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FOCUS: Contemporary French Philosophy / Vol. 34, No. 1 (Spring 1967)

[reprinted in 51:1 50th Anniversary Issue]

In the first part of this article, the author describes the spirit in which French phenomenology has, in Merleau-Ponty’s phrase, “interrogated phenomenology” and why it is that it has found, in the problem of language, the preeminent method of crystallizing the interruption of Husserl. After this backward look, the author tries to take up Merleau-Ponty’s interrogation from the point at which he left it. The author is not repeating Husserl, but rather taking up the movement of his thought. This forward look cannot, of course, commit those compatriots who consider themselves part of the phenomenological movement.

We are not proposing a history of Hegelianism and Marxism in France, but merely a sketch of their reciprocal relations in contemporary French philosophy. During the 19th century, despite a few good studies, Hegel was known in France primarily second hand and through mediocre translations. Despite his personal relations with Hegel, V. Cousin was little influenced by him. It is of particular interest to recall the relations between Hegel’s thinking and Proudhon’s socialism.

The purpose of this essay is to provide an exposition of the phenomenological studies of Maurice Merleau-Ponty that seeks to pursue the unity of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of perception throughout his studies of the natural and social sciences. This is, of course, not an undertaking that can be successful in the scope of a single essay and thus the present effort is to be viewed as a preliminary investigation.

The present study will briefly treat the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin insofar as it impinges upon three movements in contemporary French philosophy: phenomenology, personalism, and Marxism. In each case, it will become clear that, in spite of an apparent similarity in language and even to some extent in problematic, his evolutionary system is quite distinct from these movements. The system will, moreover, be seen to be basically religious both in inspiration and orientation.

My Treatise on Metaphysics (1956) ended with my turning away from traditional metaphysics. Even the form of the treatise had something challenging about it. There was no question of the eternal problems of the philosophia perennis; it was not concerned in any way with those reflections on Being and the Absolute, in which Being shuts out beings, or in which preoccupation with the Absolute places an impediment in the way way of any understanding of reality.

Why, in the middle of the twentieth century, are we concerned to inquire into the connotations and career of the word “structure” and its relationship to the word “genesis” and “history”? It is because we have more and more the impression and the feeling that the term “structure” is nowadays being used in all kinds of senses and is being applied indiscriminately to all sorts of things.

The reader will find in this paper neither a systematic history of the sociological or philosophical events and schools which have succeeded one another in France since 1945, nor a philosophy of the history of sociology, but a sociology of the main trends of sociology which, in order to restore their full meaning to works and to doctrines, tries to relate them to the cultural context, in other words tries to show how positions and oppositions in the intellectual field are connected with explicitly or implicitly philosophical attitudes.

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