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Merleau-Ponty: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) Paperback – June 23, 2006

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Product Details

  • Series: Guides for the Perplexed
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (June 23, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826485324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826485328
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,119,546 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Eric Matthews is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen.

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ioana Stoica on May 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a brilliant introduction to the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty; accessible to the beginning student, it assumes no previous knowledge of philosophy, yet it still treats the matter at hand in deep, thoughtful ways that will provoke any philosophy student.

Some ideas:


For the empiricist, perception is indirect, broken down and analyzed in different components, and passive; for Merleau-Ponty, perception is "participatory"--the thing I am perceiving interacts with me as I perceive. To perceive is always be to situated, and to be situated is always to be embodied: to be physically present in a place, a physical instantiation of "consciousness".

Traditional Scientific Frameworks

What is wrong with them is that they take for granted the scientific view of the world. In the framework of Science, we become "objective" by "transcending" our physical bodies. We assume, in other words, it does not matter that we are embodied beings. But, for Merleau-Ponty, we are primarily and foremost embodied beings, so to just assume this as part of the unimportant "background noise" is unacceptable.


Science looks for cause and effect relationships; but experience is a matter of a priori intentional structures. By Intentional, Husserl (who borrowed the term from Brentano and adopted it as the main tenet of phenomenology) meant that consciousness is always directed at something, it is never just unbounded consciousness. Behavior is intentional in this sense (and not simply a causal matter), writes M-P.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steward Willons TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
After working my way through a significant portion of Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception," I decided to pick up a few guide books to his thought. Even though I had taken good notes all the way through, when you consider the sheer size of PoP, it's difficult to find your way back through. I needed a guide to help me keep the ideas in my head, and for easy reference when I needed to remind myself of something.

Eric Matthews' volume in the successful and consistently solid 'Guides for the Perplexed' series fits the bill perfectly. The book is divided into very useable portions with clear organization and a detailed table of contents. Want a refresher one MP's arguments against empiricism? Page 21. Want to read his thoughts on art? Page 135. I've had plenty of guide books that have long chapters, which end up being difficult to use in this fashion. Sure, they'll probably give you a similarly solid understanding if you read them all the way through, but the formatting of his book makes it easy to use as a quick reference.

Matthews writes in a very approachable, conversational style. I've never thought of MP as overly dry, but he does tend to write A LOT. Once you get to the end of one of his five-page paragraphs, it's sometimes difficult to remember where the idea even started! Fortunately, Matthews does a terrific job pulling out the big ideas without burdening the reader with excessive detail or too many examples.

That said, the book isn't simplistic and doesn't feel reductionist. Perhaps it's not quite as rigorous as the MP edition of the Routledge Philosophers series, but then again, this book is much easier to use. In my experience, they're very similar in the amount of detail, but the Guide for the Perplexed is just so user-friendly that I have to recommend it over the Routledge volume.
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Format: Paperback
Three names dominate twentieth-century Phenomenology: Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. The last in this succession, Merleau-Ponty, largely builds upon the work of his two philosophical predecessors. Given this, those new to Phenomenology may have an easier time, not that there's anything "easy" about Phenomenology, by beginning with the work and ideas of Husserl and working towards Merleau-Ponty through Heidegger. Merleau-Ponty both extended the entire notion of Phenomenology and also brought the entire enterprise under question. Before his relatively early death, his thought even seemed poised to transform the entire field and may have initiated another Phenomenological revolution. The career of Merleau-Ponty thus ends dangling on a kind of theoretical precipice, though only sketches and notes remain of this supposed late new direction. As an introduction to this fascinating body of work, "Merleau-Ponty: A Guide for the Perplexed," covers this very territory in language so fluid and accessible that most will finish this book with at least a general idea of this much discussed philosopher's work.

Similar to other guides in this series, this book begins with a brief biography of its subject. Merleau-Ponty led a fairly standard French academic life. He had a somewhat rocky friendship, particularly concerning Russian communism, with the famous thinker Sartre. Merleau-Ponty's influences became his intellectual forbears: Hegel, Marx, Husserl, Heidegger. His Marxist leanings comprised a earlier, more humanist, historical materialistic, form and eschewed Marx's later "scientific socialism." As such, his politics tended toward the left.

As to Merleau-Ponty's work itself, its basis will sound familiar to those who have studied Husserl and Heidegger.
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