What was ironic about Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s last lecture?
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Merleau-Ponty died suddenly of a stroke while preparing to give a lecture on René Descartes (1596–1650). He repeatedly returned to Descartes’ split between the mind and the body in composing his own philosophy. He did not accept the Cartesean split, but sought to address the mind and body as a united whole. Merleau-Ponty thought that a person’s own body, le corps propre, should be, in its personal, individual, lived reality, a scientific subject. It is one’s own body that makes consciousness corporeal. He wrote: “Insofar as I have hands, feet, a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent on my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way that I do not choose.”
Clearly, Merleau-Ponty’s stroke proves this point because it was not something he chose, but definitely something that conclusively affected not only his surroundings but the possibility of his even having those surroundings. What’s ironic is that he made his point by having a stroke, which is very different from making a philosophical argument.