Phenomenology of Perception

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Phenomenology of Perception
Phenomenology of Perception (French edition).jpg
Cover of the French edition
Author Maurice Merleau-Ponty
Original title Phénoménologie de la perception
Translator Colin Smith (1st translation)
Donald Landes (2nd translation)
Country France
Language French
Subject Perception, the human body
  • 1945 (Éditions Gallimard, in French)
  • 1962 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, in English)
  • 2012 (Routledge, new English translation)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages 466 (1965 Routledge edition)
ISBN 978-0415834339 (2012 Routledge edition)

Phenomenology of Perception (French: Phénoménologie de la perception) is a 1945 book by French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty that established him as the pre-eminent philosopher of the body. The first English translation, by Colin Smith, was published in 1962. In 2013 a new English translation by Donald Landes was published.[1][2]


Following the work of Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty's project is to reveal the phenomenological structure of perception. However, Merleau-Ponty's conceptions of phenomenology, and for that matter the dialectic, do not precisely follow those of Husserl or Martin Heidegger.

Merleau-Ponty's central thesis is what he later called the "primacy of perception." We are first perceiving the world, then we do philosophy. This entails a critique of the Cartesian stance of "cogito ergo sum", resulting in a largely different conception of consciousness. Cartesian dualism of mind and body is called into question as our primary way of existing in the world, and is ultimately rejected in favor of an intersubjective conception or dialectical and intentional concept of consciousness. What is characteristic of his account of perception is the centrality that the body plays. We perceive the world through our bodies; we are embodied subjects, involved in existence.

Further, the ability to reflect comes from a pre-reflective ground that serves as the foundation for reflecting on actions. In other words, we perceive phenomena first, then reflect on them via this mediation of perception, which is instantaneous and synonymous with our being in perception, as an outcome of our bodyhood, i.e., embodiment (as in Gestalt psychology).

His account of the body helps him undermine what had been a long-standing conception of consciousness, which hinges on the distinction between the for-itself (subject) and in-itself (object), which plays a central role in Sartre's philosophy. (One of his main targets was his colleague Jean-Paul Sartre, who released Being and Nothingness in 1943, shortly before the publication of Phenomenology of Perception.) The body stands between this fundamental distinction between subject and object, ambiguously existing as both.[3]

Scholarly reception[edit]

Robert Bernasconi writes that Phenomenology of Perception established Merleau-Ponty as the pre-eminent philosopher of the body, and that, along with Merleau-Ponty's other writings, it has found a more receptive audience among analytic philosophers than the works of other phenomenologists.[4]


  1. ^ Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Trans: Colin Smith. Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965) [p. iv]
  2. ^ Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Trans: Donald Landes. Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2012) [p. i]
  3. ^ Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Trans: Colin Smith. Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2005) [e.g. pp. 408]
  4. ^ Bernasconi, Robert, in Ted Honderich's The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) [p. 588]

External links[edit]