Review of Don Beith’s The Birth of Sense: generative passivity in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (978-0-8214-2310-3)

Stony Brook University, 2018

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    As a brief aside, Beith does not specify why it is only organic beings that participate in his second level of generality. He claims that there is a difference in kind between mere physical objects and organic beings, (70) and that inorganic structures are reducible to “logical possibilities of inorganic structures.” (81) However, at the level of ontology, it seems to me that all existing things ought to share the same basic fundamental structure. This remains unexplored in Beith’s text, as he begins from basic organic life and builds into the realm of persons—physical matter is left behind before we even get underway. This is a pertinent topic in Merleau-Ponty studies, as several thinkers press upon the possibility of Merleau-Ponty being a panpsychist, and others engaging his work in terms of a kind of materialism or universal vitalism. Beith doesn’t take an explicit stand in these cases, as he doesn’t let us understand the place that physical, inert matter has for his ontological system and structures of passivity.

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    It is important to note that passivity for Beith, as for Merleau-Ponty, is not a mere inactivity: “To do this work requires thinking life and culture as originally passive, but this passivity is not inertness, but rather a generative temporal openness, where meaningful structures or institutions of activity take time to developmentally unfold.” (2).

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Correspondence to Adam Blair.

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Blair, A. Review of Don Beith’s The Birth of Sense: generative passivity in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (978-0-8214-2310-3). Cont Philos Rev 51, 469–474 (2018).

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