Luis Aguiar de Sousa - The Lived Body as ‘Tacit Cogito’ in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception

This is one of the papers from our 2017 Annual Conference, the Future of Phenomenology. Information and the full conference booklet can be found at www.britishphenomenology.org.uk


Abstract

I will focus on Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the cogito, in particular as it is presented in the Phenomenology of Perception. As is well known, one of the central aims of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception is to formulate a radically new conception of subjectivity, that is, to introduce the idea of embodied subjectivity. What has received less attention is the connection between this idea and his explicit theory of the cogito. Since the notion of “lived body” does not explicitly appear in the chapter on the cogito from the Phenomenology of Perception, I will make the connection between these two notions to the effect that what Merleau-Ponty calls the “tacit cogito” will be seen to be precisely the “lived body”. The lived body is the most elementary form of subjectivity, upon which all other, more complex, forms are built. As a rudimentary form of awareness, the lived body opens us to the world, it accomplishes our most rudimentary contact with being. In this connection, I will point out that that Merleau-Ponty’s lived body constitutes a new version of Sartre’s pre-reflexive cogito. For both Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, all consciousness must ipso facto be selfconsciousness. However, this does not imply that all consciousness involves explicit reflection upon oneself. On the contrary, just like Sartre’s prereflective consciousness, Merleau-Ponty’s lived body is an impersonal, anonymous entity. Although the lived body possesses a certain type of reflexivity, it is not closed in on itself, rather it immediately finds itself outside in the world. Perception is the fundamental act by which the lived body is not only in contact with the world, but also and primordially with itself. The true cogito consists precisely in this selfcertainty of perception. Thus, Merleau-Ponty does not relinquish the notion of cogito, but rather radically reformulates it.

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