Luís de Sousa on “Merleau-Ponty’s “Sartrean” critique of Sartre’s account of radical freedom”
We tend to associate Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical legacy with his insights into the nature of cognition and in particular into the role the lived body plays in it. For this reason, it may come as a surprise that Merleau-Ponty choses to close his Phenomenology of Perception with a discussion of the notion of freedom. In fact, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological analysis of perception has consequences that go well beyond the confines of the philosophy of mind and embodiment. In the Phenomenology of perception, Merleau-Ponty presents an account of subjectivity and human nature that, although terminologically similar to Sartre’s account in the Being and Nothingness at some points, radically challenges it. In my talk, I will discuss Merleau-Ponty’s views on freedom with a view to how they turn Sartre’s idea of the human being’s radical freedom on its head. I will bring into relief that, very much like Sartre, Merleau-Ponty links freedom to subjectivity, i.e., to the first-personal point of view, but, unlike Sartre, he does not view subjectivity as being in any way opposed to our factical condition as embodied, social and historical beings. On the contrary, for Merleau-Ponty, “facticity”, i.e., embodiement, sociality, historicality, are a condition of freedom. It is true that it is possible to read Sartre’s position in this regard as being more ambiguous inasmuch as he contends that our “fundamental project” and our “situation” are essentially interrelated. Nevertheless, even in the face of this interdependence, Sartre maintained his idea of radical freedom. I will conclude by showing how Merleau-Ponty relies precisely on the Sartrian idea of the interdependence of the “fundamental project” and the “situation” to undermine Sartre’s conception of absolute freedom.