Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Hyper-Dialectic in Merleau-Ponty's Ontology of the Flesh

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Hyper-Dialectic in Merleau-Ponty's Ontology of the Flesh

Article excerpt

In his last, uncompleted work, The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty develops a unique phenomenological method that he calls the hyper-dialectic. What are the origins of this method? From whence does it proceed? What are its grounds? What can it accomplish? And how does it function? This essay will examine the nature of the hyper-dialectic and show that it is an integral part of Merleau-Ponty's indirect ontology of the flesh.

Merleau-Ponty's late work addresses the essential ambiguities of our meaningful experiences. In doing so, he distances himself from the philosophies that have attempted to survey the world from an absolute position of high altitude thinking, that is, from the perspective of a claimed abstract objectivity. It makes no difference whether these philosophies start from reflection (Descartes), negativity (Sartre), or transcendental subjectivity (Husserl), for they all forget the ground that makes their philosophies possible. In this forgetting, their philosophies generate aporias or problems that are impossible to overcome when faced with the actual experiences of the lived-body. They tend to totalize experience into either of the extremes of transcendence or immanence.

For Merleau-Ponty, in order to avoid these extremes, the philosopher must first examine the inquisitive nature that human beings have about themselves and the world. This curiosity is characterized by our interrogation of our perceptual faith. An existential analysis of these experiential notions must be explained in relation to human existence and the lived-body. With the hyper-dialectic he seeks to avoid the objectifying tendencies of those totalizing philosophies that he criticizes in the first three chapters of his late work. This hyper-dialectic provides a point of departure into his indirect ontology of the flesh as characterized by the interrogation of perceptual faith, as well as by temporality and reversibility.

Interrogation and Perceptual Faith

We do philosophy due to our "astonishment in the face of the perceived world."1 Husserl identifies this as (our experience of) the attitude of thaumazein, which the ancient Greeks held to be the beginning of philosophy.2 Accordingly, for Merleau-Ponty, philosophy must be grounded in our experience; we do not need to divorce ourselves from the world via some form of rupture in order to acquire objectivity. "Philosophy is not a rupture with the world, nor a coinciding with it, but it is not an alteration of rupture or coincidence either."3 This alteration occurs in Sartre's "philosophy of the negative" wherein Being and Nothingness flip back and forth without ever grasping the experiencing itself. We understand these pure entities due to our openness to the world; they do not make openness understandable. If they did, then we would lose our perspective(s) on the world; our situatedness would be lost because we would be pure visionaries peering from the nowhere of Nothingness. Experientially, philosophy arises out of our existential situation, which is always grounded in the perceptual perspectives of the lived-body, not some higher abstract region of thought or ideal cogitating subjectivity.

"Philosophy interrogates the perceptual faith. . . . [It] is perceptual faith questioning itself about itself."4 Perceptual faith is the openness that we have to the world as carnal beings. Interrogation qua (self-)questioning of the world should not expect to receive a final or absolute answer, for the world-as a phenomenal Gestalt with immanence and transcendence intertwined-"exists in the interrogative mode."5 This means that the world when once queried may provide an ordinary answer to a question, such as, "What color is that car?" but the world will always lend itself to further questioning, that is, interrogation (e.g., "What kind of car is it?").

The interrogative mode of existence means that there is always the possibility of doubt, though not necessarily the kind of methodological doubting espoused by Descartes. …

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