Volume 21, 1998
Philosophy and Literature
Edward Fullbrook, Kate Fullbrook
Merleau-Ponty on Beauvoir’s Literary-Philosophical Method
Modern philosophy from the mid-nineteenth century on, has been particularly interested in choosing, adapting, and in some cases inventing literary forms to fit the particular philosophical subject under investigation. Simone de Beauvoir, with her explicit rejection of any formalist division between literature and philosophy, is one of the most interesting contributors to the modern development of philosophical writing. The waters surrounding de Beauvoir’s contribution to philosophical method are somewhat muddled because the literary forms she used innovatively for philosophy — the novel and the short story — have (unlike, for example, the literary forms of Wittgenstein) resulted in writing which has been chiefly esteemed largely in terms of literature. In fact, many of her compositions rest simultaneously in both the categories of literature and philosophy. The significance of this aspect of her work was recognized by some of her contemporary philosophical associates, most particularly Merleau-Ponty. This paper draws on Merleau-Ponty to explore the philosophical ideas which inspired de Beauvoir’s methodology, and considers the nature and ramifications of her originality in terms of philosophy’s tradition of methodological diversity.