Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s and Descartes Beliefs Of Minds And Emotions

Using Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s example of an angry person (see reading on Moodle), explain why Merleau-Ponty believes that Descartes is wrong in believing that we are only minds, and that emotions exist only in our minds. How does Merleau-Ponty use emotions to show that we become aware of others before we become aware of our own selves?

In his philosophical theories, Rene Descartes conceived that the mind was both categorically and existentially separate from the body(Cavanna &Nani, 2014). He claimed that person qua minds are, in their nature, separate from their bodies, adding that the very least could not get reduced to any part of the body. In line with his argument, minds are the immaterial sites of the human intelligence and meaning, while bodies are just machines or matter.

Descartes wished to develop a firm ground of knowledge and existence production. He began by stating that all things in the world could be doubted and that the only thing that was certainly concrete was the mind. In simple terms, he thought that everyone existed on the grounds that they possessed the ability to think (Descartes 1998). The contention held that the body, in perspective, must get radically doubted so as to produce a more concrete foundation of existence. In actual fact, for Descartes, nothing was more doubtful than one’s body.

This separation of body and mind, in Descartes account, served as the epistemological ground for what human beings are aware. The Cartesian body only comprised of bones and flesh and it was proclaimed that the ghostly mind was the one that controlling the body. Conclusively, the ghost (mind) registers memories and, in turn, commands the body.

Following this argument, the emotion-reason separation becomes an outcome of the mind-body dualism. Emotions are what their body does to them, but not the self. The reason is, in this manner, allocated to the mind and then, the emotions to the body (Goldie 2002).

However, Maurice Merleau-Ponty disapproved Descartes argument of the separation of mind and body. Rather, he believed that Descartes was wrong to believe that we are only minds and that emotion exists in our minds. Merleau-Ponty believed that one perceives the other person as a part of behavior. For example, one perceives the anger of another in their conduct, in their face or their hands, without an alternative to any ‘inward’ experience of suffering their anger, and owing to the fact that anger is a variation of belonging to the world, which is undivided between the body itself and consciousness, and correspondingly applicable to the second person’s conduct, visible in their body, as in their conduct as presented to them.

Even so, the behavior of the other person and even their words are not, per se, the person. The anger or grief of the other person has no significance for them as they have for the observer. For the angry person, the situation is lived through, while for the observer, they are displayed. Even if the observer tries to engage in some friendly gesture, the anger or grief remains to belong to the angry person. The angry person suffers because of say, having lost their wife, while the observer grief’s because the angry person in, indeed, angry. The situations of these two people can never be superimposed on each other(Merleau-ponty & Baldwin, 2004. P 155).

Even if the two participate in a project, that very project cannot appear in the same light to both of them. They might not be equally enthusiastic about it, simply because each person is themselves and not the other. Although the consciousness of the two people may contrive to bring out a common situation, which they can communicate, it is, however, from the subjectivity of each of the two that each projects the ‘one and only’ world. The problems inherent in the consideration of the perceptions of other people does not stem from objective thought(Baker, & Morris, 1996). Additionally, they do not dissolve with the discovery of behavior. Instead, they are firmly grounded on the phenomena of which people seek the basis from. The conflict between a person and others does not start only when they try to think themselves into the others. In the same way also, it does not vanish when if they reintegrate their thoughts into non-positing unreflective living and consciousness. It already if a person tries to live the experiences of others, through sacrifice, for example.  This way, Merleau-Pontybelieves that Descartes is wrong in his claims of separating the body from the mind and claiming that we are only minds and emotions exist in our minds.

What is more, where Descartes assert that people enjoy immediate access to their own mental states through introspection, Merleau-Ponty insists that people become aware of their mental lives in the same way that they become aware of others’ subjective lives. This happens through reflection upon people’s conduct relative to the context. Ponty adds that people can be wrong about themselves as they are about others. With reference to this, he challenges the idea of Descartes in which, the self and others get known in various ways and through the privileging of self-knowledge, which melts down knowledge of others different.

Merleau-Ponty’s argument boils down to a conclusion. Relations with another person are not primarily, directed towards knowledge(Merleau-Ponty, 1964). In other words, the other person is not an object of someone’s contemplation, but rather, a subject with whom one communicates with. The gestures and actions of the other person are meaningful to someone and they, in actual fact, draw responses from the other person, independent of any reflective processes (Turner, 2012. p142). For example, the smile of another person makes one to smile.  Their questions and actions produce specific responses. In reality, the interaction that people form is an irreducible system. Each simultaneously corresponds and demands a response from another person. Everyone might maintain a particular degree of consciousness, but this does not happen always. One person can become wholly absorbed with others in terms of their relations.

In conclusion, Descartes Cartesian reliance on the mind and the assignment of the emotions to the body can be mistrusted if we consider Merleau-Ponty’s argument of perception. In Descartes argument, we overlook emotions as the stimulus to all social actions. Merleau-Ponty points this problem of Cartesian metaphysics of substance.

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