Ontology and politics: interdependence and radical contingency in Merleau-Ponty’s political interworld
Daly, A, Ontology and politics: interdependence and radical contingency in Merleau-Ponty's political interworld, Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy and The Social Sciences ISSN 0163-8548 (2022) [Refereed Article]
This paper takes as its point of departure Merleau-Ponty’s assertion: "everything will have to begin again, in politics as well as in philosophy". In pursuing his later work, Merleau-Ponty signalled the need for a reconfiguration of his philosophical vision, so it was no longer caught in Cartesianism and the philosophy of consciousness. This required a turn towards ontology through which he consolidated two key ideas: firstly, a pervasive interdependence articulated in his reversibility thesis and the ontology of ‘flesh’; secondly, a radical contingency at the heart of existence. This paper interrogates the political implications of these ideas, and specifically regarding humanism and human progress. Relatedly, I address the question - how might recognitions of ontological interdependence and radical contingency support a flourishing democracy? Merleau-Ponty’s early political work concerned the issues of his day - Nazism, Marxism and the status of humanism - and did not engage extensively with these emerging onto-political concerns. Nonetheless, there are indicative reflections in the writings and interviews; the political implications of his ontological interrogations become more thematic in the later works. There is no rupture between the earlier and later works regarding his philosophical vision, although he later distanced himself from Marxism with revelations of the gulags under Stalin and the Korean War. The overarching claim of this paper - we need to rethink politics from the ground up beginning with ontology; ontology is political and the political is intrinsically ontologically informed. Getting the ontology ‘right’ is a matter of discovery and not theory choice.