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Does the reversibility thesis deliver all that Merleau-Ponty claims it can?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-21, 05:09 authored by Anya DalyAnya Daly
Merleau-Ponty's reversibility thesis argues that self, other and world are inherently relational, interdependent at the level of ontology. What is at stake in the reversibility thesis is whether it overcomes skeptical objections in both assuring real communication and avoiding solipsism in assuring real difference; the Other must be a genuine, irreducible Other. It is objected that across the domains of reversibility, symmetry and reciprocity are not guaranteed. I argue that this is a non-problem; rather the potentialities for asymmetry and non reciprocity in fact guarantee the irreducibility of the Other; reversibility needs to be appreciated as dialectical or aesthetic, not as a literal or ‘mechanistic’ reversal. A further criticism targets the viability of ontology itself, whether alterity is ever compatible with ontology. This paper considers these objections from two of Merleau-Ponty's contemporaries—Claude Lefort and Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas developed a philosophy which while intersecting with Merleau-Ponty's at important junctures, nonetheless arrived at an entirely different destination. I argue alongside Martin Dillon against the objections of Lefort, and alongside Dan Zahavi against the objections of Levinas. Both of these interpreters, I propose remain faithful to the core directions and spirit of Merleau-Ponty's endeavours without becoming diverted by the less significant inconsistencies.


Publication title

European Journal of Philosophy








School of Humanities


Blackwell Publ Ltd

Place of publication

108 Cowley Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 1Jf

Rights statement

© 2013 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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  • Restricted

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