Cartesianism and Non-Cartesianism in Merleau-Ponty’s Late Thought

Piotr Schollenberger

According to research presented by Emmanuel de Saint-Aubert we can trace the “Cartesian scenario” that evolves throughout the philosophical writings of MerleauPonty. In this article I would like to present the hypothesis that says that if such “Cartesian scenario” is right, then one could think of its execution in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy that is not based on the repetition of certain motifs but is realized as a “staging” – mise en scène. Such dynamic staging would enable us to describe the dialectical binding that connects Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and the Cartesian thought as it appears in his writings in the later period and to link this problematic with the project of the new ontology. So, if Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical route can be outlined by tracing Cartesian motif, from the early to the late Merleau-Ponty’s thought, then what I would like to call “non-Cartesianism” would be the execution of such “scenario”. Th e concept of “non-Cartesianism” is based on Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “non-philosophy” that appears in his late notes to Collège de France lectures of 1958–1959 and 1960–1962, devoted to the state of “ontology of today” (ontologie d’aujourd’hui) and to the Cartesian ontology. “Non-Cartesianism” stands in a relation to “cartesianism” just as “non-philosophy”, of which Merleau-Ponty begins to write in his later period, stands in a relation to “philosophy”. Th eir relation is dialectical and should not be interpreted in terms of a mere opposition. Although Descartes did not know about “non-philosophy” he revealed its possibility with the inaugurational act of “I think, I exist” that was coupled with his philosophical project. For Merleau-Ponty, what I propose to call “non-Cartesianism” becomes a historical implementation of dimensionality that is inscribed in this act.


Keywords: Merleau-Ponty · Descartes · non-philosophy · non-Cartesianism · ontology · cogito · vertical cogito · institution

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