Idealistic Studies

Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2014

Christopher Pollard
Pages 119-138

Is Merleau-Ponty’s Position in Phenomenology of Perception a New Type of Transcendental Idealism?

It has recently been suggested that Merleau-Ponty’s position in Phenomenology of Perception is a unique form of transcendental idealism. The general claim is that in spite of his critique of “Kantianism,” Merleau-Ponty’s position comes out as a form of transcendental idealism that takes the perceptual processes of the lived body as the transcendental constituting condition for the possibility of experience. In this article I critically appraise this claim. I argue that if the term “idealist” is intended in a sufficiently similar sense to Kant’s usage of the term in naming his position as a “transcendental idealism” then it is a misrepresentation to subsume Merleau-Ponty’s position under that term. This is because Merleau-Ponty rejects the transcendental metaphysics of the reflecting subject that underpins transcendental idealism. In its place he advocates a methodological transcendentalism that, whilst being anti-realist, is not idealist. Thus to call his position “a new kind of transcendental idealism,” as Sebastian Gardner has, is to misunderstand the significance of his existentialist break with what he sees as the “intellectualism” of this position.