Intersubjectivity and alterity
Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy provides an important reworking and extension of Edmund Husserl’s ideas of intersubjectivity. This reliance on Husserl, however, opens Merleau-Ponty’s account of relations with others to criticisms made by Emmanuel Levinas, who claims that phenomenology fails to account for the alterity or absolute otherness that, for him, lies at the heart of intersubjectivity. In this chapter I shall defend Merleau-Ponty against this criticism. The analysis proceeds as follows: first, I provide an overview of Husserl’s account of intersubjective experience, the starting point for Merleau-Ponty’s early approaches to the question; second, I touch upon the most significant criticisms of this account, notably those of Levinas and his emphasis on the absolute alterity of the Other; and, finally, I examine the evolution of Merleau-Ponty’s own theory of intersubjectivity and the extent to which it can avoid these criticisms, as represented by the account he provides in his major uncompleted work, The Visible and the Invisible.