within a phenomenological framework. It then examines how Merleau-Ponty modifies each of these features to focus on the lived body and a factically conditioned phenomenal field, while remaining ambivalent about the reduction. Finally, it assesses whether Merleau-Ponty’s modified position can still legitimately be considered transcendental. I argue that—despite his own rhetoric—this modified position shapes the modality of Merleau-Ponty’s claims in such a way that his phenomenology cannot meet the transcendentalist challenge and therefore should not be considered ‘transcendental.’