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The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language

The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language

Louise Westling
Forrest Clingerman
Brian Treanor
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language
    Book Description:

    Today we urgently need to reevaluate the human place in the world in relation to other animals. This book puts Maurice Merleau-Ponty's philosophy into dialogue with literature, evolutionary biology, and animal studies. In a radical departure from most critical animal studies, it argues for evolutionary continuity between human cultural and linguistic behaviors and the semiotic activities of other animals. In his late work, Derrida complained of philosophers who denied that animals possessed such faculties, but he never investigated the wealth of scientific studies of actual animal behavior. Most animal studies theorists still fail to do this. Yet more than fifty years ago, Merleau-Ponty carefully examined the philosophical consequences of scientific animal studies, with profound implications for human language and culture. For him, "animality is the logos of the sensible world: an incorporated meaning." Human being is inseparable from animality. This book differs from other studies of Merleau-Ponty by emphasizing his lifelong attention to science. It shows how his attention to evolutionary biology and ethology anticipated recent studies of animal cognition, culture, and communication.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5569-6
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Playwright Eugene Ionesco described archaic humans as living in “a time, long, long ago, when the world seemed to man to be so charged with meanings that he didn’t havetimeto ask himself questions, the manifestation was so spectacular.” He claimed that at some point closer to our own era, a break occurred and we lost that sense of plenitude. “We were abandoned to ourselves, to our solitude, to our fear, and the problem was born. What is the world? Who are we?” Similarly, Jacques Derrida asked at the end of his career, “Who am I?” and thus recast...

  2. CHAPTER 1 A Philosophy of Life
    (pp. 13-44)

    Human beings and their cultures are deeply enmeshed in the coevolutionary history of life forms, as well as being dynamically involved with the nonliving forms, materials, and energies of the world. But most of Western philosophical tradition has defined humans in dualistic terms as essentiallyoutsideof nature, functioning as disembodied minds with access to timeless spiritual realms. As philosopher Mark Johnson puts it, “Although most people never think about it very carefully, they live their lives assuming and acting according to a set of dichotomies that distinguish mind from body, reason from emotion, and thought from feeling.”¹ Johnson locates...

  3. CHAPTER 2 Animal Kin
    (pp. 45-100)

    W. H. Auden in his late poems offered a radical answer to the central question of humanism addressed by Pico della Mirandola, Montaigne, Hamlet, Descartes, Darwin, and Heidegger—what is the human? A marvelous chameleon, said Pico, who can move at will up and down the ladder of being and, at his best, leave the gross material body to become pure spirit, a pure contemplator even higher than the angels. Although disputed by Montaigne, this heroic notion of our species seemed culturally fixed in Descartes’s formulation of the mechanical universe ofres extensadistinguished from theres cognitansof human...

  4. CHAPTER 3 Language Is Everywhere
    (pp. 101-134)

    Language is central to being human. From Descartes to Heidegger and most contemporary Western philosophers, language and its connection to rationality have defined the transcendent Logos that is supposed to distinguish our species.¹ Merleau-Ponty spent his life attempting to dismantle that dualistic view. “The onlyLogosthat pre-exists is the world itself,” he said inPhenomenology of Perception(lxxxiv). He insisted that we are embodied creatures caught up in a world that is full of meaning and language. For him, “the whole landscape is overrun with words,” and the task of philosophy is to recapture “a birth of meaning, or...

  5. Conclusion
    (pp. 135-144)

    Merleau-Ponty wrote in his working notes near the end of his life that his goal was to restore to us the world of “the wild Being,” showing how it is absolutely different from our representations, which cannot exhaust it but which all “reach” it in limited ways. “Moreover the distinction between the two planes (natural and cultural) is abstract: everything is cultural in us (our Lebenswelt is ‘subjective’) (our perception is cultural-historical) and everything is natural in us (even the cultural rests on the polymorphism of the wild Being)” (VI253). As we have seen in the preceding chapters, his...