Merleau-Ponty: Essence and the Experience of Truth

His confidence in the order of perception seems to have remained firm, however.  He said in Phenomenology of Perception that it would supply the sources and the criteria for solving the problem of reflection: “It is in the experience of the thing that the reflective ideal of positing thought will have its basis,” and also “that which is called an idea…is a cultural object.”  Thus the problem is to be worked out within the order of temporality and incarnation.  And, as we said, he has more to show in this matter than the promise to write a work that never in fact appeared.  There is a prolonged discussion of truth scattered through his various writings, particularly those that followed Phenomenology of Perception.  The fact that it is scattered helps account for its not receiving the attention that it merits.  An even more important reason for its escaping attention, however, is the form in which the question is posed.  Merleau-Ponty conducts his discussion of truth most frequently in the form of a discussion of expressive behavior in general.  In these treatments analyses of painting and language play a much more important role than any attempt to analyze a “concept” or an “idea” pure and simple.  There is a basis for truth in temporality:

There are truths just as there are perceptions: not that we can ever array before ourselves in their entirety the reasons for any assertion–there are merely motives, we have merely a hold on time and not full possession of it–but because it is of the essence of time to take itself up as it leaves itself behind, and to draw itself together into visible things, into immediately self-evident experiences.”

There is also an experience of truth, just as there is an experience of everything about which problems arise.  It occurs, and truth emerges when consciousness pauses.  There is truth for me only when consciousness ceases to plunge questioningly into the possible explanations of an event and comes to rest in it.

From The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty (1967) by John F. Bannan.


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