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What Can We Learn from Merleau-Ponty's Ontology for a Science of Consciousness?

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Abstract:

Representative for contemporary attempts to establish a science of consciousness we examine Chalmers' statement and resolution of the 'hard problem of consciousness'. Agreeing with him that in order to account for subjectivity it is necessary to expand the ontology of the natural sciences, we argue that it is not sufficient to just add conscious experience to the list of fundamental features of the world. Instead, we turn to phenomenology as the philosophy of conscious experience and give an outline of Merleau-Ponty's critique of the objectivist ontology underlying science which excludes subjectivity from the world. We reconstruct his proposal for a revised ontology in The Visible and the Invisible aiming at an extended understanding of Being including subjectivity, which takes on the form of a constellation of new ontological terms centered around the concept of the 'flesh of the world'. Trying to spell out the consequences of Merleau-Ponty's ontological considerations for scientific practice and especially the science of consciousness, we notice that his philosophy of subjectivity-in-the-world on its part is unable to connect to the insights of the natural sciences. The phenomenological critique of the 'hard problem' reveals a deeper disparity which, at present, limits its practical implications.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health Freiburg, Germany

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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