McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Aquinas, Merleau-Ponty, philosophical anthropology, body, soul, form
I argue that Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of lived body experience can be used to enrich Aquinas's integral anthropology. In Chapter One I lay out the possibilities of such an enrichment by examining contemporary philosophers of mind who draw on Aquinas and Merleau-Ponty in strikingly similar ways. Analytical Thomists, as represented by Eric LaRock, and thinkers seeking to integrate neuropsychology and phenomenology, like Ralph Ellis, argue that that the concept of form (taken from Aquinas and Merleau-Ponty respectively) is necessary for properly understanding the human being as an integral unity of intellectual principle and body. I then pose potential objections to my project: 1) that Aquinas's method of syllogistic demonstration and dependence on tradition is not compatible with Merleau-Ponty's use of phenomenological description and insistence that philosophy be grounded in immediate subjective experience; 2) that their basic anthropological terms (e.g. soul, body, consciousness, form) might radically differ; 3) that Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, if a form of idealism or materialism, might preclude compatibility leading to enrichment. In Chapter Two I outline the broad metaphysical structure of Aquinas's thought and then present his argument that the intellectual soul is form of the body. In Chapter Three I outline Merleau-Ponty's basic philosophical methodology and then present his phenomenological explorations of consciousness (or soul) as form of the body. Chapter Four is devoted to overcoming the objections raised in Chapter One. I argue, for example, that there is a foundation for compatibility between Aquinas and Merleau-Ponty in that both believe perception is the basis for any philosophical knowledge and both appeal to interior experience for concluding that the human being is an integral union of intellectual principle and body. I conclude by arguing that Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological descriptions of lived body experience can enrich Aquinas's philosophical anthropology in at least three ways: 1) they richly illustrate Aquinas's position that the intellectual soul is form of the body; 2) they can offer better practical examples for Aquinas's arguments than he himself provides; 3) they can be used to extend Aquinas's claims regarding the intellect's knowledge of itself.
Miller, J. (2009). On Whether Or Not Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Lived Body Experience Can Enrich St. Thomas Aquinas's Integral Anthropology (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/933