Category: quote of the day

quotes I select from readings daily

center of philosophy

In fact, the meditating Ego can never suppress its inherence in an individual subject who knows all things from a particular perspective. Reflection can never make it the case that I cease to perceive the sun on a hazy day as hovering two hundred paces away, that I cease to see the sun “rise” and “set,” or that I cease to think with the cultural instruments that were provided by my upbringing, my previous efforts, and my history. Thus, I never actually bring together or simultaneously awaken all of the originary thoughts that contribute to my perception or to my present conviction. Critical philosophy ultimately attaches no importance to this resistance of passivity, as if it were not necessary to become the transcendental subject in order to have the right to affirm it. It thus implies that the philosopher’s thought is not subjugated to any situations. Beginning from the spectacle of the world, which is the spectacle of a nature open to a plurality of thinking subjects, critical philosophy seeks the condition that makes this unique world offered to many empirical myselves possible, and it finds this in a transcendental I in which they all participate without thereby dividing it, because it is not a Being but rather a Unity or a Value… Thus an absolute Unity will no longer be asserted, which is even less doubtful now that it does not need to be realized in Being. The center of philosophy is no longer an autonomous transcendental subjectivity, situated everywhere and nowhere, but is rather found in the perpetual beginning of reflection at that point when an individual life begins to reflect upon itself. Reflection is only truly reflection if it does not carry itself outside of itself, if it knows itself as reflection-upon-an-unreflected, and consequently as a change in the structure of our existence.

Phenomenology of Perception, The Phenomenal Field – Maurice Merleau-Ponty


“Form” is not privileged in our perception because it achieves a certain state of equilibrium, resolves a problem of maximization, or makes a world possible (in the Kantian sense), but rather because form is the very appearance of the world, not its condition of possibility.

Phenomenology of Perception, The Phenomenal Field – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

lived world beneath the objective world

More generally, the idea of a universe of thought or a universe of values in which all thinking lives would be brought together and reconciled is thrown into question. Nature is not in itself geometrical, it only appears so to a careful observer who limits himself to the macroscopic givens. Human society is not a community of reasonable minds, it can only be understood as such in privileged countries where vital and economic equilibrium has been established locally and for a certain length of time. The experience of chaos, on the speculative plane as much as on the other, leads us to see rationalism from an historical perspective that it claimed on principle to escape, to seek a philosophy that could render intelligible the springing forth of reason in a world that it did not create, and to prepare the living infrastructure without which reason and freedom are emptied or break down. We will no longer say that perception is a nascent science, bur rather that classical science is a perception that has forgotten its origins and believes itself to be complete. The fundamental philosophical act would thus be to return to the lived world beneath the objective world (since in this lived world we will be able to understand the law as much as the limits of the objective world); it would be to give back to the thing its concrete physiognomy, to the organisms their proper manner of dealing with the world, and to subjectivity its historical inherence; it would be to rediscover phenomena (the layer of living experience through which other people and things are first given to us, the system “Self-Others-things” in its nascent state); it would be to awaken perception and to thwart the ruse by which perception allowed itself to be forgotten as a fact and as perception to the benefit of the object that it delivers to us and of the rational tradition that it establishes.

Phenomenology of Perception, The Phenomenal Field – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

through the sense a phenomenon offers

…the phenomenological notion of motivation is one of those “fluid” concepts that must be formulated if we want to return to phenomena. One phenomenon triggers another, not through some objective causality, such as the one linking together the events of nature, but rather through the sense it offers – there is a sort of operative reason that orients the flow of phenomena without being explicitly posited in any of them. This is how the intention of looking to the left and the adherence of the landscape to the gaze motivates the illusion of a movement in the object. To the extent that the motivated phenomenon is brought about, its internal relation with the motivating phenomenon appears, and rather than merely succeeding it, the motivated phenomenon makes the motivating one explicit and clarifies it, such that the motivated seems to have preexisted its own motive.

Phenomenology of Perception, “Attention” and “Judgment” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

birth of intelligence in each perception

But when I contemplate an object with no other worry than to see it exist and to display before me its riches, it ceases to be an allusion to a general type and I realize that each perception – and not merely perceptions of scenes that I discover for the first time – begins anew for itself the birth of intelligence and has something of an inspired invention to it. If I am to recognize this tree as a tree, then beneath this acquired signification, the momentary arrangement of the sensible spectacle must begin afresh – as if at the origin of the vegetal world – to sketch out the individual idea of this tree. Such would be this natural judgment that cannot yet know its reasons, since it creates them.

Phenomenology of Perception, “Attention” and “Judgment” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

sense immanent in the sensible

Where will the difference be between “seeing” and “believing that one sees”? If one answers that the sane man only judges according to sufficient signs and upon a total subject, this must be because there is a difference between the motivated judgment of true perception and the empty judgment of false perception. And since the difference is not in the form of the judgment, but rather in the sensible text that it articulates, to perceive in the full sense of the word (as the antithesis of imagining) is not to judge, but rather to grasp, prior to all judgment, a sense immanent in the sensible. The phenomenon of true perception thus offers a signification that is inherent in the signs and of which the judgment is but the optional expression.

Phenomenology of Perception, “Attention” and “Judgment” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

transition synthesis

The act of attention is linked to previous acts precisely by overthrowing the givens, and the unity of consciousness is gradually constructed in this way through a “transition synthesis.” The miracle of consciousness is to make phenomena appear through attention that reestablish the object’s unity in a new dimension at the very moment they destroy that unity. Attention, then, is neither an association of ideas nor the return to itself of a thought that is already the master of its objets; rather, attention is the active constitution of a new object that develops and thematizes what was until then only offered as an indeterminate horizon.

The object only gives rise to the “knowing event” that will transform it through the still ambiguous sense that it offers to attention as needing-to-be-determined, such that the object is the “motive” of and not the cause of this event.

Phenomenology of Perception, “Attention” and “Judgment” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

To perceive is not to remember

To remember is not to bring back before the gaze of consciousness a self-subsistent picture of the past, it is to plunge into the horizon of the past and gradually to unfold tightly packed perspectives until the experiences that it summarizes are as if lived anew in their own temporal place. To perceive is not to remember.

Phenomenology of Perception, “Association” and the “Projection of Memories” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Good form

“Good form” is not achieved because it would be good in itself in some metaphysical heaven; rather, it is good because it is realized in our experience.

Phenomenology of Perception, “Association” and the “Projection of Memories” – Maurice Merleau-Ponty