Merleau-Ponty's primacy of perception and the embodied nature of human experience and Wittgenstein's forms of life and inter-subjective interactions.

Merleau-Ponty with his theory of the role played by bodily action, language, and our membership within a community that shares a way of life. What is the core, main ideas of his work?

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a French phenomenologist, developed a philosophy that centers on the primacy of perception and the embodied nature of human experience. Here are the core, main ideas of his work:

Primacy of Perception:

  • Merleau-Ponty argues that perception is the fundamental way in which we engage with the world. He believes that all knowledge and understanding are rooted in perceptual experience.
  • Perception is not merely a passive reception of sensory data but an active, interpretative process where the body and mind work together.


  • Central to Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is the concept of the body-subject. He posits that our body is not an object but a subject that experiences the world.
  • The body is the primary site of knowing the world; it is through our bodily actions and movements that we engage with and understand our environment.
  • This challenges Cartesian dualism, which separates the mind and body, instead proposing that they are intertwined.

Intentionality and Perceptual Field:

  • He extends the notion of intentionality (the idea that consciousness is always about something) by emphasizing that our intentionality is always situated within a perceptual field.
  • Our perceptions are always of a world that is already meaningful to us due to our previous experiences and bodily engagements.

Language and Expression:

  • Merleau-Ponty sees language as an extension of bodily expression. Just as our body communicates and engages with the world, language is a way of expressing our embodied experience.
  • He suggests that language is not just a system of signs but an active, creative process through which meaning is generated and shared.

Inter-subjectivity and Community:

  • He emphasizes that our perception and understanding are always situated within a social context. We are always already part of a community and a shared way of life.
  • Our interactions with others shape and are shaped by our perceptual experiences, and our sense of self is formed in relation to others.

Phenomenology of Perception:

  • His seminal work, "Phenomenology of Perception," elaborates on these themes, exploring how perception structures our experience of reality and emphasizing the pre-reflective, lived experience over abstract, scientific descriptions.

The Lifeworld (Lebenswelt):

  • Merleau-Ponty, building on Husserl’s concept of the lifeworld, stresses the importance of the pre-scientific world of everyday experience. This lifeworld is the background against which all scientific and theoretical knowledge is built.

Chiasm and Flesh:

  • In his later work, particularly in "The Visible and the Invisible," he introduces the notion of the chiasm or intertwining, suggesting a deeper, reciprocal relationship between the perceiver and the perceived.
  • He develops the concept of "flesh" to describe this fundamental connectedness of all beings, where the body and the world are seen as the same "flesh" that is both perceiving and being perceived.

Merleau-Ponty's work provides a rich, nuanced account of human experience that integrates the body, perception, language, and social context, challenging traditional dichotomies and offering a holistic view of the human condition.

Please explain how would Wittgenstein see the views above, and how would he position itself to Merleau's work?

Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian-British philosopher, is known for his contributions to philosophy of language, mind, and epistemology. His views evolved significantly from his early work in the "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" to his later work in "Philosophical Investigations." Here is how Wittgenstein might view Merleau-Ponty’s ideas and how he might position himself in relation to Merleau-Ponty’s work:

Language and Expression:

  • Wittgenstein’s later philosophy emphasizes the idea that meaning is use, encapsulated in his famous aphorism, "The meaning of a word is its use in the language." This aligns with Merleau-Ponty’s view of language as an active, creative process through which meaning is generated.
  • Wittgenstein would likely appreciate Merleau-Ponty’s rejection of language as merely a system of signs detached from lived experience. Both philosophers see language as inherently tied to human activity and forms of life.

Forms of Life and Community:

  • Wittgenstein’s concept of "forms of life" refers to the shared social and cultural practices that give language its meaning. This idea resonates with Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on our membership within a community and a shared way of life.
  • Both philosophers stress that our understanding and communication are grounded in the communal and social contexts in which we live.

Embodiment and Perception:

  • Wittgenstein does not focus extensively on the embodied nature of experience in the same way Merleau-Ponty does. However, Wittgenstein’s later work can be interpreted as supportive of the view that our conceptual schemes and linguistic practices are grounded in our everyday, embodied activities.
  • Wittgenstein’s notion of "seeing-as" in "Philosophical Investigations" can be seen as paralleling Merleau-Ponty’s idea that perception is an interpretative, bodily activity.

Phenomenology and Pre-reflective Experience:

  • Wittgenstein would likely be critical of any philosophical method that claims to capture the essence of pre-reflective experience through abstract theorizing. He is known for his critique of philosophical theories that seek to explain the foundations of our knowledge and experience in a detached, theoretical manner.
  • Wittgenstein’s focus is more on describing the ways in which our language and practices function, rather than explaining the underlying nature of perception or consciousness. This contrasts with Merleau-Ponty’s more phenomenological approach.


  • Wittgenstein’s philosophy emphasizes the public nature of language and thought, asserting that meaning is something that arises within a community of language users. This aligns with Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on the social context of perception and understanding.
  • Both philosophers reject solipsism and stress the importance of inter-subjective interactions in forming our understanding of the world.

Critique of Cartesian Dualism:

  • Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty both reject Cartesian dualism. Wittgenstein criticizes the idea of a private language, which ties into his broader rejection of a strict separation between mind and body. Merleau-Ponty’s embodied perception similarly opposes Cartesian mind-body dualism.
  • Wittgenstein would appreciate Merleau-Ponty’s effort to show how our bodily engagement with the world undermines the dualistic separation between mind and world.

In summary, Wittgenstein might view Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on embodiment and the primacy of perception as complementary to his own views on the communal and practical nature of language. However, Wittgenstein would likely be cautious of any philosophical system that purports to offer a foundational explanation of human experience. He would position himself as more focused on the descriptive task of elucidating the workings of language within our forms of life, rather than engaging in phenomenological analysis. Despite these differences, both philosophers share a commitment to understanding human experience as fundamentally embedded in social practices and the lived world.