(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The Phenomenology of Perception is Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s second book, following La Structure de comportement (1942; The Structure of Behavior, 1963), a critique of psychological behaviorism. The Phenomenology of Perception, which incorporates some insights from the earlier work, defines the main lines of the philosophical position that Merleau-Ponty held for most of the rest of his life, with significant changes in the direction of his thinking clearly emerging only in the various fragments that were published posthumously as Le Visible et l’invisible (1964; The Visible and the Invisible, 1968).

The Phenomenology of Perception is in some respects less, but in many respects more, than its title suggests. It is not a systematic orderly analysis, along Husserlian lines, of perception regarded in isolation from other modes of human consciousness. Rather, it is a kind of ontology of human existence, in which perception is shown to play a most fundamental role. In the range of its topics—which include embodiment, sexuality, the relation between self and other, self-knowledge, temporality, and freedom—the work is comparable to Jean-Paul Sartre’s L’Être et le néant (1943; Being and Nothingness, 1956). Indeed, the influence of Sartre, who was Merleau-Ponty’s friend and associate for many years, is often apparent, although Merleau-Ponty avoids the abstract oppositions...

(The entire section is 457 words.)