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tre brut or Nature: Merleau- Ponty Surveys Schelling

Josep Maria Bech

Universit y of Barcelona
The primary ai m of this paper is to expl ai n the change that the multi-
facet ed concept i on of Natur e in Merleau- Pont y' s oeuvre went through when he
dissect ed Schelling' s Naturphilosophi e in the famed lect ur es on the concept of
Natur e held during three years (1956- 1958, 1959- 1960) at the Collge de
France. As it is well known, Merleau- Pont ys thought on Natur e had been
st eadily evolving since his philosophi cal debut . A former classical or nat ur ali st
concept i on of Nat ur e as nat ur e- in-itself, depict ed as a manifold of objective
event s bound by causal links, had gradually unfolded into a specific
int errogati on of nat ur e as a reality exceedi ngl y divers e and loaded with inner
diffractions. Natur alism came to be mistrust ed, since the ext raor di nar y
confusi on about the idea of Nat ur e held by moder n thinkers ran par all el to the
misunder s t andi ngs brought by their nat ur alism.
Concurr ent l y, the per ceived
world or monde peru could no longer be enclosed in a nat ur e depende nt on
objectivist ontology.
By the onset of the lect ur es, however, the mai n outcome of this
devel opme nt was the ancillary st at us of Nat ur e. Its philosophi cal relevance was
decl ar ed subsi di ary to the overruling originary dimensi on of Being. Indeed
Natur e signal ed a pat hway towards ontology becaus e it had been assi gned
the st andi ng of sheet or layer of tot al Being: Ont ology of nat ur e is the way
we prefer [to wards ontology] becaus e the evol uti on of the concept of nat ure is
a mor e convinci ng propaede ut i c, shows more clearly the need of an ont ological
mut ati on .
Nat ur al being, even if now held the pre- emi nence formerly
ascribed to percei ved being, mat t er ed insofar as its sens dtre led
ulti mat el y to the out st andi ng notion of the new ontology: the tre brut.
Natur e was thus acknowl edged as a propaede ut i c, a signboar d, or a
philosophi cal showcas e, but it was per mane nt l y subor di nat ed to ont ology. At
the begi nni ng of the lect ur es, Merleau- Ponty mer el y argued agai nst the
condescendi ng concept i on of spirit, hist ory and human being that came along
with the negl ect in which the philosophy of nat ur e was held, and that made
them appear as pure negat i vit y.
He reject ed whol ehear t e dl y, as he put s it, an
ont ol ogy bent on silencing Natur e.
Merleau- Ponty st at ed then that ther e was
Maurice Merleau- Pont y, Rsum s de Cours. Collge de France (1952- 1960). Paris 1968, p.
127. Any furt her refer ence s to this text will be indicat ed by RC.
Maurice Merleau- Pont y, La Nat ure. Not es. Cours du Collge de France. Ed. by Denis Sgl ar d,
Paris 1995. p. 265, empha si s added. Any further refer ence s to this text will be indicat ed by N.
N., p. 91.
Loc. cit.
Concl usive version, sent end August
page 2 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
a unique primor di al st at us to nat ur e that was bot h enigmat i c (we are of it,
inst ead of being bef ore it) and expr es si bl e (though by indirect means and
always out st ri ppi ng its ext er naliza tion in instit ut ed sign syst ems) . His views on
the rel ati onshi p bet ween the probl em of Nat ur e and the gener al probl em of
ontology were at that time clear- cut: the study of Natur e is her e an
introducti on to the definition of Being.

Still, a misgiving inevit abl y came up. Was it wort hwhil e to set out from
Natur e as a way leading to ont ology, to the issue of Being? Wouldnt it be mor e
fitting to approach ontology directly, since Nat ur e cannot act ually be explored
without a pre- under st andi ng of nat ur al being? In Merleau- Pontys own words:
How are we to speak of Nat ur e, otherwi se than enlight ene d by a concept i on of
This perpl exi t y was dispell ed by his deepl y- held belief that it is out of
the questi on to ent er directly into the issue of Being, and that we can only
att ai n it by way of deepeni ng our connect i on with the world. The gist of mat t er
was ther efor e that ont ol ogy can only be indirect .
In short , philosophy must
forsake the tendency to justify beings from the vant age point of an overruling
Being. Inst ead it is compell ed to quest i on Being by means of dissecti ng nat ur al
Merleau- Ponty' s st andpoi nt alt er ed significantly in the lect ur es held during
the year s 1959- 1960. If formerl y the scruti ny of Nat ur e mer el y sought to open a
pat hway to ont ology, now it embr ace d a more far- reachi ng aim. The erst whil e
historical inquiry had brought into view a deep- root ed difficulty in the
devel opme nt of ont ology, and now it was assume d that only a sweepi ng change
in the thinking on nat ur al reality might overcome it. Natur e was shown earlier to
hinge on an originary di mensi on that Merleau- Ponty called tre brut, yet at
the moment the appr ai s al of this pri mordi al reality appear e d to be det er mi ned
by the under st andi ng of Natur e.
In the not es writt en by Merleau- Ponty at the end of 1960, the supr emacy
of Nat ur e is so compl et el y ass er t ed that no trace of its foregoi ng ancillary
position remai ns in sight. The concer n over Being emer ges as subsi di ary to a
reflecti on on Natur e, grown into the keyst one of Merleau- Pont yan ontology. A
sati sfact ory openi ng into the quest i on of Being is found by means of nat ur al
Being, and Merleau- Pontys overri di ng int er es t comes to be to make explicit
what being nat ur al or nat ur ally being means .
Ontology, in short , devel ops
into philosophy of Natur e. Besides, the primacy he assi gns to Nat ur e ensur es
the transi tion to an indirect ont ology, in har mony with the long- held
cont ent i on that a direct ont ology is impossi bl e since Being can only be
approached by the inter mi ssi on of beings: only st arti ng from beings does
ontology lead to Being.
RC, p. 125.
Accordi ng to a manus cri pt of Merleau- Ponty held at the Bibliot hque National e (vol. XVI, p. 2),
as refer ed in: Pascal Dupond, Nat ur e et Logos, Studi a Phaenome nol ogi ca 3 (2003), p. 119.
RC, p. 125.
N, p. 267.
RC, p. 125.
page 3 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
Yet this concern with nat ur al reality, now prevailing over the int er est in
tre brut, which formerly was overruling, sprang from motives that are
wort hwhil e to expl ai n. It shoul d be point ed out, first of all, that the first set of
lect ur es strengt he ns Nat ur es subs er vi ence to ont ology. They bring to light, by
displ ayi ng a history of West er n met aphysi cs in which Descart es is the
embl ema t i c figure, the key probl em set out by the moder n dealings with
Natur e. In Descart es as elsewher e, the notion of Nature springs from an
ontological compl ex, its transfor mat i ons expr es s a particul ar devel opme nt of
Cart esi an ont ology, and it is as such that Nat ure int eres t s us. It may even be
that this drift into which the notion of Nat ur e is swept set s apart West er n
ontology almost in its entiret y.

Merleau- Ponty was clearly disappoi nt ed with the probl ema t i c account of
nat ur e held by moder n philosophy. He also resist ed disregar di ng nat ur e (either
as the ot her side of exist ence or as subordi nat e to human freedom) and
likewise objectifying it from a scienti st viewpoi nt . As is well known, philosophical
moder ni t y thrives in the alt er nat i ve bet ween nat ur ant thought (tied to libert y,
history, action, proj ect , inventi on of sens e, personal exist ence) and nat ur ed
thought (focusi ng on the given, passi vit y, anonymi t y, the past ). Indeed it is
torn bet ween nat ur alism and reflexive analysi s, thus echoi ng the well-
est abli shed cleavage bet ween the nat ur ant (sheer int eriority, the infinit e
producti vit y of Divine nat ur e) and the nat ur ed (nat ur e as product , pure
ext eri ority). Natur alism nat ur alizes thought and reduces it to the st at us of an
event that may be objectively expl ained. Then all thought is nat ur ed and
trut h becomes incompr ehe nsi bl e. Reflexive analysi s, on the other hand, holds
that thought must be grounded beyond Natur e for somet hi ng like trut h to exist.
Nat ur ed thought , from this point of view, demands nat ur ant (consti t uti ve
or transcende nt al ) thought . (No wonder, then, that early in the devel opment
of Merleau- Pontys philosophy the received ant agoni s m of nat ur e with libert y,
spirit or hist ory was repl aced by the distinction bet ween logos endi at het os and
logos prophorikos .)
Merleau- Ponty was bound to consider Nat ur e philosophi cally relevant ,
above all, out of his uneasi nes s about the ont ological tensi on or conflict in the
traditional meani ng of Nat ur e that he had diagnos ed in his early work. He
ascribed to post- Cart esi an thinkers the dysfuncti on he happily dubbed
ont ol ogical diplopi a, for t hey were torn bet ween two approache s to Nat ur e:
1) Nat ur e is utt erly det er mi nabl e and transpar ent to the under st andi ng, since
only Being act ually is, and thus appear anc e s are a sheer rest riction or
impoveri shme nt of it, and simply come out as its inadequat e manifest at i on.
2) Nat ur e is made opaque by an irreduci bl e facticity that resist s discernme nt
but emphasi zes the viewpoi nt of the sens es, which is deeme d philosophi cally
decisive and accordi ngly must be reinst at ed . Appear anc es lead us into what has
usually been under st ood as Being, and thus the act ual impost ur e is the
suppos ed Being- in-itself . Indeed philosophy has been torn by the twofold
cert ai nt y that , on the one hand, being is, and appear a nce s are but its
manifest at i on and also its rest riction, and on the other hand those appear anc e s
are the canon of everyt hi ng that can be under st ood as being, so that it is
rat her the being- in-itself which must be viewed as the ungras pa bl e ghost and
RC, p. 126. Emphasi s added.
page 4 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
the Unding.
According to Merleau- Pont y, becaus e of this ont ological diplopi a the
scruti ny of Natur e is now in a quandar y. To transcend it and at the same time to
expl ai n its genesi s requir es to ret hi nk Nat ur e, with the aim of uncoveri ng the
original, pre- dualistic layer of reality wher e such diplopi a takes root s and
which ther efor e can expl ai n its genesi s altoget her . At the same time, the
propos ed ont ology of Nat ur e shoul d explicitly frame a relationshi p bet ween
the human being and Being that could not be reduced to the long- est ablished
oppo sition bet ween subj ect and object . Thus surveyi ng the moder n
devel opme nt of the notion of Natur e will be a means to get near a new
ontology grounded in a concept of Being capabl e of absorbi ng
cont r adi ctions.
Merleau- Ponty' s concer n over nat ur al reality event ually led
him to consider nat ur e as it is in itself rat her than as the ot her side of libert y,
a move act ually amount i ng to liberat e nat ure from libert y. As a cons eque nc e,
post- Cart esi an diplopi a seeme d overcome. Notwit hst andi ng the ass es s me nt s
of bot h in- itself- realism and nat ur alis m, nat ur al Being was not anymor e
nat ur e- in- itself and inst ead it came to be Nat ur e as we percei ve it
conver s el y, Nat ur e insofar as we belong to it (nous en somme s ). And agai nst
the cont enti ons of int ellect uali sm, Nat ur e meant now the given and the not
const ruct ed as well, thus pointing out to a productivit y that is not ours.
Yet Merleau- Pont y was att r act ed by nat ur al reality, too, becaus e
ext eri ority always fascinat ed him. He alluded st eadily to a nat ur al world that
always shows through the other world (un monde qui transparat toujours sous
l'autre), like the canvas under ne at h the pictur e, and gives it an air of fragility.
The objectifying urge so uneasily noticed by Merleau- Ponty springs indeed from
a fascinati on with ext eri orit y always impati ent of an ontology bent on
silenci ng Natur e
and corner ed in the incorpor eal .
In this respect , the drive
to perceive from the out si de what is currentl y appr ehende d from the inside
devel oped into the imper at i ve to push away the limits of what makes sens e for
us, shifting the narrow zone of themat i c meani ng into the wider one of non-
themat i c meani ng that surrounds it.
Merleau- Ponty was per mane nt l y awar e
that human life is defined by its capaci t y to negat e itself in objective thought ,
and that paradoxi cally it owes this power to its primordi al att achme nt to the
world itself. If human life can under st and itself, he st at ed, it is becaus e it has
been thrown into a nat ural world.

(In addi tion, Merleau- Pont y favor ed the peculi ar brand of acos mi s m that
under st a nds Nature as the ot her side of spirit and thus consent s to
(self- )obj ectivati on . In his opinion, Natur e always comes forwar d in a wake of
or as a presupposi ti on of spirit,
yet it only becomes act ually visible
by means of the grat ui t ous and tirel ess drive which compel s us to anchor in
RC, p. 127.
RC, p. 128.
N, p. 270.
PHP, p. 339.
N, p. 91.
Loc. cit.
PHP, p. 318.
PHP, p. 377. Emphasi s added.
PHP, p. 376.
PHP, p. 147.
page 5 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
things as a way to transcend oursel ves in them,
and that leads us to
surmi s e, under ne a t h the pict ur e, the close pres ence of the canvas.
Merleau- Ponti an concept s of cat egori al attit ude and symbolic behavi or, as
point ed out by tienne Bimbenet in his comment s on SC, mark up our common
humani t y in the deepes t layers of action, and so consci ence appear s to be
envel oped in a nat ur e which in fact it already envel opes itself.
In the lect ur es held during the years 1959- 1960, however, the st ance of
Merleau- Ponty is ambival ent as regar ds the pitfalls of ont ological diplopi a. On
the one hand, the pres ent openi ng to Being through Natur e is now reckoned
to be above it, for its nat ur ant or instit uti ng char act er dispel s any trace of
bot h caus ality and finality. On the other hand, it does not make sens e anymor e
to look forward to ret hi nk Nat ur e in order to sur mount the ant agoni s m bet ween
incompat i bl e ont ological approache s. A pessi mi st conj ect ur e of Merleau- Ponty
seems now confirmed: we cannot expect to overcome rationally this
ont ological diplopi a, and ther e is no other issue that to at t ai n its compl et e
owner shi p, in the way our sight appropri at es monocul ar images and achi eves a
unique vision out of them.
This wane in the early ont ological euphori a,
gradually repl aced by an involveme nt with the probl em of the nat ur al world,
sugges t s agai n that the lectur es on Natur e at the Collge de France caus ed a
puzzling conver si on in Merleau- Pont y' s thought . Since the subs er vi ence of tre
brut to Natur e happene d within the ont ological revol uti on that brought the
Cart esi an hege mony to an end, however, Merleau- Pont ys realignme nt act ually
inst ances what an int ellect ual histori an would name a shallow change
embedde d in a deep change, as the conclusion of the pres ent essay will make
evident .
It should not be forgot t en, in addition, that Merleau- Pont y was trying to
work out his commi t ment to the probl em of Natur e in the mai nst r ea m of the
phenome nol ogi cal tradi tion. Even though phenome nol ogi st s showed some
int eres t in the other side of phenome nol ogy, identified by Merleau- Ponty' s as
what resist s phenome nol ogy within us,
their int enti on was usually a negat i ve
one. They usually tried to make sure that all ties with the world not built by
consciousnes s had been broken. By means of the epokh the naive or nat ur al
attit ude had to be overcome in benefi t of the transcende nt al standpoi nt .
Yet in his essay dedicat ed to Husserl, The Philosopher and Its Shadow,
Merleau- Ponty observed that the tradi tional char act erizati on of phenome nol ogy
as a full-fledged philosophy of consciousnes s was at best a half- trut h. Indeed
in Husserl' s last writings, still unpublished at that moment , the founder of
phenome nol ogy explored what is not constit ut ed by conscious nes s and which
as a resul t descends towards Natur e.
This int er es t for what does not belong
to the philosophy of conscious nes s but still cannot remai n out side
phenome nol ogy, act ually emer ges as the true shadow of Husserl ' s thought ,
accordi ng to the met aphor used by Merleau- Ponty to take over an idea of
PHP, p. 328.
PHP, p. 33.
tienne Bimbenet , comme nt ar y to La Struct ure du comport e me nt , Paris 2000, p. 50,
empha si s added.
RC, p. 127.
Maurice Merleau- Pont y, Signes. Paris 1960, p. 225. Any further refer ence s to this text will be
indicat ed by S.
S, p. 224.
page 6 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
Heidegger . It consti t ut es, in other words, the Ungedacht e or the un- thought
thought that can be read bet ween the lines in his already published writings.
(The ascenda ncy given to the un- thought thought that , accordi ng to Merleau-
Pont y, suppl eme nt s the text s of classical thinkers such as Husserl, in the
pres ent st at e of affairs is still mor e plausi bly credi t ed to Schelling. Indeed we
will att est that the Ungedacht e thought in Schelling appear ed to Merleau- Ponty
as a seri es of point s of diffraction which blended sever al echoes of his own
ideas about Nat ure, thus out doi ng the formal account he had to take up at the
Collge de France. )
For the purpos e of the pres ent ess ay, it is particul arly meani ngf ul that in
the above- ment i oned essay on Husserl, Merleau- Ponty makes an incident al
allusion to Schelling as the thinker who roughly identified the nat ur al being
that at all cost s must find its place in [phenome nol ogy]
, and even finds a
name for it: the barbar ous principl e. (Incident ally, it shoul d be not ed that an
ontology that has grown into a philosophy of nat ur e seems to have little to do
with phenome nol ogy. ) In his defens e of this recalcitrant ot her side, Merleau-
Pont y invei ghs agai nst the shabby phenome nol ogical account of an interiority
abl e to sust ai n the very links bet ween the int erior and the ext eri or.
imprompt u appeal to Schelling opens an appropri at e prospect into the
significance of his thought for the devel opme nt of Merleau- Ponty' s lat e
philosophy. The idealist approach of the former, indeed, paradoxically seems to
have engaged the task that the latt er assigns to a renewed, post- Husserli an
phenome nol ogy.
In the following secti ons, we will endeavor to expl ai n the shift in Merleau-
Pont ys prioriti es wher eby Natur e repl aced tre brut as the mai n focus of his
philosophi cal concer n. We also will bear in mind, though, that in philosophy, as
compar ed with science, the possi bility of a rational expl anat i on and that of an
arational account are very distinctively enmes he d. Indeed our att e mpt will have
to proceed carefully from descri pti on to expl anat i on for we are convinced that
expl anat i on rest s on description. As Alexander Bird asser t s for the case of
Thomas Kuhn, if a descri pti on is not accur at e the expl anat or y theory will
neces s arily be redundant , indeed mist aken. If ther e is no phenome non, no
theory is needed to expl ai n it, and any theory that tries to do so will be
This subordi nat i on, in its turn, justifies the compr ehe nsi ve scope of
the following char act erizati ons.
Merleau- Ponty' s approach to Nat ur e resul t s in a multilayer ed and
semant i cally overloaded compound of views, arising from the succes si ve
philosophi cal concer ns of his thought , and which can be specified as a sequence
of clear- cut concept i ons. They also can be compar ed to the many axis of a
multidi mensi onal space in which every st at e me nt made by Merleau- Ponty about
Natur e is to be meani ngfully situat ed. These lines of thought are not dimensi ons
in a preci se sens e becaus e they are not semant i cally ort hogonal to each other.
S, p. 225.
Loc. cit.
Alexander Bird, Thomas Kuhn, Princet on 2000, p. 49.
page 7 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
Yet they can be set sharply apart since they spring from a vari ety of theor et i cal
int eres t s. The many- sided approach to Natur e in Merleau- Ponty' s thought ,
indeed, may be char act eri zed by means of thes e seven concept i ons:
1) Nature as the absolut e other side that we carry in oursel ves
Functioni ng as an oper at i ve concept , never fully explicat ed, this approach
to Nat ur e envisages a horizon that transcends any form of lived experi ence but
paradoxi cally cannot be dissoci at ed from it. It is a Nat ur e inwardl y connect ed
with our grasp of reality, thus differing sharply from the view we shall consider
next , and whose link with experi ence is outwar d or ext eri or in its onset . The
visible landscape under my eyes is not ext eri or to other moment s of time and to
the past , it is not synt het i cally linked with them; it has them truly behi nd itself
in simult anei t y, in its own int erior (au- dedans de lui), and not as if it and they,
side to side, were inside time (et non lui et eux ct e ct e dans le temps ).
Accordingly Merleau- Pont y conceives Natur e as an absol ut e other side of
whose door we do not have the key that could open it but whose proj ect
we are readyi ng in our dept hs in such a way that it can be said we carry it in
oursel ves.
And it couldnt be otherwi se, for all probl ems of transcende nc e
are solved in the thicknes s of pre- objective present .
Merleau- Ponty emphasi zes the inward connecti on bet ween this
recalcitr ant nat ur al other nes s and our lived experi ence. A thing is not
effectivel y given in percept i on, it is recover ed inwardly, rebuilt and lived
through by us to the ext ent that it is bound to a world whose fundame nt al
struct ur es we carry with us, being only one of its possibl e concret i ons.
concur with this amal ga m of the fundame nt al struct ur es of a world and our
most inward dept hs, we have only to accept that the very pulp of sensi bl e
being is not hing mor e than the union in it of the inside and the out side, the
dens e junction of Self with Self.
The pres ent concepti on of Natur e also
embr aces the dimensi on of exist ence which emer ges as the weight I feel at
my back when I become a proj ect
and that ther efor e makes me feel a pas -
being. Besides being the ground that support s our exist ence, in other
words, this Natur e is the background wher e it dissolves when the cohesi on of
our life gives way.
2) Nature as a transcende nc e that only a wake (sillage) of subj ecti vi t y can
render meani ngf ul
Natur e is a horizon well beyond any form of lived experi ence but still
resisti ng a compl et e dissoci ati on from it. Therefor e it may unfold before us as a
transcende nt reality, yet remai ni ng par adoxi cally relat ed to our inner world. In
Maurice Merleau- Pont y, Le Visible et l'Invisibl e, ed. by Claude Lefort, Paris 1964, p. 321. Any
further referen ces to this text will be indicat ed by VI.
Maurice Merleau- Ponty, Phnom nol ogi e de la percepti on, Paris 1945, pp. 376- 377. Any
further referenc e s to this text will be indicat ed by PHP.
PHP, p. 495.
PHP, p. 377. The empha si s is Merleau- Ponty' s.
VI, p. 321.
N, p. 180.
PHP, p. 171.
page 8 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
such cases this peculi ar Nat ur e is given to us as the background of inhuman
nat ur e
wher e things take root s but that would not make sens e for us if we
did not carry within oursel ves the fundame nt al struct ur es of the world to which
it be longs.
It goes without saying that all varieti es of positive knowl edge may
be relat ed in one way or anot her to this idea of Nat ur e. Thus we are dealing
here with a view tacitly akin to the same nat ur al at tit ude from which
phenome nol ogi cal reducti on wished to discon nect. It point s to a
transcende nc e (usually brought to us in the form of positive dat a or objective
informat i on) that somehow becomes revived in us and is annexed by our
experi ence. But the sole crit erion that decides whet her this transcende nc e is to
be acknowl edged or reject ed as meani ngl ess, as we have seen, springs from
an interiority abl e to sust ai n the very links (les rapport s m me s ) bet ween the
int erior and the ext eri or.

This particul ar Natur e does not belong by any means to lived experi ence.
Actually it amount s to its sheer other side, but it also is the paradoxi cal
compl eme nt that lived experi ence demands . In this respect , Merleau- Ponty
remar ks already in PHP that what is given is not the thing alone, but the
experi ence of the thing, a transcende nc e in a wake (sillage) of subj ecti vity, a
nat ur e [sic] that shows through (transpara t) a hist ory,
which shoul d not
amaze us if we are ready to accept that Nat ur e transcends the distinction
past / pr es e nt and creat es an inner link bet ween them.
Within this cont ext is
oper at i ve the char act eri stic brand of Merleau- Pontyan objectivity that
coal esces in a singl e aperu: what positively has happene d belongs to our
experi ence one way or anot her. It is not true that being conscious of having
percei ved implies being conscious of the past ; in fact vertical past has in itself
the demand of havi ng been percei ved. [...] Having percei ved is what is carried
by the past like a massi ve Being. I perceived it since it was (je l'ai peru
pui s q' i l fut ) .

As to the blend of similarit y and difference bet ween this concept i on of
Natur e and the precedi ng one, we shoul d point out that transcende nc e
adumbr at e d in the immanenc e (as was the case above) is not to be mist aken
for transcende nc e brought in by genui ne transcende nt means (obj ectification
through overvi ew, in Merleau- Ponty' s parl ance), yet dependi ng on immane nce
to become truly meani ngful. It also shoul d be not ed that the link of
coincidence/ di s agr e e me nt bet ween the present concept i on of Natur e and the
view report ed above, accordi ng to Merleau- Pont y, is the proper basis for a
strengt he ne d expr es si ve ness as well (as inst anced by the sugges t i ve interpl ay
of our reme mbr a nc es with document ar y evidence, however loosely relat ed to
them), for bot h varieti es of Natur e are expr es si ve by thems el ves thanks to their
diacritical struct ur e. And they are compat i bl e with under s t a ndi ng Natur e as the
very thing to which the disagr e e me nt (l' cart) brought by parti al
coincidence act ually opens the way, since it gives access to the thing itself,
to past itself.
PHP, p. 374.
VI, p. 376.
S, p. 225.
PHP, p. 376.
VI, p. 321.
VI, p. 297.
VI, p. 166.
page 9 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
3) Nature as sedi ment e d instit uti on
This notion implies a break with the post- Cart esi an belief that Natur e was
synonymous with exist ence- in- itself, devoi d of orient at i on and interiority.
speci es of inwardnes s or int eriorit is now ascribed to Natur e, which amount s
to deny the exist ence of Nat ur e- in-itself. Natur al reality is shown as
fragment e d in pat t er ns of sens e mut ually relat ed to percept i ons and fos tered in
their turn by the bodily imprint of already experi enced meani ngs. (Like the
precede nt views, this concept i on remai ned mer el y oper at i ve in SC and PHP and
never was tot ally explicat ed. ) The most meani ngful inst ance of such pat t er ns
of sens e and of its percept ual- phenome nal subordi nat i on is organi c nat ur e:
The [living] tot ality is not an appear a nc e, but a phenome non. Merleau- Pont y' s
great discovery is that life is a phenome n al reality, in the sens e that it is real
qua phenome non.
But also physical, psychol ogical or even soci al nat ur e
exemplifies an order of reality and a type of struct ur al int e gration that st em
from a percept ual disposition and hence are immune to the nat ur ali st reducti on
of Natur e to a manifold of objective event s which are ext er nal to each other
but never t hel es s bound by caus al links.
Thus the densi t y (paiss eur) of pre-
objective present
appears to consist of bot h Nature and hist ory, each of them
inext ricabl y bound to the other.
This nat ur al- cult ur al st at e of affairs, by the way, is precisely what some
sociologi st s (Pierre Bourdi eu promi nent l y among them) have concept ualized
with the notion of habit us , ulti mat el y defined as hist ory become nat ur e.
This unset t l ed st at us is warrant ed by the circumst a nce that it is at once
struct ur ed struct ur e (in- corpor at ed hist ory, convert ed into nat ur e and
theref ore forgot t en as hist ory, the ac tive and effective presence of the whol e
past in the present it has act ually creat ed) and struct uri ng struct ur e
(gener at i ve principl e or creati ve thrust , acquired by means of practice, and by
itself orient ed to practical functions).
Thus habi t us implies the
int eriorization of ext eri orit y. It is the embodi ed (a- theor et i cal, not-
repr es ent a t i ve) memor y of previous experi ences turned into a gener at i ve
scheme that provides to agent s the struct uri ng background and immedi at e
skills for maki ng sens e of current situat i ons.
The pres ent concept i on of Natur e as concert ed or even int ert wined with
the notions of instit uti on and of history was out st andi ng in PHP, wher e Natur e is
descri bed as sedi ment e d instit ution, and as such is the per mane nt
background of history and the foundati on of all expr es si ve behavi or. There
cannot be hist ory, in other words, if the resul t s of creati ve, instituti ng agency do
not become sedi ment e d into Nat ur e. Witness the par adox that the human being
pushes its root s into nat ur e every time he transfor ms it by means of cultur e.
N, p. 27.
Renaud Barbar as, A Phenome nol ogy of Life, in: The Cambridge Compani on to Merleau-
Ponty, ed. by T. Carman and M. B. N. Hans en, Cambri dge 2005, p. 219.
Maurice Merleau- Ponty, La struct ure du comport e me nt , Paris 1942, p. v. Any further
refer ence s within this essay to this text will be indicat ed by SC.
PHP, p. 495.
Beat e Krais and Gunt er Gebauer , Habitus, Bielefel d 2002, pp. 22- 23.
Hans- Herbert Kgler, Alienati on as epist e mol ogi cal source: reflexivity aft er Mannhei m and
Bourdi eu, Social Epist e mol ogy 11 (1997), p. 149.
PHP, p. 231.
page 10 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
And if cultur e appear s to be irrevocabl y grounded in nat ur e, it conver s el y
happens that the living human body, at first sight an emi nentl y nat ur al reality,
is also beyond any doubt a cultur al object, for it is bent to embody (in form of
habi t us , as we have seen sociology' s jargon st at es it) the sedi ment e d or im -
print ed trace of all experi ences confor mi ng a human exist ence. On the other
hand, it also is true that Nat ur e and cult ure are irreduci bl e to each other. We
are thrown into a nat ur al world, which is the already unified count er par t of all
our bodily functions (so is nat ur e out si de us), and yet our consci ous life must
acknowl edge its anonymous origins in a nat ur al herit age (nat ur e is inside us as
4) Nature as the originary di mensi on of act ual experi ence
This notion consider s that Nat ur e is an origin to which the predicat e
myt hic is adequat e. Natur e manage s to emer ge in tangi bl e experi ence by
means of a resilient st ayi ng power, even if taking the par adoxical form of a
continuousl y renewed begi nni ng. Thus Nat ur e ap pear s as the pri mordi al feat ur e
of exist ent experi ence, and as a resul t it eludes a compl et e appr ehe nsi on. That
by which everyt hi ng begi ns, nat ur e or the originary, is not behi nd us, in a
past wher e we shoul d join it, but in the gap (cart) bet ween this past and the
pres ent , a gap which is the space of all experi ence.
The gist of this concept i on
of Natur e is that it connot es passi vity and sedi ment at i on more forcefully than
renewal and creati vity.
Already in the lect ur es of 1956- 1957 Merleau- Pont y defined Natur e as
the pri mordi al, the not- built, the not- instit ut ed
and sugges t e d that Natur e
has much to do with ori gin, as shown by the Latin term nat ura, which comes
from nascor, to be born.
Accordingly, Nat ur e also denot es the original, wild
and raw dimensi on of experi ence, likely to be sur mi sed by a geneal ogi cal
scruti ny of the tamed and filtered experi ence that spans the world of
cultur e, of recent making but soot hi ngly human. Yet ther e is the mut e world,
previous to human beings. [...] There is a trut h of percepti on, which endures.
Such Nat ur e as origin, though, is not to be chronol ogi cally concei ved as a
particul ar begi nni ng, which might have taken place once and forever. It shoul d
be rat her thought of as an original past , a past that was never pres ent .
Natur e is thus to be unders t ood, somewhat paradoxi cally, as the continuousl y
renewed begi nni ng of act ual experi ence. The Urtmlich [the primordi al or the
archai c], the Ursprnglich [the originary] does not belong to the past .
is Nat ur e just anot her name for that fea ture or dimensi on of experi ence that
can be called practical becaus e it is always ready to furnish the pri mor di al
and original
att achme nt that assi st s our involvement with things.
Franoi se Dast ur, Chair et langage. Essays sur Merleau- Ponty, La Versanne 2003, p. 82.
N, p. 19.
N, p. 21.
Stat ed by Merleau- Ponty at the Collge de France and report ed in: Xavier Tilliett e, La dmar -
che ont ologi que de Merleau- Ponty, Maurice Merleau- Pont y. Le philosophe et son langage, Paris
1993, p. 380, empha si s added.
PHP, p. 280.
VI, p. 320.
N, p. 20.
page 11 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
It should not come as a surprise, then, that in the lect ur es of 1957- 1958
Merleau- Ponty char act erized Nat ur e as the oldest of all things and at the same
time somet hi ng always new.
The meani ng of this opaque sent ence is
expounde d elsewher e: Nat ur e is always new in each percept i on, but it is never
without a past . Natur e is somet hi ng which goes on, which is never grasped at its
begi nni ng, though it appear s always new to us.
This view is rein forced
bringi ng up (with a twist that is act ually a happy de- cont ext ualizati on) the well-
known grudge of Lucien Herr agai nst Hegel: [In the thought of Hegel] Nat ur e is
at its first day (au premi er jour).
In so doing, Merleau- Ponty st ays faithful to
his extr eme historiogr aphi c crit e rion regar di ng philosophical thought , for it
pres er ves a sens e out si de its hist orical cont ext , even has sens e solely out si de
this cont ext .
Still, to grasp the full sens e of Merleau- Pont y' s refer ence to
Lucien Herr we must pay att ent i on to the unbroken quot e: Hegel refuses to
Natur e all proper effectivenes s (Wirklichkei t ). According to him, Nat ure is at its
first day (cf. Lucien Herr), wher eas Schelling allows us to think of a life of Nat u -
Therefor e Nat ur e is at its first day shoul d be read as an admoni shme nt
given to Hegel by Lucien Herr for conceiving Natur e as devoi d of any kind of
proper effectivenes s . But it also must be noticed that Merleau- Ponty specifies
that at its first day is what Nature is now, thus concedi ng that Nature lacks
in active efficacy but also emphasi zi ng that it overflows with passive pres ence,
rich in its inerti al capability of maki ng itself conspicuous. (The asser t i on au
premi er jour is modul at ed as follows: Merleau- Ponty stat es in N that elle [scil.:
la nat ure] l'est aujourd 'hui, wher eas in the not es appended to VI he refines:
la nat ure est au premi er jour : elle y est aujourd' hui.
) The past outlives
itself indefinit ely in Natur e and exhibit s this gift for survival as the miracl e of a
continually renewed begi nni ng. By means of this par adox Nat ur e opens its own
way towar ds the future.
In short: the producti vity of Natur e is to be under st ood, accordi ng to
Merleau- Ponty, as inerti al and passive rat her than as active and spont aneous .
He descri bes it as a pure ability to st ay that relishes in the enduri ng
forwardnes s of itself, while pret endi ng to be a continuous renewal of a
begi nni ng. (By cont r as t Schelling conceives Natur e, as we will see, as blat antl y
and unpl anne dl y creative. ) Merleau- Ponty concedes to Hegel that Nat ur e is
ineffect ual and unproducti ve. But he stat es furt her that it has gone on being
unalt er abl y until now what it once was, so that at the end this resilient self-
perpet uat i on is Natur e' s most not ewor t hy endowme nt . The strange persist ence
that informs the life of Natur e, says Merleau- Ponty, cont r as t s with the anti-
Hegelian effectivenes s that Schelling ascribes to Natur e, as we will see soon.
(And agai n this much comment e d at its first day of Lucien Herr, pace Robert
does not seem to denot e, as such, any producti vit y of Nat ur e. Just the
continuous renewal of Natur e' s begi nni ng seems to be here at st ake, since this
fea ture resembl es producti vity only if seen from a conveni ent dist ance. Herr' s
N, p. 70. See also VI, p. 320.
N, p. 160.
N, p. 76.
VI, p. 253. Merleau- Ponty' s words are: qui garde un sens hors de son cont ext e hist orique,
qui n' a m me de sens que hors de ce cont ext e.
Loc. cit. The quot e refers to: Lucien Herr, Hegel , in: Choix dcrits, tome 2, Paris 1934, pp.
109- 146.
Cfr. VI, p. 320.
Cfr. Robert Vallier, tre sauvage and the barbar ous princi pl e: Merleau- Pont y' s readi ng of
Schelling, Chias mi International 2 (2000), p. 85.
page 12 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
sent ence mer el y means that , although Nat ur e is ineffect ual , as Hegel asser t s,
this consti t uti ve barr ennes s has not prevent e d Natur e from remai ni ng till now
(aujourd' hui) exactly what it once was, and thus Vallier is still right when he
st at es that the primordi al, the originary, is to be found in the thick ness of the
living historical pres ent .
But if Nat ur e is now at its first day (au premi er jour), then it can never
be appr ehende d as it is in itself, since it must elude us at the moment we
believe to under st and it. Nat ur e' s power of per mane nc e does not ceas e to be
effective even when we suppos e we have succeede d in its pursui t. This elusive
streak causes Nat ur e to appear as the dark backdrop of all human deme a nor s
(even thos e belongi ng to the world of cult ure, ost ensi bl y transpar e nt and well-
light ed), for their revers e side remai ns forever opaque. The lect ur es of 1959-
1960 descri be the cultur al univers e as vivified by Nat ur e in its imper sonati on as
a brut e and wild spirit, which accordi ng to Merleau- Ponty must be recover ed
be neat h all the cult ur al stuff that it has given to itself.
The thought of Nat ur e
shoul d ther efor e con front the par adox of an origin whose originary char act er
can never be recover ed. It is not anchor ed in a point of time that we must
aspire to at t ai n, with which we can imagi ne to coin cide, or to which we may
pret end to become adequat e. This point of time is indeed out of our grasp, but
not becaus e we cannot move backwar ds along a time- line that proceeds
inexor abl y ahead. The effective reason is that it absor bs its vitality from the
nat ural dimensi on that makes our act ual experi ence partly invisible, put ti ng it
out of our full reach.
5) Nature as an inaugural event in myt hical ti me
This approach to Natur e cont ends that to under st a nd it as origin does
not involve conver ti ng it into a thing of the past . Yet this is what we do
whenever we strive to transfor m Natur e in an orthodox object of knowl edge
with which it seems possi bl e to coin cide compl et el y by means of a regr es si on
along seri al time
. An act ual origin is never a point in time ready to be
individuat ed and expos ed to a retrospect i ve view. Otherwi se a mor e daring
regr es s would always be possi bl e, on the sole condition of assumi ng an infinit ely
ext ensi bl e tempor ali ty. To locat e an absol ut e begi nni ng is impossi bl e, since we
may always ask about the event s that preceded such imagi ned origin.
Therefor e, a true origin must happen in the strange tempor al dimensi on that
Merleau- Ponty descri bes as a time before time
and that in VI also names
myt hical time.
Even if it signal s the st art of a tempor al sequenc e, it shoul d
not be under s t ood as a feat ur e of time among other s. It is rat her a sort of
primordi al inaugur at i on wher e the tempo ral dimensi on itself opens up forever.
Nat ur e as origin can only happen in a myt hi cal time, that is, in the sort of
nat ur al instit uti on which forms the active core of history. In Merleau- Pont y' s
words, it is to be under st ood as an instit ution that produces and re- pro duces
itself, having to be concei ved in the sens e of physi s, which for the Greeks
included hu man beings and gods, not only ani mal s and plant s.
This elusive
Vallier, loc . cit.
N, p. 310.
VI, p. 222.
N, p. 311.
VI, pp. 227 and 222.
Maurice Merleau- Ponty, Not es de cours au Collge de France. 1955- 1959 et 1960- 1961. Ed.
page 13 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
origin does not occupy a given point of time and hence is beyond
objectificati on. It evades rational inquiry like any other myt hical const ructi on.
This Nat ur e as origin can only be account ed for when it has moved past ,
telling the story it has already produced or scruti nizing the tradition it has put
forth, a requi sit e that asser t s its myt hical char act er . Indeed the present
concept i on of Nat ur e shar es with myt h a sort of apodictically persuasi ve force.
The root of this irrefut ability, tied up to myt hol ogi cal const ruct i ons, lies in a
twofold circumst anc e. On the one hand, the time subs eque nt to the emer genc e
of Nat ur e does not account for its originary char act er , which on the other
hand is warrant ed only by time itself. Both Nat ur e as origin and myt h, then,
are simul t aneousl y indemons t r a bl e and irrefut abl e. If claimi ng a lineage or a
geneal ogy involves a ref erence to an origin, accordi ng to Husserl it also implies
that such an origin may have fallen into the oblivion shar ed by all traditions.
This blanknes s even seems to be their neces s ar y feat ur e, since forget ti ng the
origin is a very eff ecti ve way to preserve it as such. In short: only a story can
account for Nat ur e as origin (etymol ogically, myt h means st ory), with the
int eres t i ng corollary that this is precisel y the case for our own birth.
Indeed bot h Nat ur e and our own birth must remai n forever hidden, even if
they are to be report ed by a story begun by someone else. (The originary
char act er of our own birth cannot be conver t ed into a proper object of
knowl edge, but it may be indirectly if incompl et el y reconst r uct ed by unfolding
its story. ) In bot h inst ances it happens to be a story told by a storyt ell er, yet it
must be referr ed to the story per excell ence that myt h incarnat es , for it is a
story about origins but lacking eit her an origin or storyt ell er. Nat ur e as origin
is thus un doubt edl y myt hical. Like any myt h or instit uti ng action provided with
an unlimit ed fecundi t y
cannot be neit her wholly det er mi ned nor reject ed.
Amendi ng the precedent concepti ons of Natur e, an original productive principl e
must account for the cons eque nc e s of this myt hical beginni ng.
The myt hical time (a time before time) in which Nat ur e as origin
comes about can also be descri bed as a sort of time of sleep concei ved as a
pres ent wher e an always new and an always the same may be found.
awakeni ng is the final proof, but also the only one possi bl e, of such time of
sleep. The story the sleeper tells when she awakes, decipheri ng the confus ed
marks in her body, indirectly elucidat es sleep. It must be report ed as a past
experi ence becaus e its only trace is the dullness of the body and thus it can
only be account ed for aft er awakeni ng. For the sleeper ' s story to be as faithful
as possi bl e (she shar es this ai m with all stori es about Nat ur e as origin) it must
give voice to the body as a lively if blurred reme mbr a nc e of sleep itself.
According to Merleau- Pont y, the body is our Janus- faced bond with Natur e, for it
bot h insert s us in it and extricat es us from it. To under st a nd our originary link
with nat ur e, ther efor e, we must resort to a story not unlike the Prousti an
narrat i ve of an awakeni ng, wher e the most faith ful trace of sleep is the torpor of
the body.
It is wort hwhil e to point out that Merleau- Pont y assi gns to philosophy the
same unfinished char act er that , as we have seen, distingui shes the present
of Stpha ni e Mnass . Paris 1966, p. 127, empha si s added. Any further refer ence s to this text
will be indicat ed by NC.
NC, p. 127.
VI, p. 320.
page 14 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
concept i on of Nat ur e. Philosophy shoul d never resolve into a compl et ed story,
for a wholly explicat ed Nat ur e as origin would stop being producti ve. This
seems to be the meani ng of a rat her cryptic remark in VI: The circle is to be
closed aft er studyi ng logos and history, as Proust closes the circle at the
moment the storyt ell er decides to writ e. The end of a philosophy is the story
[rcit] of its begi nni ng.
Preservi ng its myt hical inacces si bility is thus the only
way not to drai n Na ture as origin of its expr es si ve power.
6) Nature as what definit el y has not been instit ut ed
After PHP, Merleau- Ponty cont ende d that the scrutiny of percei ved being
opened the way to a philosophy of percept i on that could serve as framework for
a theory of trut h ultimat el y laid out as a theory of expr es si on. Thus he was led
to define mean ing as an instit ution fat ed to st art an open seri es of expr es si ve
appropri ati ons and hence originati ng a fut ur e. Meaning was deemed
instit ut ed and not consti t ut ed, since accordi ng to Merleau- Ponty experi ences
acquire meani ng through their link with instit uti ng event s, and form ther efor e a
thinkabl e succes si on or a hist ory, yet on the condition that such meani ng is not
sedi ment e d as a relict or as a remai nder, for it shoul d call a suit e or demand a
coming time.
The mai n upshot of this theory of instit uti on was that the
scruti ny of percei ved being was carri ed over to a reflection on nat ur e. This
shift involved the following st eps.
First of all, to under st and the int er depende nc e of expr es si on and
percept i on requir ed applying to percept i on what had been learned about
expr es si on. Besides, the originary ground of expr es si on was det er mi ned as
nat ure becaus e it was appr ehende d through a theory of instit ution. Perceived
being was indeed specified as the nat ural in its diff er ence from the instit ut ed,
and thus it was no longer taken as the originary in its difference from the
derived, or as the sensi bl e in its difference from the int elligible. Merleau- Pont y
cont ende d that scruti nizing Nat ur e was the only way to come to ter ms with
percept i on, provided it were under st ood as what most emphat i cally is not
instit ut ed. Indeed Nat ur e was eminent l y the not- const r uct ed, the not-
instit ut ed, and in conseque nc e it was also the source of all expr es sion, for its
sens e in no way has been posit ed by thought . In the wake of PHP, perceived
being had been appr ehe nde d as the correl at e of the embodi ed consci ence. To
account for its ont ological specificity became impossi bl e, for it was deal t with by
means of the same cat egori es it act ually invalidat ed. Seen from the vant age
point of the instit uti on, though, percei ved being is no longer delivered by
percepti on. Inst ead it emer ges as nat ur al being across the triad trut h-
expr es si on- instit ution. Since the fat ed split bet ween subj ect and object has lost
all validity, the originary sens e of nat ur al being must be brought to light. And
in retrospect the old concept of Natur e was but a mer e objectification of the
not- instit ut ed- being that Nat ur e has come to be. Natur e is not a sever ed and
all-expl ai ning being any longer, and yet justifies the demand to make explicit
what being nat ur al means.

VI, p. 231.
RC, p. 61.
N, p. 267.
page 15 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
The pres ent view of Natur e as not- instit ut ed- being can be shar pl y told
apart from the concept i ons analyzed above. In some account s Natur e was
identified with the pri mordi al, the not const r uct ed, the not- insti tut ed or was
viewed as a world wher e not hi ng has yet been said, symbolized, expres s ed.
Other char act eri zati ons dispens ed with so much rawnes s, and under st ood
Natur e (evoking a happy distinction due to Renaud Barbar as) as what not only
is the ground (sol) of expr es si on but functions as its cradl e (berceau)
well, hence implying that percept i on and expr es si on int ert wi ne. In such cases it
was acknowl edge d that Nat ure has a sens e of its own insofar as it has not been
put forward (pos) by thought and thus it could not be, as it were, neit her
timel es s nes s- in-itself nor the darknes s conveyed by the tot al absence of
sens e. In those account s, far from being amor phous, forml ess and
meani ngl es s, Nat ur e is without doubt a world.
The pres ent concept i on of
Natur e, on the cont r ary, aims at a philosophy of percept i on capabl e of an
ontologically warrant e d theory of trut h. Now percei ved being acquires
ontological weight since it point s out to the final sens e of being. The met a-
phenome nal char act er of nat ur al reality implies its percept i bility. Nat ur e is just
anot her name for percei ved being when int erpr et e d as the not- instit ut ed.
Nat ur al being and percei ved being must go hand in hand be caus e, as the
concept of Gest al t exemplifies , holistic being only exist s if percei ved.
7) Nature as the required correlati ve to phenome nol ogi cal inquiry
This concept i on of Nat ur e credi t s Husserl with the insight that somet hi ng
which lurks inside phenome nol ogy, yet manage s to resist it (the barbar ous
principl e report ed by Schelling), one way or anot her must find its place within
phenome nol ogy.
On Merleau- Pont y' s view, this admi ssi on helped to overcome
the constit utive strabi s mus of phenome nol ogy, since reducti on not only does
not truly force us to lose touch with the world but above all impart s the
great es t lesson that a compl et e reduction is impossi bl e.
He int erpr et s
reducti on as a reflective oper ati on formally aimed at det achi ng us from the
world but that act ually ends up by confirmi ng our cruci al int er twining with the
world. The reducti on mer el y put s us in touch with the unrefl ect ed life, which is
the initial, unchangi ng, and final situati on of reflecti on.
The phenome nol ogi cal tradi tion held that reducti on sur mount s the
nat ur al attit ude, yet Merleau- Pont y under st ands the task of phenome nol ogy
as not so much forced to break our link with the world as to make it distinct
and explicit.
The phenome nol ogi cal attit ude (encour age d by the same
theor et i cal consci ence that suppor t s the nat ur alist st andpoi nt of the scientist )
must give way to the nat ur al at tit ude that com pels us to believe in the world
and which, accordi ng to Merleau- Ponty, cont ai ns a higher- grade trut h that
philosophy must retri eve. Perfor mi ng the reducti on involves an unsai d effort to
pres er ve and to under st and the nat ur al attit ude, for it brings to light a pre-
reflective and pre- thetic Welt t hesi s. Natur e is precisely this unrefl ect ed reality
or originary horizon of passi ve synt hesi s, and in Merleau- Pont ys view the
Cfr. Renaud Barbar as, Merleau- Ponty et la nat ur e, Chias mi International 2 (2000), p. 52.
N, pp. 19- 20.
S, p. 225.
PHP, p. viii.
PHP, p. ix.
N, p. 103.
page 16 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
mai n task of phenome nol ogy is to enlight en our Urglaube in it. The nat ur al
attit ude, in short , leads us to the original sens e of Natur e, which far overst eps
what lived experi ence can grasp. Small wonder, then, that Merleau- Ponty came
to believe that to reduce all experi ence to its lived fraction is only small
phenome nol ogy (ce n' est que de la petit e phnom nol ogi e) .
Thus in Husserls thought Nat ur e resolved into the Weltall wher e
everyt hi ng happens and which unsur pri si ngly embr aces consci ence, though it
shoul d be not ed that this inclusive view did not came up until Ideen III. In this
notion of Natur e prevails the percei ved world, prone to giving itself leibhaf t
and on whose foundat i on are built the pure things (bloe Sachen) with which
science deal s and which is yet much more primor dial than the world contrived
by reason. After Ideen II the concept of constit uti on had become increasi ngl y a
way to disclose in things a rever s e which we have not consti t ut ed
accordi ngl y reflection was no longer deeme d the inti mat e encount er of pure
subj ect and pure things.
It uncover ed inst ead the third dimensi on of a pre-
theor et i cal layer wher e the split subj ecti ve/ obj ecti ve is brought to an end
wher e bot h realism and int ellect uali sm lose their unilat er al char act er. Accord ing
to Merleau- Pont y, Natur e is this originary layer, level or tier as well, on
which the objectifying and idealizing consci ence rest s, and which compr ehe nds
all of what is pre- objective, pre- theor et i cal, pre- thetical in us.
Three cruci al feat ur es come toget her in this pre- theor et i cal, originary
layer: 1) consci ence is always either in advance or in del ay when dealing with it;
2) it shows up eit her as already consti t ut ed or as never compl et el y consti t ut ed;
3) it only comes forth when the Husserlian bluepri nt for the int ellect ual
posses si on of the world
miscarri es. For accordi ng to Merleau- Ponty, in Ideen
II Husserl rehabilit at es a philosophy of nat ur e. Indeed this text descri bes a
frame (me mbr ur e) of the percei ved world, [through which] comes to light an
out si de of the procedur es (dmarches) carri ed out by subj ect s, but never a
nat ur e- caus e of which we would be the ef fect s,
which account s for Merleau-
Pont ys surprisi ng conclusi on. The far- reachi ng aim of the Husserli an writings
dealing with the constit uti on of the pure thing, however, was to reveal a layer
mor e primordi al than the outcome of a subj ecti ve instit ution. It sprang from
an Umwel t shar ed by all of us, strictly unrel at ed to thing- ness and to objectivity,
in which all our initiatives are born, and from which we depend since we havent
instit ut ed it. In Merleau- Ponty' s view, this originary layer sugges t s an account of
Natur e gear ed to the in- dept h purpos e of phenome nol ogy.
Stat ed by Merleau- Ponty in the lectur es of 1956 at the Collge de France, as report ed by
Xavier Tilliett e in La dmar che ont ologi que de Merleau- Ponty, op. cit., p. 380.
S, p. 227.
S, p. 206.
Cfr. S, p. 205.
Cfr. S, p. 208.
S, p. 227.
Merleau- Ponty, Huss erl et la notion de nat ur e, in: Parcours Deux (1951- 1961), Lagrass e
2000, p. 218. The empha si s is Merleau- Ponty' s.
page 17 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
Merleau- Ponty found in Schelling' s thought many echoes of his own ideas
on Natur e, for ther e a number of issues seeme d to answer some of his concer ns
or stood in narrow affinity with them. Yet the philosophi cal significance of
Merleau- Ponty' s read ing of Schelling, as shown by the three cycles of lect ur es
on Nat ur e, rest s on implied evidence. His confront at i on with Schelling' s
Naturphilosophi e focused on a succes si on of com plex topics that worked as
point s of diffraction for his own thought . We name those issues point s of
diffraction becaus e the uncert ai nt i es that marr ed Merleau- Pontys philosophy
underwent a sort of epiphani c realignme nt when faced with the Schellingi an
ideas on Natur e. The outcome was an increas e d concret i on that , as will be
report ed below, set off the met aphori cal blur so distinctive of Merleau- Pontys
writings. Indeed we specifically cont end that in Merleau- Pont y' s recept i on of
Schelling' s thought may be discer ned the following twel ve point s of diffraction:
i) The polys e my of the ter m Nature and the need for a lateral
approach to the ulti mat e ground of everyt hi ng. In Schelling' s thought , the
notion of Nat ur e demande d a multi- layer ed semant i cs becaus e its meani ng
had to adapt to his philosophy in progr ess. Being much more than the mer e
object of physico- nat ur al sciences, Natur e must be thought of as subj ect
deploying its activity, as nat ura nat urans, as an ungr as pa bl e free producti vit y,
as the birt h ami d darknes s from which light set s fort h, as a living ground, as
the impul se of an infi nit e devel opme nt ,
as super- Being, as a barbar ous
principl e, as a prot o- revel ati on of the Absolut e, and even as a sort of poetics
assisti ng divine imagi nat i on. Schelling also affirms that Na ture comes
consti t uti vel y close to the myt hol ogical figure of Prot heus, fed by his own
unfores e e abl e met a mor phos e s and hence unavail abl e to int ellect ual pursui t s.
ii) The pri mordial surge that remai ns forever present in us, like
everyt hi ng else.
The aspect of the Schellingi an Naturphilosophi e that mor e
fiercely awakene d Merleau- Pont y' s int er est was the notion of erst e Natur. This
ter m point s to a pri mor di al Nat ur e or principl e of the world that is
compar abl e to a super- Being or bersei n which never can be thought of in
Merleau- Ponty saw in it a pure and in-motivat ed surge that also
appear e d as an abyss of past
on account of its being the most anci ent
we can ever imagi ne, while par adoxi cally remai ni ng forever pres ent
in us, like everyt hi ng else. This abyss al past does not have become event ually
past in a trivial way, but was already past at its very begi nni ng,
and it is so
blat ant l y originary that Schelling ter ms it an et ernal past . Erst e Natur is
thus a prot o- reality which is always ther e when we arrive
and that can be
F. W. J. Schelling, Erst er Entwurf eines Syst e ms der Naturphilosophi e, in: Schellings Werke,
ed. of M. Schrt er, Haupt band 2, p. 19; vol. III, p. 19. We quot e aft er the moder n repri nt and
redi st ribution in Haupt bnde of the 1927 edition of Smt liche Werke, ed. Cott a, 1856- 1861. Any
further referenc e s to Schellings Werke will be indicat ed by the Haupt band and also by the
volume, abbr evi at e d in vol..
N, p. 62.
Loc. cit.
This well- known descri ption by Karl Lwith is quot ed by Merleau- Ponty in N, p. 61.
N, p. 61.
F. W. J. Schelling, Die Welt alt er, in: Schellings Werke, op. cit., Haupt ba nd 4, p. 631; vol. VIII, p.
254. Schellings words are: eine ewige Vergange nhei t , als eine Vergange nhei t , die nicht erst
dazu gewor de n, die gleich uranf ngli ch und von aller Ewigkeit her Vergange nhei t war.
N, p. 62.
page 18 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
regar ded as a reality previous to any reflecti on on reality (this char act eri stic
was not over seen by Merleau- Ponty). Since reflecti on is act ually derivati ve, it
cannot be co- surgent with reality.
iii) The int ert wi ni ng of past and present , creation and dest ruction.
Schellingi an Nat ur e has to be report ed, as it were, in the past tens e, for it
turns out to be a geneal ogi cal and immemori al past for human beings. This
abyss of past may be compar ed to an anci ent aut hor who would have writt en
in undeci pher abl e hieroglyphics.
Nat ur e is then an origin that only when it has
ceas ed to count as such can be properly recorded, and that ther efor e never
become s a suit abl e object of knowl edge. So firmly anchor ed in the past is
Natur e that in fact, so Schelling cont ends, it could have been that it never was.
For that reason he oft en label s it a met aphor and occasi onally a mis take.
Yet if Natur e is the most anci ent of all entiti es, it is also the most permane nt .
Karl Lwith descri bed succinctly this baffling circums t a nc e: Primordi al Nat ur e is
cont r adi ct ory in its es sence: simult aneousl y affirmati ve and negat i ve, creative
and dest ructi ve, showi ng itself continually but also hiding itself. It is an
unst oppabl e urge, without begi nni ng or end. It is a sort of blind force, a vitality
that creat es itself and consumma t e s itself, that appear s and disappe ar s
incess ant l y. Again and agai n it ret ur ns to its origins, and et er nally it begi ns
anew. Thus it emer ges as the immut a ble, the ineliminabl e and the fundame nt al
(das Bleibende, Unvertilgbare und Zugrundeli egende) .
iv) The first begi nni ng of things and the deepes t layer of the spiritual
world. Nevert hel es s, t he essent i al trait of Schellingi an Natur e is its puzzling
producti vi t y, which shoul d be under s t ood in very gener al ter ms, for the
product s it brings fort h are everyt hi ng that exist s. Yet the blind and
unconsci ous pro ductivity
of Natur e is far higher up than any particul ar
product . It is brought to life anew and hence is carri ed indefinit ely ahead,
which att es t s that the theme of the living ground is out st andi ng in Schelling' s
thought . His work of 1809, Philosophi cal Investi gati ons of the Essence of Human
Freedom, ass es s ed this primacy: All moder n European philosophy since
Descar t es has this const ant flaw: nat ur e does not exist by itself and it lacks a
living ground.
He vent ur ed to rescue this living ground from the self-
positing subj ect that prevails in moder n philosophy. Thus Nat ur e was specified
as a ground that relentl essl y secludes itself beyond the fronti er of visibility.
And since Nat ur e is, in Schelling' s view, the emi nent first begi nni ng of things,
human thought is forced to ret urn to its unconsci ous origin by means of an
anamne s t i c proces s, which ent ails that all Natur e is only the stirrup
(St eigbgel ), the deepes t layer of the spiritual world.
Cfr. Schellings Werke, op. cit., Haupt ba nd 3, p. 268; vol. V, p. 246.
Karl Lwith, Gott, Mensch und Welt in der Metaphysi k von Descart es bis zu Nietzsche,
Gttingen 1967, p. 107.
F. W. J. Schelling, Einleit ung zu dem Entwurf eines Syst e ms der Naturphilosophi e, in:
Schellings Werke, op. cit., Haupt ba nd 2, p. 271; vol. III, p. 271.
F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophi sche Unt ersuchunge n ber das Wes en der mens chli chen Freiheit
und die dami t zusamme n h ng e nd e n Gegens t nde, in: Schellings Werke, op. cit., Haupt ba nd 4,
p. 253; vol. VII, p. 361, empha sis added. Schelling' s words are: [...] da die Nat ur fr sich nicht
vorhande n ist, und da es ihr am lebendi gen Grunde fehlt.
F. W. J. Schelling, Stut t gart er Privat vorl esunge n, in: Schellings Werke, op. cit., Haupt ba nd 4,
p. 349; vol. VII, p. 457.
page 19 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
v) The unchangeabl e ground that always breaks through the impos ed
order. Schelling also calls incipient Nat ur e or anfngliche Natur the
changel es s ground that has withdr awn beyond the limit of visibility and is
ther efor e antit het i c to order ed Nat ur e. This opposi tion is not absol ut e becaus e
incipi ent Nat ur e is the tangl ed and informal st at e of things that precedes the
est abli shme nt of order and form, yet persist s even in ordered and formal
Nature as capabl e of breaki ng through again. Natur e is withdr awn insofar as it
precede s order and form, but also becaus e it endures as the ground always
capabl e of breaki ng through the order brought by creation. In the ground
abides et er nally the incompr ehe nsi bl e source of reality in things, the residue
that the under s t a ndi ng cannot reduce even with the great es t effort.
vi) The ulti mat e argume nt for not- coincident , not- adequat e thought .
Natur e can never become a suit abl e object of knowl edge for sever al reasons.
Promi nent among them is that Nature' s productiv ity informs the very cognitive
act s that try to under st and it. And also becaus e Natur e carri es itself for ward
indefinit el y, and thus its incepti on can never be est ablished.
cont ent i ons show up in Merleau- Ponty' s views on Natur e, especi ally when in the
Introducti on to the lect ur es of 1956- 1957 he defines Natur e as self- producti on
of sens e
. According to this outlook, Nat ur e is an enigmat i c object , an object
that is not an object at all: it is not compl et el y in front of us. It is our ground; not
what we are facing, but what support s us.
Nat ur e can only be reduced to the
st at us of an appropri at e object for knowl edge by ignoring its quality of produc -
tive principl e that at best can be under st ood indirectly and a post e riori. For it is
a ground that unst oppabl y goes along with us, or else a sort of element in
which we are submer ged.
vii) The task to live and to experi ence Nat ure' s producti vi t y
and the
insertion of the subj ect in Nature. We att es t the living ground we call Nat ur e in
the thicknes s of our lived experi ence. It emer ges as the pre- dualist medi um
named by Schelling pre- objective Being since it is the common ground of
[transcende nt al idealist] I and pri mordi al Natur e (erst e Nat ur). A convincing
elucidati on of this common ground has been forwarded by Andrew Bowie. His
account also justifies Merleau- Pontys fascinati on with the notion of pre-
objective Being: The vital fact or which has sus tained the act uality of
Schelling' s Naturphilosophi e is its refusal to see the thinking subj ect as simply
oppos ed to nat ur e as a world of object s, becaus e the subj ect is itself part of
nat ure.
Thus Natur e has reality for itself and forms one compl et e whole, for
its multi- layer ed char act er does not bani sh a fundame nt al unity. The divisions
impos ed on it by our ordinary percept i on and thought are the outcome of the
singl e formati ve compl ex of forces that is the inner aspect of Nat ur e. To fat hom
this primordi al surge we must pay at t ent i on to its succes si ve forms, for it is the
spirit that we unknowi ngl y appr ehend in self -consciousnes s .
Schelling, Philosophi sche Unt ersuchunge n ber das Wese n der mens chlichen Freiheit, op.
cit., Haupt ba nd 4, p. 250; vol. VII, p. 357.
N, p. 185.
N, p. 186.
N, p. 5.
N, p. 5.
N, p. 63.
Andrew Bowie, Schelling and Modern European Philosophy, London 1993, p. 31, empha si s
page 20 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
viii) The prot o- Ineinander that can be discerned in Schelling' s thought . His
asses s me nt that the task of philosophy is to live and to experi ence Natur e' s
producti vit y involves the int er- depende nc e of Nat ur e and mind, as echoed by
Merleau- Ponty in the lect ur es: Nat ur e out si de us is reveal ed by the Nature that
we are.
But above all it sugges t s what might be ter med the Schellingi an
prot o- Ineinander, since it prefigur es the efficient tool for thought that Merleau-
Pont y label ed Ineinander: a sort of circul ar link bet ween Being and thought , in
which thought submi t s to Being the connecti on with Being that Being itself has
brought out.
This st at e of af fairs may be outlined in two st artling cont ent i ons:
a) A philosophy of Natur e cannot avoid to creat e Natur e. This means that any
Naturphilosophi e must reproduce in itself the dynami cs that const r ai n Nat ur e to
come to be out si de us. b) In a faultlessl y accomplished Naturphilosophi e,
Natur e would re- absor b itself in form of thought . Otherwi se st at ed, the
prospect s of Natur e and philosophy act ually overl ap: the idea of Nat ur e is only
the result of phi losophy itself
. No qual ms, ther efor e, about the ground for a
philosophy of Nat ur e: to philosophize on Natur e means to creat e Natur [die
Natur schaff en].
Schelling argues that the proper specul ati ve pat h set s
out from Natur e and turns up as spirit, and reject s the syst ems of thought that
devise a nat ur e of sort s from the vant age point of the mind. But the thought of
pri mor di al Nat ur e is baffling, for philosophy act ually resul t s from the split of
human being and nat ur e and it would indeed collapse if the duality
subj ect / obj ect were cancell ed. (The transcende nt al i st at t achme nt of Schelling is
here a relentl ess source of int ellect ual discomfort . Nat ur e is viewed as an
undef eat a bl e fact and yet a nat ur al philosophy must in the long run deduce the
very possi bility of Nat ur e. Schelling derived from Ficht e the ideal of a com plet ed
whol e of philosophi cal concept i on and also the formal met hod to which for the
most part he continued true. Naturphilosophi e ought to reveal the ideal as
springi ng from the real, not to deduce the real from the ideal.)
ix) The unrefl ect ed residue that subvert s all reflecti ve proces s es. We have
already remarked that the I of transcende nt al idealism and e rst e Natur or
pri mor di al Nat ur e share a probl em of ground. A non- ground prior to all
differences, in other words, is the ground of self- conscious ness, just as e rst e
Natur is the originary unity from which conscious nes s emer ges , its own uncon -
scious past . Schelling act ually point s out that bot h erst e Nat ur and
transcende nt al Self imply that an initially singul ar activity differenti at es itself,
put s limits to itself, medi at es its own immedi acy. Yet this parall elism is not
boundl es s. Indeed for transcende nt al Self to be come conscious of itself, it must
produce itself as an object for itself. Thus the activity of tran scendent al Self
compel s it to divide itself, originat es its own cont r adi cti on, differenti at es itself
into subj ect and object , const r ai ns it to repr es ent itself to itself. Yet ther e is a
residue in this proces s that Naturphilosophi e cannot take into account . The
absol ut el y reflective proces s achi eved by transcende nt al Self miscarri es when
faced with the unrefl ect ed reality (the Merleau- Pont yan irrflechi) that tacitly
sust ai ned it along its self- productive effort. This unass ail abl e remai nder
amount s to the Schellingi an barbar ous princi ple.
N, p. 267.
Franoi se Dast ur, Chair et langage. Essai s sur Merleau- Pont y, op. cit., p. 205.
F. W. J. Schelling, Ideen zu einer Philosophi e der Nat ur (1797), in: Schellings Werke, op. cit.,
Haupt band I, p. 708; vol. II, p. 708.
Schelling, Erst er Entwurf eines Syst e ms der Naturphilosophi e, in: Schellings Werke, op. cit.,
Haupt band 2, p. 13, vol . III, p. 13. Merleau- Ponty gives in N the source for this Schellingi an
quot ati on.
page 21 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
x) The anti- objecti vi st distrust of ontic masks
and the dismi ssal of
adequat i on as criterion of trut h. As we have report ed, Schellingi an Natur e
enforces a produc tivity principl e, yet dest r ucti venes s is one of its essenti al
feat ur es as well. Only the infinite activity of Natur e is truly real. The object s are
but a minor consequenc e of this liveliness, a negligibl e residual overgrowt h. The
objective world is the domai n of life, not that of things. First and foremos t ,
Natur e is bound to dest roy what ever comes up as an object . Nat ur e strug gles
agai nst everyt hi ng individual.
According to Schelling, every thinkabl e product
bear s testi mony to a self- limit ati on of producti vity. Nothing ascert ai nabl e in
Natur e is conclusively fixed. Everyt hi ng has its place in a compr ehensi ve
proces s which cannot be thought of in objective ter ms. There fore, the very
condi tion of objecti vi t y is reflecti ve division bet we en the whol e (includi ng
human beings as part of the organi s m which the tot ality of Nature turns out to
be). This suspicion about ontic masks was powerfully expr es s ed by Merleau-
Pont y when he point ed out that Schellings barbar ous principl e meant in fact
an exces s of Being over the consciousnes s of Being.
xi) The absol ut e pri macy of an inner or organic neces si t y. We have
already expounde d that Merleau- Ponty reject s the Cart esi an approach to Nat ur e
as synonymous with exist ence in itself, without orien tation and without
int eriorit y.
His struggl e agai nst this tradi tion brought him to free Nat ur e from
the ont ology of the object , as we will see at the close of his essay, crediting it
inst ead with it a sort of int eriority or inwardnes s (int eriorit ). Yet he
somehow echoes Schelling when he repl aces the ext er nal necessi t y tied to the
Modern tradition by the internal necessi t y of Nat ur e. The philosophi es endor si ng
a transcende nt al Self argued that to exist as an object amount e d to being
ext er nally det er mi ned. Thus the object not only lacked thicknes s but also was
passive throughout , since all det er mi nat i ons were ext rinsic to it. The idea of
Natur e as ext eri ority implies immedi at el y the idea of Nat ur e as a syst e m of
Schellings Nat ur e, on the cont r ary, is the domai n of int erior, inher ent ,
or organi c caus alit y. Indeed Natur e appear s ani mat ed by an inner necessi t y
tant amount to aut onomy. By asser ti ng the primacy of int eriority, ther efor e,
Schelling liberat es Nat ur e, so to speak, from the inside.
xii) The un- thought thought of sedi ment e d culture and the ont ological
rehabilitation of sensi bility. Schelling champi oned the irreduci bl e specificity of
Natur e on the twofold basis that Judith Schl anger has mast erl y clarified and that
dramat i cally parall el s Schelling' s thought with Merleau- Pontys. On the one hand
Schelling rej ect ed the aut hori t y usually given to the reflective or concept ual
element of knowl edge becaus e he did not want to wear away the precious
fragility of the sensi bl e being nor the intuitive wisdom it fost er s.
On the other
hand, he had at his dispos al a very rich pre- notion of Natur e, formed by a
whol e set of ant ecede nt cult ur al images. Yet thes e two ingredi ent s reinforced
each other, a fact that enhances the par all el with Merleau- Pont ys doct ri ne: the
VI, pp. 282- 283: The invisibl e is ther e without being an object , is pure transcende nc e,
without ONTIC MASK.
Schelling, Erst er Entwurf eines Syst e ms der Nat urphilosophi e, op. cit., Haupt ba nd 2, p. 6;
vol. III, p. 6.
N, p. 62.
N, p. 27.
Loc. cit.
Judith Schlanger, Schelling et la ralit finie, Paris 1966, p. 50.
page 22 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
richnes s and power of his intuitive asset s led Schelling to think that forsaki ng
them would impoveri sh philosophy irretri ev ably. And conver s el y, the need for
Naturphilosophi e to ret ai n previous cultural images of Natur e coerced Schelling
into trans posi ng intuitive capit al in thought .
The many- sided topics report ed in the foregoi ng secti on guided Merleau-
Pont ys readi ng of Schelling' s Naturphilosophi e and worked as point s of diffrac -
tion for his ideas on Natur e. It is plausi bl e to stat e that the specific diffractive
power of Schelling' s thought count er bal anced the diffractive blur which
marr ed Merleau- Ponty' s doct rines. Displaying an optical simile, the outcome of
Schelling' s Naturphilosophi e could be compar ed to the neut r alizing effect that ,
in an achromat i c lens, the divergent half- lens made of flint glass produces on
the conver gent half- lens made of crown glass. By way of apposi ng the two half-
lenses, as is well known, opticians obt ai n a compound lens called achroma t i c
becaus e the light emer gi ng from it forms images without the blur due to
unwant ed prismat i c colors. Bringing toget her lenses of different mat eri al with
revers e focal powers, ther efor e, helps to remove parasi tic chromat i c haloes,
since the low disper si on value of the crown glass count er bal ances the higher
value of the flint glass. We cont end that Schelling' s Natur philosophi e brought
about a similar count er act i ng effect on the multipl e inner diffractions that
char act eri ze Merleau- Ponty' s thought . For his lect ur es on Schelling int ensified
and deepene d his own philosophi cal involvement with the idea of Natur e.
As we have seen, at the beginni ng of the lect ur es on the concept of
Natur e held at the Collge de France, the refer ence to Natur e appar ent l y aimed
at bal anci ng an ont ological tradition strongl y biased towar ds a negat i ve account
of human reality. Later on, in the lect ur es of 1959, Nat ur e was still consider ed
secondar y to the tre brut, become the chief notion of the new ont ology.
Merleau- Ponty expr es s e d force fully his convictions of this period: Nat ur e as
sheet or layer (feuillet ou couche) of tot al Being. The ont ology of nat ur e as a
way towards ont ology.
He still regar ded Natur e as a mer e appenda ge to what
really seeme d to mat t er: the inquiry about the originary dimensi on of Being.
The sens d' tre of nat ur al Being, as Merleau- Pont y called at that time
perceived being, was then the target that led him to exami ne Natur e.
We have also observed that the not es writt en by Merleau- Ponty at the end
of 1960 regist er a conver si on appar ent l y direct ed by his recepti on of Schelling,
for the subsi di ary st andi ng of Natur e vanishes altoget her . Ontology become s
philosophy of nat ur e. The concer n over Being appear s to be depende nt on a
reflecti on on Natur e, now grown into the keyst one of Merleau- Pontyan ont ology.
Indeed his survey of Schellings thought persuade d Merleau- Pont y to find an
adequat e openi ng into the quest i on of Being by means of nat ur al Being. His
out st andi ng int er est was at that time to make explicit what being nat ur al or
nat ur ally being means .
And the pri macy assi gned to nat ur e sancti oned the
indirect approach to Being by way of mer e ontic beings. This openi ng to
Loc. cit.
N, p. 265.
N, p. 267.
page 23 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
Being through Natur e, in conclusi on, avoided the pitfalls of ont ological
diplopi a (only a Nat ure not bound to causalit y and finality can be said to be
above it) and point ed to the all-pervadi ng Ineinander.
It is not ewor t hy that Merleau- Pont y found in Schelling the unexpect ed
confirmat i on of an insight already asser t ed in PHP: Human life is defined by its
capaci t y to negat e itself in objective thought , and it owes this power to its
primordi al at t achme nt to the world itself. Human life [...] can under st and itself
becaus e it has been thrown into a nat ural world.
This cont ent i on act ually
sugges t s that the introspect i ve joys of acos mi s m do not assi st us in fat homi ng
the human mind, a task we still accompli sh thanks to our connecti on with the
nat ur al world. Yet Merleau- Ponty' s pass age through Schelling aids us above all
to under st and why he left behi nd the misl eadi ng negat i vit y of his early
producti on. The refer ence to a raw, wild Being, or else to a Being at dist ance,
indivisible of an experi ence in the st at e of being born ( l'tat naissant ) and
thus still not properl y struct ur ed, aft er his survey of Schelling no longer
connot es the archai c vision of a lustral univers e or an untr eade d eart h.
Now the weat her change in Merleau- Ponty' s thought is best descri bed by
the epit het vertical. It recurs in his writings of that period, wher e the concept
of vertical int elligibility seems to hold sway. Most significantl y, it means that
now nat ur e and hist ory are Ineinander, as shown by the refer ence to a
dishevel ed (chev el e) , vertical history,
wher e the task of the philosopher is
to unravel , behind the tapes t r y of meani ngf ul hist ory, its mixed- up threads and
its muddl ed pat t er ns. Thus a wild, in no way objective nat ur e- hist ory, out-
st agi ng even the long- held year ni ng towards a anti- Cart esi an ontology, imposes
now a new type of intelligibility (int elligibilit), intelligibility by means of world
and Being as they really are (tels quel s), vertical and not horizont al
int elligibility.
The ter m vertical intelligibility, though, deser ves furt her
expl anat i on. It chiefly means that the objecti vist ont ology of bloe Sachen is
instit ut ed upon the Husserlian pre- Being or Vorsein. Indeed all modaliti es of
objective Being (in other words: bot h the ont ol ogy of the object and the
Being- object of nat ur e
) rest upon Being front ally viewed or Being
individuat ed in the tempor al successi on and in the space of mut ual
ext eri ority.
For the topologic, envel opi ng or collective Being
is the
Natur e in us
as well, and most significantl y a Being of tot ality, macro-
phenome non, that is: an emi nent l y percei ved being, image.
The ground for
this pioneeri ng int elligibility also entitl ed Merleau- Pont y to ter m Natur e un-
preconcei vabl e or unvordenklich, applying a concept that came to be
increasi ngl y significant for Schelling aft er 1809. For this feat ur e of reality, far
from pointing to a future event , refers to a past that , as Schelling argued, has
never been pres ent and hence cannot act ually be re- present ed. Thence this
groundbr e aki ng, vertical int elligibility requires consi deri ng Natur e, using a
vocabul ary mint ed by the earlier Merleau- Pont y, in ter ms of langage parlant
inst ead of langage parl.
PHP, p. 377, empha si s added.
VI, p. 237.
VI, p. 322.
N, p. 275.
N, p. 267.
Loc. cit.
N, p. 275.
N, p. 281.
page 24 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
Still, from the explanation outlined in the foregoing paragraphs should not be assumed that the
problem posed b the shift of priorities in !erleau"#ont$s late thought has been entirel sol%ed& 'or
this (hange of standpoint, in )hi(h *ature repla(ed tre brut as the main fo(us of his philosophi(al
interest, )as onl a parti(ular episode in a )ide"ranging alteration that had ta+en pla(e in his o)n
thought& ,here an anti"-artesian ontolog had graduall o%er(ome the time"honored prima( of
(ons(iousness, gi%ing raise to a momentous mutation ontologique or .ontologi(al mutation/&
Merleau- Ponty argued that the preemi nence tradi tionally given to the
ont ol ogy of the object has result ed in the philosophi cal deadl ock of our time.
He also cont ended that the ont ology of the exist ent or ontologi e de
lexist ant shoul d take its place, thus endi ng a conflict that has marr ed moder n
thought since Descar t es. In the philosophy of Descar t es, the two meani ngs of
the word Natur e (nat ur e as nat ur al light and as nat ur al inclination) sugges t
two different ont ologi es (ont ology of the object and ont ology of the exist ent)
which in his lat er way of thinking he att empt e d to bring toget her .

Pont y at t es t s that the ont ology of the object has finally brought about the
crisis of all our cat egori es for it grant s to a mer e objective being the privilege
to come up as Being. In his opinion, the unity of this ont ological tradition rest s
on the prejudice of objectivism, becaus e the positive object prefigur es what it
appr ehends as Being. Since the ont ology of the object

concei ves Being over
the background of not hi ngnes s, it is compell ed to model it aft er the full
det er mi nat i on of an object and to define all links with reality as vari eti es of
int ellect ual appr ehe nsi on. Only a pure positivity can negat e not hi ngnes s, hence
Being must be concei ved as inclusivenes s of det er mi nat i on. If Being were not
compl et el y what it is, it would no be at all.
Reality at large, in a word, is conceived as tot ally det er mi ned, and things
are inevit abl y percei ved as object s. Therefor e experi ence is always thought of
as coincidence or adequat i on. To know somet hi ng is to come to poss es s what is
known, which ent ails closing the gap bet ween it and us. Indeed dist ance and
retr eat are consi der ed a hindrance to cogni tion, per mane nt l y imput abl e to the
knower and never at t ri but ed to reality, for they work agai nst a proxi mi ty that
always is deeme d possi bl e. Thus all indet er mi nat i on shoul d be suppr es s e d that
could befall what is known. The ont ology of the object does not deny that a
dimensi on of exist ence or of facticity is added to wholly det er mi ned ess ences,
yet it strictly rules out drawi ng from this admi ssi on an ont ological alt ernat i ve.
Essences prevail becaus e they imply the hege mony of the possi bl e over the
act ual and thus reduce the act ual to the possi bl e. For somet hi ng to turn out to
be, a full reality must intervene, and so is essence an indispens abl e condition
for exist ence.
The ont ol ogy of the exist ent or ontologi e de lexist ant, accordi ng to
Merleau- Ponty, revoluti onizes the hist ory of ont ology as it account s for a sens e
of Being that was presuppos e d and simult aneousl y conceal ed by the cat egori es
of objective thought . Since objectivism has brought about our current
philosophi cal deadl ock, in our time the anti- Cart esi an ont ology of the exist ent
is entitl ed to the preemi nence held by the ont ology of the object in the
philosophi cal tradition. This ont ological mut at i on encour ages a thinking of
finitude that gives precede nc e to the sensi bl e and incarnat e dimensi on of all
human deme a nor s and that has grown into an affirmati ve vindicati on of
RC, pp. 125- 126.
Cf. N, p. 275.
page 25 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
contingency and facticity. From this viewpoi nt , conti ngency shoul d no longer be
deeme d the realization of a positivity among others, nor fact s reduced to
unint elligibl e act ualizati ons of ess ences. The ont ology of the exist ent ought
thus to unmask the hidden presupposi ti ons that sust ai n the ont ology of the
object and endor s e the reducti on of Being to mer e objective being. This
amount s to disclosi ng the originary way in which Being is, label ed tre brut
and topological Being
by Merleau- Ponty. Though it is the act ual if
unrecogni zed ground of rationality, it cannot be explicat ed by the cat egori es of
objective knowl edge.
,herefore tre brut (annot be differentiated from its )a of manifesting itself& 0ts be(oming
a phenomenon, in other )ords, does not depend on a sub1e(t that (onsiders it at a distan(e, as )as the
(ase )ith tre objectif or .ob1e(ti%e being/, upheld b the .ontolog of the ob1e(t/ and
.indi%iduated in the temporal series and in the spa(e of re(ipro(al exteriorit/&
2n the (ontrar,
tre brut o((asions its o)n (oming to be expressed or manifest and insofar it (oin(ides )ith its o)n
originar phenomeni3ation, )hi(h e%entuall sets off both the sub1e(t and the ob1e(t of (ognition& ,hus
it (annot be (on(ei%ed as a realit %irtuall determinable and hen(e positi%e, supplied )ith sense
through the in%ol%ement of a sub1e(t, and hen(e differentiated in form of representable entities& tre
brut surrounds )hat at first sight seems to be en%eloping it& ,hat is, it a(tuall (ontains the (oming"
to"be"manifest that et might gi%e the impression of en(ompassing it altogether& 0n tre brut, briefl,
sub1e(t and ob1e(t transmute into ea(h other, en(ouraging a )ide"ranging transiti%it that, as is )ell
+no)n, !erleau"#ont named .(hiasm/& 4((ording to the .ontolog of the existent/, then, sense must
be al)as re(+oned as figurati%e be(ause it is lo(+ed in the depths of tre brut and (an ne%er
emerge in the form of pure meaning& 5efinitel tre brut in(orporates nothingness sin(e, being the
uni%ersal holder, it en(loses an element of negati%it as )ell&
As a result it is import ant to expl ai n the shift in Merleau- Pontys
ontological priorities (Nat ur e repl aced tre brut) while account i ng for the
compr ehe nsi ve ont ological mut at i on (the ont ology of the exist ent substi t ut ed
for the ont ology of the object ) within which it took place . At a concept ual
level, the revision in philosophi cal st andpoi nt occasi oned by the lect ur es on
Natur e must be descri bed as a case of shallow change since the preval ence of
tre brut over Nature was rever s ed without implying any crisis or significant
alt er ati on in the innovat i ve ont ological set up Merleau- Pont y had already
devised. In cont r as t , the enforceme nt of this new, anti- Cart esi an ont ology at the
expens e of the ont ology built upon the primacy of a consti t uti ng subj ect can
only be char act erized as a case of deep change becaus e it was a background
switch so ext r emel y whol esal e that the doct rines involved were literally
incomme ns ur a bl e.
Merleau- Pontys oeuvre, in conseque nc e, displ ays a clear- cut case of a
shallow change (from tre brut to Nat ur e) embedde d in a deep change
(from a Cart esi an to an anti- Cart esi an ontology). Before proceedi ng furt her, the
meani ng of thes e ter ms may be specified with the Kuhni an- slant ed vocabul ary
originally appli ed to science. A shallow change can be defined as a small
revol uti on or belief revision, which involves no crisis
. Indeed a mild form of
revol uti on occurs with the introducti on of a new theory that articul at es
possi bilities which lie within the boundari es of the space of theori es to be taken
seriously but that had previously been unrecogni zed as explicit possi bilities. By
cont r as t , a deep change arises when the space of possi bilities itself needs to
N, p. 276.
N, p. 267.
Bird, Thomas Kuhn, op. cit., pp. 42 and 58.
page 26 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
be significantly alt er ed to encompas s the new theory,
that is, whenever a
sweepi ng reorgani zati on or rearr ange me nt takes place in which ther e is no
shari ng of values bet ween par adi gms. It can be argued that only in a deep
revol uti on does one side challenge the other in regar d to the appropri at e
met hodol ogy of theory asses s me nt , wher eas the values gover ni ng theory
appr ai s al do not have to be at issue in a shallow revolution.
The weight of this distinction, however, depends on the act ual aut onomy
of the deep change, or in other words, rest s on the part played by the
shallow change in triggeri ng it. In our case ther e are reasons to consider the
deep change aut onomous , since already by the onset of the lect ur es on
Schelling and Natur e the well- wrought notion of tre brut was the prevailing
feat ur e of the ont ol ogy of the exist ent . Merleau- Pont ys favoring of Nat ur e is
thus not to be equat ed to the Romant i c cont ent i on that Natur e does not
confor m to moder n scientific descri ptions. The need of an anti- scienti st re-
thinking of Nat ur e pal es when compar ed with the att empt to repl ace Cart esi an
ontology. (By cont r ast , we may wonder what would have been the effect on the
young Merleau- Ponty, fresh aut hor of PHP and still bound to the ont ology of the
object , of having to lect ur e ext ensi vel y on Schelling. ) On the other hand, it is
not wholly impl ausi bl e to suppos e that the shallow change in some way
releas es the deep change. According to this conj ect ur e, the prefer ence
Merleau- Ponty gave to Natur e over tre brut was the belief shift needed to
act ually accomplish the big shift bet ween incommens ur abl e worldvi ews, in
our case the Cart esi an and the anti- Cart esi an ont ologi es. By privilegi ng Nat ur e
he would have eas ed the ontological transi tion he not only foresaw as
indispens abl e but actively brought about , since he manage d to repl ace an
objectivist ont ology bound to langage parl as its sole means of expres si on
by an ont ology of the exist ent demandi ng langage parlant . At bot t om, the
following outline accur at el y portr ays what happene d. A 20
Cent ury French
phenome nol ogi st lectur es on how a well- demar cat e d concer n of his was deal t
with by a 19
Cent ury German idealist , and this encount er brings about a
revision of his philosophical beliefs. Yet by means of a gest al t shift, the
microcos mos sugges t e d by this shallow change may also come into view as
the active core of a macrocos mos wher e a far- reachi ng deep change takes
place. We insist in this dilemma becaus e we believe that to expl ain inflections is
the key to expl ai n options, and the proces s we have endeavor ed to elucidat e is
lavish in this respect .
We have been consideri ng so far a twofold realignment of Merleau- Pont ys
thought , for he encour age d a large- scal e repl aceme nt of the ont ol ogy of the
object by the ont ol ogy of the exist ent , within which took place the
substi t uti on of Natur e for tre brut as the chief concer n of his lat e philosophy.
The quandari es we encount er when trying to expl ai n those conver si ons and to
account for their relationshi p seem to sugges t that the probl em of change is the
key issue in any att empt to elucidat e the evolution of thought when open-
mindedl y percei ved as a form of historical proces s.
Addressi ng thus the wider outlook of change in the hist orical account of
thought , we shoul d notice first of all its blat ant specificity. It is admi t t ed that in
John Earman, Carnap, Kuhn, and the Philosophy of Scientific Methodol ogy, in: Paul Horwich,
ed. , World Changes , Cambri dge, Mass. 1993, p. 24.
Ernan McMullin, Rationality and Paradi gm Change in Science, in: Horwich, ed., World
Changes, op. cit. , p. 62.
page 27 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
science, for inst ance, change happens when par adi gms decay (Thomas Kuhn),
or mor e harshly, that a new scientific trut h triumphs becaus e its opponent s
event ually die (Max Planck), or even when peopl e owning the right sort of
capit al recognize unpr ecede nt e d possi bilities of alt er at i on (Pierre Bourdi eu).
By cont r as t , the hist ory of thought is packed with micro- Kuhni an stori es,
for the practice of philosophy appear s bar ely confor mi st when compar ed to
scienti st s circums pect i on. Moreover, philosopher s not infrequent l y change their
mind in mid- course, as the biogr aphi es of bot h Merleau- Pont y and Schelling
fittingly illustrat e. This dissi milarit y does challenge the effort s to apply to
philosophy the received views on scientific change, though a well- known remark
of Thomas Kuhn may assist us in this plight. He argued that we learn to use the
ter m science in conjuncti on with a clust er of other disciplinary ter ms like
art, philosophy, and perhaps theol ogy.
Thus to know what science is, is to
know how it relat es to thes e other activiti es. Yet this insight can be rever s ed,
and the at t empt to elucidat e the proces s of change in philosophy may be
helped by some prot ot ypi cal att ai nme nt s of cont empor ar y science studi es.
Foremos t among them is the Kuhni an breakt hr ough in the expl anat i on of
scientific change, grounded in the leadi ng notion of paradi gm and in the
distincti on bet ween normal and revol uti onar y science.
It shoul d be noticed, first of all, that the meani ng we assign to the notion
of paradigm when transf erred to the philosophi cal field det er mi nes which
concept ual tools are to be judged eff ecti ve in expl ai ni ng the evol uti on of
thought . Adapti ng a distincti on due to Andrew Pickering,
philosophi cal
par adi gms can be conceived, either as supr emel y st abl e, close, and unified
forms of wide- rangi ng consens us, or as clust er s of emi nent l y open- ended
model s, thus ensuri ng that , at bot t om, new knowl edge is made out of old
knowl edge. In defens e of the first option it might be point ed out that , aft er all,
ther e is always in philosophy an indispens abl e agr ee me nt , so deep- root ed that
it even may persi st through changes in conviction, among a given communi t y of
thinkers. The sign of Kuhni an consens us is an accept anc e that is so strong it
eliminat es the need for furt her discussi on of foundat i onal questi ons about
subj ect- mat t er and met hodol ogy.
But in the labile field of thought such long-
lasting, all-embr aci ng worldvi ews are quit e elusive, so that it is plausi bl e to
asser t that genui ne philosophy is always revol utionar y, for it enforces its own
idiosyncr at i c par adi gm. Concurrent l y, every aut hent i c change is to be
account ed as deep, since it is implied that even in the case of mild revisions
some kind of consens us has been broken.
In cont r as t , philosophi cal par adi gms can be concei ved as clust er s of
exempl ary achi eve me nt s that serve as extr emel y open- ended model s. In this
case philosophy emer ges as a vari et y of concept ual practice that functions as
a modeling sequence (consi sti ng in the creative and associ ative ext ensi on of
existi ng cultur al element s, set to a goal- direct ed dial ectic of resist ance and
Steve Fuller, Science & Technol ogy Studi es and the Philosophy of Social Sciences, in: S. P.
Turner and P. A. Roth, eds. , The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of he Social Sciences , Oxford
2003, p. 219 .
Thomas S. Kuhn, Rationality and Theory Change, The Journal of Philosophy 80 (1983), p.
Andrew Pickering, Readi ng the Struct ure, Perspecti ves on Science 9 (2001), p. 501 .
Gary Gutting, Introducti on to: Gary Gutting, ed., Paradigms and Revol utions , Notre Dame
1980, p. 13.
page 28 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
accommoda t i on) and which chai ns new knowledges [sic] back to their
Since all philosophical practice is then reass uri ngly nor mal and
changes in thought hardly come out as deep, it can be said that no genui ne
revol uti ons ever take place in philosophy. This st andpoi nt may be reinforced
by observi ng that the philosophi cal rever s al s so frequent in the hist ory of
thought oft en appear to inst ance a revol uti on without crisis becaus e they are
not neces s arily precede d or accompa ni ed by the demi s e of a core view. The
persi st ence of Cart esi an ont ology till the Merleau- Pont yan champi oni ng of an
anti- Cart esi an alt er nat i ve suit abl y illustrat es this point. In thought as in art, and
also in science, not every revolution follows a crisis that prompt s it. To expl ai n
a specific upheaval in the domai n of thought , wher e ther e is no anomal y whose
solution prompt s a revolution, no lacuna for the theory to fill, might demand
seei ng connecti ons wher e none had been seen befor e.
This requireme nt
hint s at the short comi ngs of a purely int er nalist account , as will be cont ende d
What has been said so far, indeed, att es t s the reliability of the
int er nali st or motive based approach in elucidati ng the probl em of
philosophi cal change. In this respect , the chief issues of our account (the
refer ences to the Ungedacht e or un- thought thought , bot h in Merleau- Pont y
and in Schelling, to Nat ur e repl aci ng tre brut as the mai n focus of Merleau-
Pont ys inter es t , to the multipl e point s of diffracti on sugges t e d by Schellings
thought , to the multi- layer ed compound of views that make up Merleau- Pontys
approach to Natur e, to the need to overcome ont ol ogical diplopi a, to the
Merleau- Pontyan privileging of a vertical advance on Natur e, to the
ant agoni s m bet ween nat ur ant and nat ur ed thought , and to the transi tion
from the ont ology of the object to the ont ology of the exist ent ) noticeabl y
come out as feat ures of an int ernalist approach. Int ernali sm purport s to
elucidat e the evoluti on of thought by scruti nizing its cognitive cont ent , on the
under st a ndi ng that the growt h of philosophi cal knowl edge is self- expl anat or y
and devel ops through its own inner int ellect ual dynami cs. Becaus e of this
emphasi s, int ernalism tends towar d trut h- orient ed hist ory of ideas and is
always expos ed to the lure of whiggism.
Still, the alt ernat i ve course lays open, and an ext er nali st approach
shoul d not be excluded, though the set limits of this essay demands to survey it
in a compr es s e d way. The ext er nali st scheme clai ms that to account for the
evolution of thought requires bringi ng up the soci al and instit uti onal forces
within which it is embedde d. Since the cont ent of philosophy is not self-
expl anat or y, it must be elucidat ed in refer ence to out si de or ext er nal fact ors.
Adapti ng a taxonomy devised by Stephen Shapi n,
it mat t er s to point out that
ext er nali st account s of philosophy typically identify their explanans as: non-
philosophi cal cultur e (literary, aest het i ci st , erroneous, irrational); philosophical
cultur e other than the variet y allegedl y influenced; yest er days philosophy
(tradi tions or aut hori t y struct ur es); soci al struct ur es and proces s es within
philosophy (such as int er est ed att achme nt s to procedur es, school s and
knowl edge clai ms); soci al and economi c struct ur es out si de of philosophy
(consi der ed as non- cognitive, and actively conceived as int eres t s or passivel y as
Andrew Pickering and Adam Stephani des , Const r ucti ng Quat er ni ons: On the Analysis of
Concept ual Practice, in: Andrew Pickering, ed., Science as Practice and Culture, Chicago and
London 1992, pp. 140 and 163.
Bird, Thomas Kuhn, op. cit., p. 58.
Steven Shapi n, Discipline and Boundi ng, History of Science 30 (1992), p. 348.
page 29 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
reflecti ons of ext rinsic realiti es). On the other hand, ext er nalist explananda
usually encompas s philosophi cal cultur e as a whole.
The int ernali st / ext er nali st divide, never t hel es s, often appear s quit e
blurred. Some forms of ext er nal expl anat i on explor e the influence of non-
philosophi cal forms of cultur e upon philosophy, while others consi der the entire
domai n of the cult ur al or cogni tive as int ernal and only the non- cultur al, non-
cogni tive as ext er nal . As an inst ance of this quandar y, the following dilemma
may be raised. Would it be int er nalist or ext er nali st the at t empt to expl ai n
cogni tivel y Merleau- Pontys predicame nt and fluctuat i ons in the lat e 1950s as a
result of a twofold and cont r adi ct ory effort to adapt to two int ellect ual
environme nt s which were hostile to time- honor ed forms of audaci ous thought ,
namel y physico- nat ur al sciences (with anti- objectivistic Gest al t psychol ogy and
a- caus al quant um mechani cs as out st andi ng sensi tive spot s) and the post- war
blossomi ng of a literary- minded neo- humani s m? Of course the
int ernalist / ext er nali st fract ur e may be recant ed by observi ng that philosophi cal
cont ent s are always accept ed or reject ed, negoti at ed in and through the social,
political and instit utional struct ur es of small communi ti es of peer s, sub- cultur es
wher e professi onal practitioner s occupy their own social, instit utional and
political niche. Applying this point of view to the subj ect- mat er of this essay, it
may be said that Merleau- Pont ys lect ur es tell the story of how he discover ed in
Natur e a mor e exploit abl e line of opposi tion
than the offered by tre brut.
Then a case could be advanced built upon a scene of professi onal s struggli ng to
est abli sh their own claims, all of them being in the same field, but dwelling in
different positions and maki ng different bids within the field. As a result the
inside of philosophy would be then a social site, as well as a sub- cultur e and a
small social instit ution, wher e the const r ucti on, negoti ati on and dest ruct i on of
st andpoi nt s keep up. In that case, the real probl em is to figure out what goes on
in the little world of philosophy and how it is affect ed by the bigger world of
social values and aspirati ons.
The dilemma remai ns, though, of whet her some kind of ext er nali st
account is required when at t empt i ng to expl ai n the priority given by Merleau-
Pont y to Natur e over tre brut, or a suit ably elabor at ed form of int ellect ual
history will nonet hel es s suffice. Would a trut h- orient ed hist ory of ideas, properly
worked out, cancel the need for ext er nal det er mi nat i ons when expl ai ning the
st andpoi nt s of philosopher s, even in just those cases wher e arational fact ors
are int er mi xed with, or presuppos e d by, the accept ed forms of reasoni ng?
(But was it not an arational fact or the effect of Schellings diffractive spot s on
Merleau- Pontys ontological priorities?) From this point of view arational
factors, thus under st ood, can be ingredi ent s in a rational reconst r uct i on, and
as a mat t er of fact int er nalist expl anat i ons of belief can oft en take the form of
appeal s to arational factors as met a- reasons within the larger cont ext of
reasoned cases of accept anc e.
Convers el y, a shift of perspect i ve may seem
appropri at e in view of the sur mi sed advant age s of ext er nali sm. The questi on is:
can int ernali sm act ually expl ai n anyt hi ng? Is not any int ernalist account in
Thus conveyi ng to philosophy the groundbr e aki ng resul t s of: Paul Forman, Wei mar Cultur e,
Caus ality and Quant um Theory, 1918- 1927: Adapt ati on by Ger man Physicist s to a Hostile
Intellect ual Environme nt , Historical Studi es in the Physical Sciences 3 (1971).
Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophi es, Cambri dge, Mass. 1998, p. 6.
Robert E. Butts, The Role of Arational Fact ors in Interpr eti ve History: The Case of Kant and
ESP, in: J. R. Brown, ed., Scientific Rationalit y: The Sociological Turn , Dordrecht 1984, p. 227.
Loc. cit. Emphasi s added .
page 30 tre brut or Nat ure: Merleau- Pont y Surveys Schelling
danger to become a mer e descri pti on mas quer a di ng as an expl anat i on
? (To
descri be is to det ail what one sees as a pat t er n or regul arit y; to expl ain is to
find a gener al feat ur e that account s for the pat t er n. ) Is intelligibility provided by
descri pti on adequat e, or does the urge to expl ai n lead to ext er nalis m?
Higher up than the rivalries regar di ng met hods, progr ams and -isms that
mark the int ernal- ext er nal cont rover sy, the Merleau- Pontyan survey of
Schelling over the quest i on of Nat ur e brings up a magnificent inst ance of a
shallow change in philosophi cal st andpoi nt that yet appear s embedde d in a
deep change, thus outlining two revol utions in thought that pose a clust er of
wide- scope, multi- facet ed probl ems which could not be left unadr es s e d. They
demande d to elucidat e the real intricacy of Merleau- Pontys lat e prefer ence for
Natur e, which involved accounti ng for the far- reachi ng cont ext in which it
devel oped. As a consequenc e, the broader issue of change as the basic hinge in
the evolution of thought had to be deal t with, while ass es si ng the act ual validity
of the int ernali st view in the hist orical under st andi ng of philosophy.
Josep Maria Bech
Universit y of Barcelona
Randall Collins, The Romant i ci s m of Agency/Str uct ur e versus the Analysis of Micro/Macro,
Current Sociology 40 (1992), p. 90.