A measure of the remarkable influence of Cartesian dualismis found in the fact that it often constrains even the ways in which it is rejected. Few accept, it is true, the basic picture of a dualism of mental and physical substances. A dualism still shapes the philosophy of mind, however – for instance, in that almost everyone sees as central the task of figuring out the relation between mind and body. It sometimes seems as if the only possible accounts of human beings consist in either giving a mental or a physical description, or explaining how the mental descriptions and the physical descriptions relate to one another.
Merleau-Ponty, by contrast, argues that no such variation, played out on the Cartesian register, will ever account for the human mode of being in the world. “There are two classical views,” he notes;
one treats man as the result of the physical, physiological, and sociological influences which shape him from outside and make him one thing among many; the other consists of recognizing an acosmic freedom in him, insofar as he is spirit and represents to himself the very causes which supposedly act upon him.