For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Phenomenology of Perception

by Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (2012)


Published fifty years after the original translation by Colin Smith, Donald A. Landes' rendering of Merleau-Ponty's magnum opus is a welcome arrival for both the student and the scholar. Phenomenology of Perception (French: Phénoménologie de la perception) is a 1945 book about perception by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in which the author expounds his thesis of "the primacy of perception". The work established Merleau-Ponty as the pre-eminent philosopher of the body, and is considered a major statement of French existentialism.

Key Passage

The day-laborer, who has rarely interacted with workers, who does not resemble them, and who is hardly fond of them, sees the price of manufactured objects increasing, as well as the cost of living, and notices that one can no longer make ends meet. It might happen that, in that moment, he blames the workers of the city, and so class consciousness will not be born. If it is born, this is not because the day-laborer has decided to become a revolutionary and, consequently, to confer a value upon his actual condition, but rather because he perceived concretely the synchronicity between his life and the lives of the workers, and the community of their lot in life. The small farmer, who does not mix with day-laborers, and even less so with the village workers, separated from them through a world of customs and value judgments, nevertheless feels himself on the same side as the day-laborers when he pays them an insufficient salary; he feels solidarity with the workers of the city when he learns that the owners of the farm preside over the board of directors of several industrial corporations. Social space begins to become polarized, and a region of “the exploited” appears. (p.470)


Merleau-Ponty, Perception, Phenomenology, French, French Existentialism, Existentialism


Merleau-Ponty Citations

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