Note on Merleau-Ponty’s “Cogito”

But, it will be asked, if the unity of the world is not based on that of consciousness, and if the world is not the outcome of a constituting effort, how does it come about that appearances accord with each other and group themselves together into things, ideas and truths? And why do our random thoughts, the events of our life and those of collective history, at least at certain times assume common significance and direction, and allow themselves to be subsumed under one idea? Why does my life succeed in drawing itself together in order to project itself in words, intentions and acts? This is the problem of rationality.

Phenomenology of Perception (475)

(I’m using Merleau-Ponty here because he’s more lyrical and because Husserl is just too damn hard.)

The value of phenomenology for me is in the destruction of the subject-object construction. Descartes sets it up, then Hume and Kant and their compatriots develop it and refine it until there’s a nice movement from the world through the structure of the mind (the categories, the senses, whatever) to perception to mind. It’s that last jump, the most ethereal one, that the phenomenologists rip apart. They think about the little subjective pixie in the mind (aka, the “What-it-is-like-to-be” pixie) who just perceives all these perceptions, and the whole thing falls apart. The pixie gets smaller and smaller until it’s not capable of doing much of anything, and then you’re stuck figuring out (1) what it does, and (2) how it does it, both of which no longer have any positive answer.

By making the perceptual primary and denying any subjective unification beyond that perception, Merleau-Ponty and co. don’t necessarily solve this problem, but they at least avoid the contradiction. Perception is ego is subject. Then Merleau-Ponty specifically pushes the other way and connects experience back to into the world until our bodies are our minds reaching into the world and merging with it.