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Quotes from the Masters: Maurice Merleau-Ponty

May 14, 2013

“The world is… the natural setting of, and field for, all my thoughts and all my explicit perceptions. Truth does not inhabit only the inner man, or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself. ”
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Merleau Ponty ImageThis describes the life-world. The foundation of the phenomenological approach to philosophy. We can construct knowledge, we can analyze knowledge-claims, but we must do it all with an awareness of the life-world we inhabit. As soon as we abstract from our life-world, we begin to lose touch with our source of meaning. We begin, as Sartre would describe it, to live in bad faith. The temptations are there for us to lose contact with the source of meaning in our life. So many social pressures to behave in this way or that, to repress this or that instinct. The process of growing up and learning to find a healthy outlet for the expression of our natural drives is a difficult process, and we all only succeed partially and in limited ways. But this is all the more reason to have a philosophical outlook aware of these dangers, and focused on the challenge of overcoming them, by constantly renewing our connection to the source of meaning, the life-world.

When Merleau-Ponty says that truth does not inhabit the inner man, and that there is no inner man. He means that we cannot reify ourselves from our embodiment in this world, in this society and in this time in history, in order to build up a truth for ourselves as isolated beings. We must always keep track of the life-world we inhabit, in order to have a notion of truth in line with the expression of ourselves and the meaning in our lives, rather than just a truth abstracted from our life and its meaning. We must find a way to interconnect our insights with our surroundings, to embody our truths, not just to assert them or write them down.

This is what I take Maurice Merleau-Ponty to be suggesting here, and it is a powerful thought, giving a new direction for philosophy. Phenomenology doesn’t tell us negative things, such as truth is relative, truth is contextual. It tells us that truth must be embodied. It tells us that the source of empowerment is the life-world, and that this is what we must draw upon and come to terms with.

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