... or, to put it differently: to what extent has Husserl already ancitipated in his unpublished writings what Merleau-Ponty has been developing later?

The standard narrative goes that Husserl remained an idealist (and dualist) throughout his life and that Merleau-Ponty is far more importantly influenced by Heidegger, but tried to downplay that influence because of the latter's involvement with Nazism. I guess this would be more or less the position of Martin Dillon, Hubert Dreyfus, Charles Taylor, Gary Madison, or Philip Dwyer.

On the other hand, Merleau-Ponty did read many of Husserl's unpublished manuscripts, and (given Husserl's own late claim that his unpublished papers contain far more of what he envisioned for phenomenology compared to what has been published during his lifetime) has claimed to have been trying to follow what Husserl has laid out in these. Dan Zahavi, Natalie Depraz, Shaun Gallagher, and contributors to Toadvine and Embree (2002), seem to be more inclined to agree on that version.

Given that a lot of Husserl's unpublished writings have been now published or made accessible, and given that a lot has been written about Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, can we draw any conclusions so far as to what seems to be more or less likely? Where did Merleau-Ponty follow Husserl, where did the two part ways? To what extent did Husserl indeed break with his former positions at the time when Crisis was published?

I would be especially interested in the intention/attention/perception complex and the Lebenswelt. Perception is, of course, the central theme for M-P, but it seems that Husserl was rather similar, although some claim that since Husserl didn't have being-in-the-world, he remained an intellectualist (Dreyfus, Dillon). Lebenswelt, on the other hand, is a term that is rareley used by M-P but I still don't know how M-P differs here from Husserl especially since his notion of the pre-objective seems to be directly borrowed from Huserl (pre-predicative).

Any ideas and suggestions for readings, especially newer publications that support one or the other position will be appreciated.

  • the visible and invisible offers a critique of husserl. not sure what it means to "follow" someone
    – user6917
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 16:34
  • would maybe be easier to ask how m-p develops husserl's ideas rathe than if there is some real "break". getting to know the former in terms of the latter sounds like a neat idea tho
    – user6917
    Commented Jun 17, 2016 at 16:52
  • @MATHEMETICIAN Merleau-Ponty most certainly followed Husserl in some ways and did not in others or went "further" (especially in his own later writings). A question about all the ways in which M-P is developing Husserl's ideas would be way to broad imo. I'm more specifically concerned with the notion of perception, as it is one of the central elements of M-Ps phenomenology, as well as the Lebenswelt (M-P doesn't use that term a lot, but especially notions like the pre-objective seem to me to be echoing Husserl rather faithfully).
    – jan
    Commented Jun 18, 2016 at 13:38
  • I think the question is hard to answer because it hinges on a focal point of disputed interpretation for Husserl. And then after that it asks us to also interpret MP and compare him to whatever we've resolved the disputed interpretation towards.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 22:35
  • When I was doing my PhD, I took a class from John Drummond who has a realist interpretation of Husserl, interesting stuff, and seemingly pretty compelling with the text at some points, but at times, it felt similar to the Aquinas-Aristotle relation (Aquinas takes hard to decipher Aristotle and gives a really clear commentary / interpretation, but it's hard to get how he stapled the fragments and grammatically odd sentences into that whole).
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 22:37

1 Answer 1


Good question, except that the answer is worth at least one or two doctoral theses. The question is way above my own amateur level, so perhaps this should just be a comment.

However, as far as I understand it, there is fairly good agreement on the ways in which Merleau-Ponty (and nearly all later phenomenologists) broke from many characteristic (and, in my view, interesting) features of early Husserl. But whether or not one can defend a "break" in Husserl around the time of the Crisis is hotly debated, as you suggest.

While "authorial intent" may be anathema to modern theory, I do not see that there is any other definitive way to settle this question of a Husserlian "break." And here the author is dead, literally. My understanding is that even now there is a huge amount of untranslated and unpublished Husserl. It would be quite a labor to map out a clear line of thinking diverging radically from his initial idealist trajectory. And given the fertile influence of that trajectory, would it even be fair to do so?

Not to say it won't be done. All of which is to suggest that this is a good, interesting question, you sound as qualified as anyone to pursue it further, and while I hope we get good answers, it may not be properly answerable without more time,debate, and scholarship passing under the bridge.

  • I hope someone will write a thesis about it :) I admit, there are a number of issues that the question raises (early vs. late Husserl, Husserl vs. M-P, etc.). My main point in asking here was to see whether there is any new material out that I haven't been able to find, since most explicit discussions of the issues date back 10 or more years. Also, what has been published of Husserl is mostly his earlier writings (as in the Warnehmung and Aufmerksamkeit volume that Depraz translated into French). I will definitely post back anything further that I come across on my end.
    – jan
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 10:21
  • I don't know why I seem to recall this, but I believe there is a slow, ongoing project of translating and editing tens of thousands of pages of "Huserliana" wherever his papers are located. This might be the best contact source for recent or forthcoming doctoral works, etc. Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 16:01

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