Maurice Merleau-Ponty did not write much on race; he only mentioned it once, as far as I know, in his article, “The Child’s Relation with Others”. In these post-colonial times, it is recognized that one of the tools of colonialism is its epistemic hegemony—defining knowledge on the semblance of originating or affiliating with the northwest. Under such circumstances, as a philosopher whose primary research questions focus on race and feminist philosophy, my concentration on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and weaving his work with the questions concerning race and sex needs some explanation.
Edmund Husserl inaugurated phenomenology: upon recognizing the phenomenal structure of the world, Husserl endeavored to eliminate the ambiguity entailed by the phenomenological structure, and aimed to achieve certainty about the world, following Rene Descartes in prioritizing certainty. But rather than aim for certainty, Merleau-Ponty accepted that being-in-the-world entailed ambiguity. He addressed the phenomenological framework’s epistemic and ontologic consequences. Marrying Husserl’s phenomenology with gestalt theory, Merleau-Ponty acknowledged that the “most basic unit of experience is that of figure-on-a-background,” anything simpler reflects mere mental projections. Human experience of the world cannot reduce experience to solely a unit, a figure, or a totality. The background or horizon in which one is situated, and where one is situated within the horizon, conditions what and how one perceives. Therefore an optimal relation—spatially and temporally–must exist between the theme and its horizon for perception of the theme.
Reposted with permission from: Berfrois