What is the meaning of this aphorism by Merleau-Ponty

We are condemned to meaning, and we cannot do or say anything without its acquiring a name in history

and is it true?

  • 1
    It is not an aphorism... It is a statement in the Preface of Phenomenology of Perception. Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 18:07
  • yes it is @MauroALLEGRANZA "a pithy observation which contains a general truth."
    – user47711
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 18:53

1 Answer 1


See Merleau-Ponty:

-Ponty often uses the words “meaning” (signification) and “sense” (sens) in characterizing the content of experience, perceptual or otherwise.

Unlike the English word, however, it can also mean direction or way. This additional sense, so to speak, is metaphorically apt, for it is natural to think of understanding something as seeing or grasping where it’s coming from, where it’s going, what it’s up to, as it were.

And see page 163:

The concrete context that belies abstract liberal principle is the meaning or direction (sens) of history itself. Just as phenomenology must regard experience as it is given in its concrete, lived coherence, so too, Merleau Ponty insists, philosophy must presuppose that history “is not a simple sum of juxtaposed facts,” but “a totality moving toward a privileged state that gives sense and direction [sens] to the whole” (Humanisme et terreur, 1947).

See also Existentialism: Alienation for "meaning of the world" as well as Albert Camus: Absurdism for "the fundamental question in philosophy: deciding whether or not life is worth living".

See also Merleau-Ponty: Phenomenology of Perception:

The Preface to Phenomenology of Perception, completed after the main text, offers Merleau-Ponty’s most detailed and systematic exposition of the phenomenological method. His account is organized around four themes: the privileging of description over scientific explanation or idealist reconstruction, the phenomenological reduction, the eidetic reduction, and intentionality.

Lastly, Merleau-Ponty reinterprets the phenomenological concept of intentionality, traditionally understood as the recognition that all consciousness is consciousness of something.

The unfinished nature of phenomenology and the inchoative style in which it proceeds are not the sign of failure, they were inevitable because phenomenology’s task was to reveal the mystery of the world and the mystery of reason. (PP: 21–22/lxxxv)

You must log in to answer this question.