Like many of the thinkers who inspired him, such as Henri Bergson and Max Scheler, Merleau-Ponty drew liberally on a range of disciplines and intellectual traditions in crafting his own unique philosophical style, including psychology, psychoanalysis, linguistics, anthropology, literature, biology and others. Even so, it was the phenomenological tradition of philosophy that most consistently inspired and guided his thinking, and it is with this tradition that he is most often associated today. Although Merleau-Ponty had little exposure to phenomenology as part of his formal studies, at a time when the neo-Kantianism of Léon Brunschvicg and the legacy of Bergsonism dominated the philosophical scene in France, phenomenology began to play a decisive role at the very beginning of his career and continued to occupy his attention throughout the twenty years in which he completed his major works.
Merleau-Ponty read and commented on a number of phenomenological thinkers, including Heidegger, Sartre and Scheler, but it was to the work of Edmund Husserl, founder of the modern phenomenological movement, that he returned most often in developing his own interpretation of the phenomenological project. Merleau-Ponty was the first outside visitor to consult Husserl's unpublished writings at the Louvain Husserl Archives in 1939, he assisted in the establishment of a Husserl archive in Paris, and he continued to lecture on and write about Husserl until his death in 1961 (Toadvine 2002).
Early in his career, especially in his main thesis, Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty identifies his method as phenomenological and even equates philosophy itself, in its most developed form, with phenomenological reflection.