Category Archives: Sean Kelly

Seeing Things in Merleau-Ponty

I have often been in conversations with people much smarter than I. Often I try to ask questions that I can’t quite formulate, yet I have a feeling that there is an inconsistency with the terms that I have in my thoughts. I can’t nail it down. The smart person will say: “ah, what you are trying to say is ____.” They are able to re-organize my own thoughts for me.  These moments where my thoughts are clarified and said anew by another are the moments in conversations that are often the most satisfying. Here is what I am trying to say…

“Great works of philosophy, like great works of art, have a [style of an oeuvre]. The style of a thinker’s thought, its unthought element in other words, is more easily recognizable by others than it is by the thinker himself

…when I realized that Merleau-Ponty does not say some of the things I thought he should, I wondered whether all along I had been seeing things in his work that simply are not there. I became convinced, however, that what he does say points unequivocally in the direction of an overall view that he seems not to have been able to articulate himself. I leave it to the reader to determine whether the interpretation I give is reckless or responsible. In any event, there is no doubt that it forms the type of history of philosophy that stands on the “middle-ground where the philosopher we are speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together, although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment just what belongs to each” (S 202/159). Merleau-Ponty, like Heidegger, thought that this way of engaging with a philosopher is the best way to be faithful to him. I hope he was right”  Sean Kelly from Cambridge Companion to Merleau-Ponty

Still, I do think that with most of our work there is a nameable element that is perceived only by others, who can give new life to our thoughts — regardless of how “great” we are. It is a matter of being faithful and engaging with each other, not just with philosophers.