chapter  12
10 Pages

Ambiguity

ByGail Weiss

Merleau-Ponty’s references to “ambiguity” appear throughout his works, most frequently in Phenomenology of Perception, and so it is not surprising that the concept of ambiguity is often understood to be central not only to his earlier but also to his later philosophy. In what follows, I shall first offer an analysis of specific passages from Phenomenology of Perception where Merleau-Ponty invokes the ambiguity of human experience to illustrate what his noted commentator, Alphonse de Waelhens, calls his “philosophy of the ambiguous” in the second French edition of The Structure of Behavior. I shall then show how Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions of ambiguity directly influence Simone de Beauvoir’s understanding of the ambiguity of human existence as the ground for existentialist ethics. Finally, I shall suggest that the notion of ambiguity, as he develops it throughout his oeuvre, provides a crucial link among other key concepts he introduces including anonymity, reversibility and the flesh.