Maurice Merleau-Ponty (mōrēs´ mĕrlō´-pôNtē´), 1908–61, French philosopher. He graduated (1931) from the École normale supérieure, Paris, and after World War II taught at the Univ. of Lyon, the Sorbonne, and the Collége de France. Merleau-Ponty stressed the primacy of perception as a mode of access to the real, but, unlike many phenomenologists, he affirmed the reality of a world that transcends our consciousness of it. In his studies of perception he laid emphasis on the physical and the biological (or vital) as levels of conceptualization that preconditioned all mental concepts. This emphasis led him to a sympathy for Karl Marx's historical materialism, although he differed from most Marxists in regarding history as irreducibly plural and contingent. No single movement could claim to be the unique agency of the historical process. His study of perception also laid stress on the stratum of socially founded meanings that to him was intermediary between pure individual subjectivity and the objective existence of things. Since language was the chief repository of these meanings, he became interested, particularly in his later work, in the role of language in perception. Merleau-Ponty's works include The Structure of Behavior (1942, tr. 1963), Phenomenology of Perception (1945, tr. 1962), Humanism and Terror (1947, tr. 1969), Sense and Nonsense (1948, tr. 1964), Adventures of the Dialectic (1955, tr. 1973), and Signs (1960, tr. 1964).
See studies by A. Rabil (1967), J. O'Neill (1970), and K. H. Whiteside (1989).