Volume 59, Issue 3, September 2019
Merleau-Ponty on Race, Gender, and Anti-Semitism
It is frequently remarked that Merleau-Ponty did not write about race, gender, or anti-Semitism. Overall, this is true, but the relatively recent re-publication of his Sorbonne lectures, along with some new materials, shows that his lectures did address the issues of racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. In addition, Emily Lee’s framing of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the human body provides a useful way to understand its relationship to race and gender. While humans are fundamentally the same biologically, “secondary biological characteristics” such as skin color (and gender), situated in various social contexts, have a significant impact on the formation of one’s personal and social identity. What I seek to do here is find in Merleau-Ponty’s work the philosophical roots of Lee’s claim. I also seek to find the moral recognition of the other in Merleau-Ponty’s treatment of time and how his treatment of time relates to the two-dimensionality of the human body. It is this treatment that allows us to recognize the sameness of the other but that also allows us to recognize and respect differences.