Volume 15, 2013
Existence, Diacritics, Animality
David M. Peña-Guzmán
Canguilhem and Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Norms
Inspired by the genetic phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the historical epistemology of Georges Canguilhem, this paper defends a theory of normativity grounded in pathos rather than logos. Proceeding from the double assumption that (a) accounts of the origins of normativity circulated in antiquity (Aristotle) and modernity (Kant) are unsatisfactory, and (b) the determinacy of norms remains a central problem not only for moral theory but also for epistemology, political theory, and even medicine, the author contends that the realm of lived experience (especially the experience of suffering) can help us furnish determinate though often pre-thetic norms that can underwrite or justify “non-moral normative distinctions,” such as the distinction between the just and the unjust in political theory and (especially) the distinction between the normal and the pathological in medicine. With the aid of comparative and hermeneutic analysis, the author establishes that Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception shares with Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological a similar understanding of the norming (i.e., generative of norms) and normative (i.e., subject to norms) character of subjective experience and, moreover, that in these works one can find a “pathic” (or “pathetic,” from the Greek pathos) theory of norms that can give us, as the author puts it, “a new foundation for the very possibility of critique” in our post-Enlightenment moment.