The French philosopher and phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) submitted Phenomenology of Perception as his doctoral thesis in 1945. In this work of extreme sophistication, the author claims that perception and engaging with the world plays a fundamental role in understanding it. For him, the mind is first and foremost embodied and not split into two distinct entities mind/body, as Descartes would have the Western tradition to believe. Perception proper does not result from a cognitive approach of the world since we as a whole are inescapably part of it.
The work of Merleau-Ponty is crucial as it reminds us that the actual practice of psychotherapy cannot but unfold in he in-between the client and therapist, in the present relationship with the Other. In this context, it is difficult to conceptualise the Other as merely a bit of behaviour to be studied. He writes ‘My thoughts and his (the interlocutor) are interwoven into a single fabric’. Also and most importantly, we are speaking beings subjected to language – a clear and unambiguous reference to the significance of our lives and others that language inherently possesses.
Although Phenomenology of Perception is a key text for psychotherapists and counsellors in the making, it could equally be argued that Merleau-Ponty’s search for essences may have something inherently problematic to it. If the author’s recognition that we are speaking-beings opens the dialogue between individuals and culture, in my view the influence and full appreciation of its impact on us and how we feel and situate ourselves in society remain minimised. If there are no other means of describing what is closest to us but then through discourses, where do they take their contents from? Are essences all that there is and nothing else?
- See A Guide for the Perplexed
- Click here to watch online lectures
- Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception has contributed to some understanding towards my qualitative research using a phenomenological research method, found here
- Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (14 Mar. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780415278416
- ISBN-13: 978-0415278416
- ASIN: 0415278414