International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy

Series | Book | Chapter


On the metamorphoses of transcendental reduction

Merleau-Ponty and "the adventures of constitutive analysis."

Stephen H Watson

pp. 107-123


Invocations of Merleau-Ponty's claim concerning the incompleteness that accompanies the phenomenological reduction have had a long and somewhat contentious history. In this paper I will further explore the implications of Merleau-Ponty's claim and the itinerary from which it emerges. From the Structure of Behaviour onward, he argued that consciousness is not a transcendental presupposition but an achievement that emerges from and transforms the labor of our rational practices (1963: 162, 176). Phenomenological theory rightly argued for the centrality of the experience of the reduction, albeit too often by mistakenly bestowing immanence upon it. Statically regarded, the reduction may involve an "act' but it is also a Stiftung, and thus a performative, one that Merleau-Ponty claims involves an institution and an acquisition: as he puts it quite simply, it is learned (s'apprenent) (1964: 179). The reduction involves intuition but it is also a conceptual practice involving "a multitude of operations", a symbolic matrix always articulated through internal transformations. Finally the reduction is an experience but it is always a sequence "gradually effected" and thus an embodied history (1968: 173). It results then not in the Spinozist Habemus ideam verum, but as "The Philosopher and His Shadow" rightly concludes, an "artifact" (1964: 180). For Merleau-Ponty, all this forced the recognition of the "internal difficulty" (interne difficulté) in the reduction theorized through the concept of a constituting consciousness. Moreover, this not an anthropological claim about a faculty or finitude, but a claim about the rationality, the "metamorphosis" and "coherent deformation" of its experience, an "ordered sequence of steps" that "could not possibly reach completion in the intellectual possession of a noema" (1964: 165). It is not simply en presence, in the static relation of presence that phenomenology achieves justification. For Merleau-Ponty, its experience is not unrevisable, nor immanently completable: instead it is only through the ordered steps of its history that it acquires sufficiency.

Publication details

Published in:

Fóti Véronique, Kontos Pavlos (2017) Phenomenology and the primacy of the political: Essays in honor of Jacques Taminiaux. Dordrecht, Springer.

Pages: 107-123

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-56160-8_7

Full citation:

Watson Stephen H (2017) „On the metamorphoses of transcendental reduction: Merleau-Ponty and "the adventures of constitutive analysis."“, In: V. Fóti & P. Kontos (eds.), Phenomenology and the primacy of the political, Dordrecht, Springer, 107–123.