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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

2 - Sensation, Judgment, and the Phenomenal Field


Merleau-Ponty's interconnected critiques of empiricism and intellectualism run like a double helix through the pages of Phenomenology of Perception. In the decades since its publication in 1945, philosophical and psychological theories of perception have continued to take for granted empiricist and intellectualist models and metaphors, although their respective claims to preeminence have tended to swing to and fro in unpredictable ways. As a result, although the current state of play in the philosophy of mind for us today differs widely from what it was for Merleau-Ponty in the middle of the last century, neither would he find it altogether unrecognizable. His objection to the empiricist concept of sensation (or “sense data” or “qualia”), for example, is likely to strike contemporary readers as familiar and plausible, thanks in part to arguments advanced in a roughly kindred spirit by philosophers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, J. L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle, Wilfrid Sellars, and Thomas Kuhn. To launch an attack on intellectualism as Merleau-Ponty does, by contrast, might look more like tilting at windmills, or beating a dead rationalist horse, or perhaps just failing, understandably enough, to anticipate the cognitive revolution in linguistics and psychology that took place after his death in 1961.