In his Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty maintains that our own existence cannot be understood by the methods of natural science; furthermore, because fundamental aspects of the world such as space and time are dependent on our existence, these too cannot be accounted for within natural science. So there cannot be a fully scientific account of the world at all. The key thesis Merleau-Ponty advances in support of this position is that perception is not, as he puts it, ‘an event of nature’. He argues that it has a fundamental intentionality which configures the perceived world as spatio-temporal in ways which are presupposed by natural science and which cannot therefore be explained by natural science.
This is a striking and original claim. When one looks in detail at the considerations Merleau-Ponty advances in support of it, however, these turn out to be either inconclusive or to draw on idealist presumptions which a contemporary naturalist will reject. So while there is much of interest and value in Merleau-Ponty's critical discussion of naturalism, he does not succeed in establishing his central claim.
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