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Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and the question of biological continuism.


Even as posthumanists seek to dismantle the legacy of human exceptionalism, a queasy reluctance among philosophers prevents full acknowledgement of our kinship with the rest of animalia. Heidegger's declaration that animals are 'poor in world' and his description of an abyss yawning between humans and all other animals established the best known and most influential position in this regard. (1) Even though Derrida challenged what he saw as Heidegger's dogmatic humanism and violent commentary on animals, (2) he could not acknowledge the biological continuism which evolutionary science, genomics, and microbiology make obvious. (3) Matthew Calarco takes 'Derrida's insistence on maintaining the human-animal distinction to be one of the most dogmatic and puzzling moments in all of his writings' (4) and wonders 'why he would use this language of ruptures and abysses when the largest bodies of empirical knowledge we have concerning human beings and animals strongly contest such language'. (5) Similar to Derrida, Giorgio Agamben decries what he calls 'the anthropological machine' but never moves beyond it. He urges us to work on the divisions of animal from human and suggests that 'even the most luminous sphere of our relations with the divine depends, in some way, on that darker one which separates us from the animal'. (6) Only Cary Wolfe, Matthew Calarco, Donna Haraway, and Kelly Oliver among prominent recent animal theorists are moving away from abyssal distinctions between humans and other animals, Haraway the most decisively. (7) Yet more than fifty years ago, Maurice Merleau-Ponty had already gone far beyond Heidegger to seriously explore the philosophical consequences of evolutionary biology and ethology--the scientific studies of actual animals--and to anticipate the radical breakthroughs of the past several decades in studies of animal sentience, tool use, communication, and culture. Merleau-Ponty laid the theoretical groundwork for an understanding of human animality that is congruent with evolutionary biology and ethology. (8) In this essay I will briefly describe Heidegger's resistance to thinking of humans as animals within an evolutionary perspective, in order to demonstrate how Merleau-Ponty took a radically different direction through a thoughtful engagement with evolutionary science and ethology that affirms both biological continuity and the distinctive qualities of our species.

At stake in these debates is the question of whether cultural theory can accept the legitimacy of modern science as an access to knowledge about the natural world, or whether we are trapped in a solipsistic bubble. Calarco thinks that persistent anthropocentrism is one of the chief blind spots in contemporary Continental philosophy, claiming that it is always 'one version or another of the human that falsely occupies the space of the universal and that functions to exclude what is considered nonhuman (which, of course, includes the immense majority of human beings themselves, along with all else deemed to be nonhuman) from ethical and political consideration'. (9) And as Derrida argued in his Geschlecht essays and also in The Animal That Therefore I Am, a central problem remains the failure of theorists to seriously pay attention to the life sciences, particularly the experimental studies of other animals. (10) He himself never got around to doing this, and neither have most participants in recent critical animal studies debates indebted to Derrida's work. (11) What makes Merleau-Ponty's philosophy unique and radical in this regard is his lifelong engagement with the sciences of his own era, including Gestalt psychology and cognitive neuroscience for his work on embodiment in The Phenomenology of Perception, and in his later writings, quantum mechanics, evolutionary biology, embryology, and ethology. Close examination of empirical animal research in his late Nature lectures led to the beginnings of an understanding of a 'strange kinship' between humans and animals over evolutionary time, and the human-animality intertwining that defines our species' distinctive way of participating in the Brute being of the world's flesh.

Heidegger thought carefully about animals in his early work but became more dogmatically humanist in his post-World War II writings, insisting on abyssal difference between animals and humans in terms that were essentially antagonistic to science and evolutionary thought. He proposes to examine animal studies in the 1929-1930 lectures published as The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, in order to define the uniqueness of human Dasein. However, his point of departure is the thesis that the animal is poor in world, an assertion that he takes to be 'a statement of essence and a presupposition of zoology' and that sets up his famous distinction of worldless stone, world-poor animal, and world-forming man. (12) Translators William McNeill and Nicholas Walker explain that nowhere else in his career would he 'take the experimental results of science so seriously in support of possible metaphysical claims'. (13) In doing so, he sought to distinguish biology from 'the tyranny of physics and chemistry' with their mechanistic presuppositions. For him, there was a fateful 'inner unity of science and metaphysics' as both sought to restore an autonomous status to life. The problem here is that his explanation of this unity remains very general, with science understood as one possibility of the existence of human Dasein, but one that was 'already much too preoccupied with the realm of practical and technical serviceability'. (14)

In fact, Heidegger failed to closely examine particular zoological research, or as Derrida charges of this text, 'while taking [a certain ethological knowledge] into account, it doesn't take it into account'. (15) What is peculiar is the resolutely negative way in which he interpreted the scientific work he discussed. After a rather simplistic discussion of bees as representative examples of instinctive 'drivenness' among animals, he focused particularly on the work of Hans Dreisch on entelechy and on Jakob von Uexkull's careful demonstrations of the subjectivity and agency of various animals. Rather than considering the possibilities of the organism's unfolding development in ways not predictable from its earliest form, or recognising the worldforming implications of Uexkull's Umwelten theory, Heidegger rejected Driesch's theories of entelechy as 'vitalism' and saw Uexkull's Umwelt as an encircling ring that limits the animal's behaviour. (16) This 'disinhibiting ring is ... something with which the animal encircles itself as long as it lives', struggling to fulfil its instinctual drives. (17) Thus animals are essentially captivated.

The overarching premise that animals are 'poor in world' is based on unexamined claims about the special place of humans that echo the Biblical story of Genesis 1, in which God gives mastery of all the earth's creatures to the human species created in the divine image. (18) Heidegger flatly states that 'man is not simply regarded as a part of the world' but stands over against it, in 'a "having" of world as that in which man moves, and with which he engages. Thus man is, first, a part of the world, and second, as this part he is at once both master and servant of the world'. (19) In this position, he is 'world-forming' because he alone of creatures can know things 'as such' and can let them be to manifest themselves. (20) Man forms world because of the Da-sein in him (literally 'being there' or where Being comes into presence), which brings world forth. He sets it forth by giving an image or view of the world, and thus constitutes the world, containing and embracing it. (21)

This position asserting human mastery precedes any discussion of particular animals and justifies Heidegger's premise that animals are 'poor in world', because the accessibility of beings which Da-sein allows humans is not available to 'the animal' in the same degree that it is to humans. However, he cautions against ranking man as a higher being and points to superior 'accessibility of beings' for animals in certain respects such as the discriminatory capacity of a falcon's eye or the canine sense of smell. (22) Da-sein allows humans to transpose themselves into animals, that is, to understand their spheres of living to some degree, but the reverse is not possible. Animals cannot transpose themselves into humans or share Dasein. They cannot contemplate things 'as such' but remain captivated within the limiting sphere of their driven, instinctual life that is an animal way of being completely unlike ours. (23) Heidegger's position is uncomfortable here, as he struggles to avoid traditional evaluative rankings of animals as lesser beings and insists that 'this talk of poverty in world and world-formation must not be taken as a hierarchical evaluation'. He suggests that animals have access to 'a wealth of openness with which the human world may have nothing to compare', but he does not explore this possible wealth of openness or speculate on its potential consequences. (24) And, as others have suggested, much of his language is implicitly hierarchical; the essence of animality which he seeks to define in these passages is radical limitation, poverty in world and, with domestic animals, a subservient position within human-controlled realms. (25) In spite of such problems Calarco praises Heidegger's efforts 'to think through animal Being in nonanthropocentric terms' as the most radical aspect of this early lecture course, opening the way for more recent efforts to rethink the question of the animal. (26)

Because his purpose was to define man by resolutely distinguishing him from animals, Heidegger's project in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics veers away from considerations of evolutionary history. Indeed, at the beginning of these lectures, he rejects historical approaches, arguing that we have to know beforehand what a thing is in order to understand it, whereas using historical knowledge as a basis is only an illusory pretension. (27) He mentions Darwinism in his discussion of Uexkull's Umwelt theory, but only dismissively as a mechanical account of an animal's adaptation to a readymade environment that does not provide any attention to 'the relational structure between the animal and its environment'. (28) This characterisation oversimplifies Darwin's proposals about natural selection in The Origin of Species, where much attention is given to the long periods of interrelational development among species in various geographical environments from islands to large continents.

Particularly noteworthy in this regard is Darwin's discussion of flowers and pollinators adapting their structures and behaviours in relation to each other over time so that they benefit each other harmoniously. (29) But Heidegger is not open to the kind of thinking that, in his words, posits 'the rich abundance of higher animal species [as developing] out of the primeval slime', for he sees such a developmental theory as marked by intrinsic impossibilities. In particular, 'it rests upon a quite impossible presupposition which contradicts the essence of animality (captivation--encircling ring) ...' (30) Proceeding from such a radically limited view of animality, he finds that kind of developmental dynamism and change unthinkable. In his later work, this anti-evolutionary stance led him to insist on the abyssal divide that renders physical similarities of humans to other animals an 'appalling and scarcely conceivable bodily kinship with the beast'. Indeed, he declares that 'The human body is something essentially other than an animal organism'. (31) In What Is Called Thinking? he went even further, making the famous claim that apes--the animals obviously closest to us in evolutionary terms--do not have hands. Animal organs only grasp, he says, whereas human hands reach, receive, extend welcome, design, and sign. (32) As Derrida remarked, this position is a wilful refusal to consider a wealth of sophisticated zoological evidence available during his own time about the social and intellectual abilities of other primates. (33) Obviously such evidence has increased dramatically since Heidegger's death.


Merleau-Ponty's continued engagement with Heidegger's writings during the 1950s is clear in the many references to Heidegger in the Working Notes appended to The Visible and the Invisible and in his Nature lectures. (34) He clearly intended to move in a quite different direction from Heidegger's treatment of animality by paying close and sustained attention to contemporary biological studies and evolution. Perhaps he understood the radical new possibilities Calarco sees in Heidegger, but was able, as Heidegger was not, to pursue and embrace their implications. (35) The lecture course of 1957-1958 is primarily concerned with what modern biological and ethological studies reveal about embodiment and behaviour, moving from embryology to studies of mimicry among animals, animal appearance, and the symbolic behaviours of fish and birds and wolves as studied by Tinbergen and Lorenz. The final course of 1959-1960 was centrally focused on evolution, critiquing the Darwinian logic of natural selection but also evaluating what he saw as a renaissance and metamorphosis of evolutionary theory in recent studies positing more complex processes than Darwin's work had been able to describe. MerleauPonty shares Heidegger's rejection of vitalism in entelechy, but he analyses specific scientific work, such as Coghill's experiments on the axolotl lizard embryo and Gesell's studies of the development of the human embryo, to support his proposals about the principles of emergence in epigenesis. Like Heidegger, he examined the work of German-Estonian biologist Jakob von Uexkull, but he derived opposite conclusions about the meaning of his Umwelt theory, (36) and, as we shall see below, he stood at a more critical distance from many of Uexkull's premises. Because Merleau-Ponty's ontology stressed the embodied intertwining or chiasm of all organisms within the flesh of the world, his conception of animality is necessarily very different from Heidegger's. For him, humans and all other organisms exist in a kind of reversibility with each other and with things, completely enmeshed within the visible present. Between the human body and the world, 'there is a relation that is one of embrace' so that there is 'not a frontier but a contact surface'. (37) We are both seeing and seen, touching and touched by the things and creatures about us. Yet our distinctions are maintained by dehiscence or ecart that defers identity in spite of reversibility and kinship. In the course of1959-1960, he summarises the point he was developing in the manuscript of The Visible and the Invisible, at the same time explaining that our relation with the world is 'included in the relation of the body with itself' (e.g. my two hands both touched and touching) because the synergy of our body opens upon the world and both are made of the same stuff. (38)

Although Kelly Oliver sees many of the same differences between Heidegger's and Merleau-Ponty's approaches to animality that I have stressed, she sees the latter as anthropocentric in a way that I do not, and she denies that the continuity he describes between humans and other animals is an evolutionary relationship. She claims that like Heidegger, he develops a concept of animality and examines scientific studies of particular animals only 'to reinforce his notions about the role of perception and behavior in man'. And she charges that like Heidegger, 'Merleau-Ponty pokes and prods laboratory animals in the name of science', thinking of them as objects, rather than considering everyday experiences with animals.39 I shall make the case that, on the contrary, Merleau-Ponty's attention to Nature is primarily at the service of his overall ontology of a dynamically unfolding universe of Wild or Brute Being within which all creatures are intertwined. Most of the Nature lectures are concerned with the largest possible understanding of the natural world, from the history of the philosophy of Nature, to modern physics, and on to biology, ethology, and the emergence of humans among their primate kindred. The evolution of life forms is, for Merleau-Ponty, the basis for understanding the place and character of our own species within the dynamic flesh of the world. We can only seek to understand this reality from our distinctive human situation and to try to know ourselves by exploring both what we share with other living beings and what makes us unique among them. Unlike Heidegger, who reserved Dasein for man and finally saw our freedom at an abyssal remove from the captivation and poverty-in-world of the others, Merleau-Ponty believed we are intertwined with them, sharing animality in a strange kinship. This is obviously not to claim what Derrida called 'some homogeneous continuity', (40) because it is constantly attentive to differences among evolving life forms and between humans and other animals. Early in his career Merleau-Ponty insisted that 'the only pre-existing Logos is the world itself'; (41) he developed this notion further in the Nature lectures to claim that 'animality is the logos of the sensible world: an incorporated meaning'. (42) Thus human abilities emerge from our animality. In his final Working Note written only a few months before his death, he explained his overall project as having three parts: I. The visible, II. Nature, and III. Logos. He wanted to show that 'we can no longer think according to this cleavage: God, man, creatures' but instead must describe Nature as 'the man-animality intertwining'. Logos is what is realised in us--our self-conscious understanding of the incorporated meaning of animality, 'but nowise is it [our] property'. (43)

To understand Nature and the 'pre-existing Logos' within it, MerleauPonty believed that ontology must maintain a complementarity with science:
   How thus not to be interested in science in order to know what
   Nature is? If Nature is an all encompassing something we cannot
   think starting from concepts, let alone deductions, but we must
   rather think it starting from experience, and in particular,
   experience in its most regulated form--that is, science. (44)

Even so, his lifelong conversation with science was complex and critical. Early in his career he had compared scientific descriptions of the world to 'geography in relation to the countryside in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a prairie or a river is', i.e. schematic, second-order kinds of knowledge. (45) But in a radio lecture of 1948 he explained that the Cartesian naivete of classical science had begun to change:

   The scientist of today, unlike his predecessor working within the
   classical paradigm, no longer cherishes the illusion that he is
   penetrating to the heart of things, to the object as it is in
   itself. The physics of relativity confirms that absolute and final
   objectivity is a mere dream by showing how each particular
   observation is strictly linked to the location of the observer and
   cannot be abstracted from this particular situation; it also
   rejects the notion of an absolute observer ... This does not make
   the need for scientific research any less pressing; in fact the
   only thing under attack is the dogmatism of a science that thinks
   itself capable of absolute and complete knowledge. (46)

The philosopher's task is to try to understand the scientist's practical work from a critical distance. 'The philosopher must see behind the back of the physicist what the physicist himself does not see'. Merleau-Ponty cautions, however, that 'it is dangerous to leave all freedom to the philosopher' and uses Heidegger as an example of a philosopher who failed to engage science in this way, wanting to see and understand too quickly. He was 'the victim of the illusion of an unconditional treasure of absolute wisdom contained in language ... Hence the false etymologies of Heidegger, his gnosis'. (47)

The Nature lectures are Merleau-Ponty's efforts to systematically 'see behind' the scientific studies he examines, understanding that '.By principle science is not an exhausting, but a physiognomic portrait' of features of the world. (48) He complements this portrait by thinking about its theoretical consequences and placing them in the wider context of his ontology of a dynamically unfolding chiasmic world. The features of this ontology are intertwined with the life sciences of the first half of the twentieth-century, anticipating in ways he could not have predicted, a wide array of important developments in evolutionary biology and animal studies since his death.

Humans are only one part of this evolving reality, limited in our perceptions by our situation within it, but also bearing our creaturely and cultural past sedimented in our bodies and languages. The visible world draws us so powerfully because we as individuals are formed by differentiation from the spatial and temporal pulp around us, which communicates itself through us as sentient things who feel 'the immense latent content of the past, the future, and the elsewhere, which it announces and which it conceals':
   In short, there is no essence, no idea, that does not adhere to a
   domain of history and of geography. Not that it is confined there
   and inaccessible for the others, but because, like that of nature,
   the space or time of culture is not surveyable from above, and
   because the communication from one constituted culture to another
   occurs through that wild region wherein they all have originated
   ... We never have before us pure individuals, indivisible glaciers
   of beings, nor essences without place and without date. Not that
   they exist elsewhere, beyond our grasp, but because we are
   experiences, that is, thoughts that feel behind themselves the
   weight of the space the time, the very Being they think, and which
   therefore do not hold under their gaze a serial space and time nor
   the pure idea of series, but have about themselves a time and a
   space that exist by piling up, by proliferation, by encroachment,
   by promiscuity--a perpetual pregnancy, perpetual parturition,
   generativity and generality, brute essence and brute existence,
   which are the nodes and antinodes of the same ontological
   vibration. (49)

Within this dynamically emerging reality that coils up and back upon itself in multiple forms, we are in profound synergy with all other organisms.
   Now why would this generality, which constitutes the unity of my
   body, not open it to other bodies? The handshake too is reversible;
   I can feel myself touched as well and at the same time as touching,
   and surely there does not exist some huge animal whose organs our
   bodies would be, as, for each of our bodies, our hands, our eyes
   are the organs. Why would not the synergy exist among different
   organisms, if it is possible within each? Their landscapes
   interweave, their actions and their passions fit together exactly:
   this is possible as soon as we no longer make belongingness to one
   same 'consciousness' the pimordial definition of sensibility, and
   as soon as we rather understand it as the return of the visible
   upon itself, a carnal adherence of the sentient to the sensed and
   of the sensed to the sentient. For, as overlapping and fission,
   identity and difference, it brings to birth a ray of natural light
   that illuminates all flesh and not only my own. (50)

Unlike the polished but unfinished text of The Visible and the Invisible from which these passages come, the Nature lectures--products of the same period of his career--were exploratory and tentative. As Vallier explains, what we have are Merleau-Ponty's notes, 'not definitive statements of a philosophical position' but nevertheless part of the unfolding project he outlined in the Working Notes and resonating with them in an increasingly sophisticated assessment of recent developments in the physical and biological sciences as well as with evolutionary theory and 'an examination of the phenomenon of life'. (51)


In the Second Course of Nature lectures (1957-1958) Merleau-Ponty's explorations of how the animal emerges and finds itself in its world prepare the way for his direct engagement with evolution in the Third Course of 1959-1960. As he analyss the philosophical consequences of Coghill's and Gesell's experiments in embryology, Uexkull's Umwelt theory, E.S. Russell's studies of scarring and tissue repair in animals, and Tinbergen and Lorenz's ethological observations of instinctive behaviours, he emphasises behaviours as emergent fields of meaning which are wholes not reducible to their parts. The human place in evolution will be nested within this view of dynamically emerging life forms:
   Behavior is neither a simple architectural effect nor a sheath of
   functions; it is something that is ahead of functioning, which
   carries a reference to the future, which is beyond the immediate
   possibilities and cannot immediately realize all that it already
   sketches out. In virtue of its endogenous initiative, the organism
   traces out what its future life will be; it sketches out its milieu
   (Umwelt); it contains a project in reference to the whole of its
   life. (52)

Thus Coghill's axolotl lizard and the human embryo share emergent forms such as proto-limbs that at first move completely in concert with the trunk while they are at the same time part of a nervous system that anticipates the development of the organism with limbs that will have their own musculature and semi-independent movements of swimming or walking. The earliest behaviour of the animal is, however, organised 'under preneural gradients: the nervous system emerges from a preneural dynamic', and therefore the nervous system cannot be seen as the ultimate explanation of development. (53) From their beginnings, all animal organisms, from lizards to humans, have intrinsic potentials for growth as dynamic systems reacting to their surroundings. '"A reference to the future" thus already exists in an embryo', and the animal body as a place of behaviour is a take on the exterior world. (54)

Uexkull's Umwelt theory is centrally important to Merleau-Ponty's development of the significance of this behavioural reality, because it offers him a way to describe all animals' subjective agency and interaction between themselves and the surrounding world. For him the Umwelt is the opposite of Heidegger's constraint or captivation, because it helps to explain the intersubjectivity and synergy among organisms that his ontology already assumes. (55) He rejects the Kantian implications of Uexkull's reliance on a 'nature-subject' or higher being whose Umwelt englobes ours and those of other animals. An echo of Schelling that he finds interesting in the concept of the Umwelt is Uexkull's insistence 'on the envelopment of the Umwelten in each other; all that we speak of does not take part only in the human Umwelt'. But the really new contribution of Uexkull is the notion of the subjective bubble of the Umwelt, created by each organism in its interactions with the world around it. It provides a view of the world in which 'a milieu of events appears, which opens on a spatial and a temporal field'--a surging-forth of a privileged milieu that is the living being working with physiochemical elements. This is the animal, which is like a quiet force that regulates, makes detours, and shapes its body in relation to the world, manifesting itself like 'a pure wake that is related to no boat'. (56)

The regeneration of flatworms that have been cut in half is one example of how this works, but much more significant in anticipating late-twentiethcentury work in evolutionary biology, is Merleau-Ponty's description of the microstoma worm which he finds in the research of E.S. Russell. This worm ingests and uses parts of the bodies of other organisms in an intraorganic activity which has no border with behaviour. The microstoma worm needs to be armed to protect itself in its surroundings,
   Yet it is not naturally armed. It is armed only by absorbing
   nematocysts, which are stinging cells borrowed from the hydra, and
   emigrating them to its ectoderm. When it does not have its count of
   spines, it attacks the hydra which is stronger than it, and that it
   usually fears, and ingests morsels of it. Coming to the mesoderm
   the cells that the animal needs are transported to the surface by
   the cells of the mesoderm, in such a way that the nematocysts, the
   number of which is constant, are distributed in a uniform manner
   and following a fixed orientation. (57)

The third and final lecture course turns to the human body as it emerges in evolution from within this world of intersubjective and intertwining organisms in order to see how 'by the nature in us, we can know Nature, and reciprocally it is from ourselves that living beings and even space speak to us'. Thus the Introduction to this Third Course states as its purpose the examination of the human 'in the Ineinander with animality and Nature', to grasp humanity first 'as another manner of being a body--to see humanity emerge just like Being in the manner of a watermark, not as another substance, but as interbeing ...' (58) Merleau-Ponty proposes that an examination of the human appearance in evolution will reveal the strange kinship between the human and the animal.

Here he is liable, in the same way as Heidegger, to Derrida's criticism of the habit of reducing all animals to one term, 'the animal', when there is such a vast array of species, each of which deserves the kind of respectful attention he had focused on particular creatures in the preceding lecture course. Because the whole series of lectures about Nature was exploratory and therefore tentative, it represents a stage of his thinking that still has not resolved conflicts between his overall chiasmic ontology and residual traces of humanism, as in this lumping of all animals under the phrase 'the animal'. Like Heidegger, he did not want to posit a hierarchical relationship of humans as superior to other animals, but occasionally he makes assertions that seem to hearken back to humanist traditions--comments such as his claim that 'we are not animal', his reference to 'strange anticipations or caricatures of the human in the animal', and dualistic suggestions of a union of body and soul that is unique to humans. (59) On the other hand, he explicitly states that human language relies on 'the Logos of the natural aesthetic world' and that 'There are no substantial differences between physical Nature, life, and mind'. The purpose of the Third Course, 'Nature and Logos: The Human Body', is to 'retrieve this brute and savage mind beneath all the cultural material that is given'. (60) As we have seen, his discussion of embryology stresses the similarity of development between axolotl and human embryos. He describes pre-cultural behaviours of various organisms such as the hermit crab and the interrelations among the Umwelten of different organisms. In his commentary on Lorenz's studies of instinct, he opens the possibility of considering the differing kinds of animal sentience. (61) How do we resolve these apparent contradictions?

Bryan Smyth insists that Merleau-Ponty's position 'remains indelibly humanistic', even though he sees it as potentially open to wider considerations of human-animality kinship. (62) But if we look at how his description of human uniqueness is contextualised, I think we must conclude that he could not have meant that humans alone have consciousness or spirit. He described the embodied meanings and movements toward culture and symbolism in the worlds of many other animals in the first two lecture courses, and we have seen that his discussion of the ability of our two hands to both touch and be touched mirrors the kind of synergy that must exist among all creatures. Ted Toadvine concludes from carefully examining the whole body of MerleauPonty's philosophical writings that he 'recognizes that our intertwining with animality requires a new understanding of reflection ... since treating the power of reflection as the distinguishing mark between humans and animals risks returning to a philosophy of consciousness that alienates humanity from life'. (63) In the Nature lectures Merleau-Ponty was still actively working out his thinking on the human place in the animal world and Nature more broadly, and I think he would have eventually acknowledged the continuum of various kinds of consciousness emerging through the evolution of myriad animal species. Indeed, in a short radio presentation about animal life which he gave in 1948, he criticised traditional mechanistic theories about animals and said that nonhuman animals 'proceed to trace in their environment, by the way that they behave or act, their very own vision of things. We will only see this if we lend our attention to the spectacle of the animal world, if we are prepared to live alongside the world of animals instead of rashly denying it any kind of interiority'.64 The proliferation of animal studies in the decades since his death begins to show us in remarkable detail how such thoughtful 'living alongside' a wide range of other animals has proved fruitful, with animals from primates to parrots, dolphins, dogs, and elephants. (65)

Evolution is the necessary grounding for understanding the human situation in Nature and the Logos that is realised in us but is not our unique property. At the heart of the third lecture course is a careful re-evaluation of theoretical problems in Darwinism and new developments in evolutionary biology which he calls 'The Renaissance and Metamorphosis of Darwinism'. This section precedes the specific evaluation of 'Man and Evolution: The Human Body', which his lecture notes explain must be understood within 'this archaeology, this natal past, this phylogenetic reference'. His purpose is to examine the theory of evolution in order to restore our body 'in a fabric of pre-objective, enveloping being, from which it emerges and which recalls to us its identity as sensing and sensible at every moment'. (66) We can only know Nature by knowing ourselves in relation to the other animals with which we co-evolved and remain intertwined.

Even though evolutionary biology in the late 1950s did not yet offer the information we have since gained about genetic interrelationships among animals and plants, intracellular processes, and brain development, Merleau-Ponty's critiques of theoretical problems in Darwinian descriptions of natural selection come close to critiques of Neo-Darwinism among biologists today. (67) He comments on the mechanistic premises in Darwinist notions of the elimination of the inept, calls attention to a 'returned finalism' in the assumption that what is must be the only possible result, and questions the idea of linear descent, or filiations. Referring to George Gaylord Simpson's Tempo and Mode in Evolution, he calls the resort to statistical methods a new kind of nominalism, wonders about the possible plurality of evolutions from micro to macro to mega scales, and thinks about the possible consequences of varying rates of evolutionary change from gradual to explosive. (68) This evaluation of Darwinian theories is primarily a questioning of evolutionary biology that attempts to steer a middle course between vitalism and formalism. In summarising his position among these theories, he accepts the truth of mutation and selection, but finds no interest there, instead stressing a reliance on description. 'In all of this, there is the use of chances, and neither finality nor causality. We do not invoke the all-powerful and foreseeing life; we only observe, by convergences and parallelisms, that there is a certain vocabulary of life ... ' As selection and mutation operate over time, these convergences 'represent improbable non-statistical structures', which are in no way the only possibilities in the extreme richness of animality in the world. (69)

Merleau-Ponty stresses the impossibility of fully grasping evolutionary processes in a way that helps to explain the instability of concepts of species and uncertainties about the appearance of humans in the evolutionary record. When he turns to 'Man and Evolution: The Human Body', he relies heavily on Teilhard de Chardin's Le Phenomene Humain, though he rejects the 'phenomenalist idealism' of Teilhard's assertion that evolution progresses toward higher and higher complexity and consciousness. Teilhard's description of the imperceptible arrival of homo sapiens serves as the basis for Merleau-Ponty's definition of the human-animality intertwining. Teilhard wrote that 'Man came silently into the world', because there is no exact place in the archaeological record where we see the emergence of humans with consciousness like our own. This is true in the same way that we cannot see the moment when consciousness appears in ontogenesis. At one point among the fossils, there seem to be 'preliminary types (that we will call 'attempts') - Sinanthopus -' and then suddenly there is the human of the Age of the Reindeer, with cave paintings, tombs, and presumed cultures. Once again we seem to have a pure wake related to no boat. There are only a few small morphological differences between Homo sapiens and earlier hominids, such as greater bipedalism that frees the hands, a larger brain size and head, eyes closer together and able to focus more precisely on the hands, and so on. In consequence, concludes Merleau-Ponty, there can be no rupture between our species and the others with whom we co-evolved. (70) This is an explicit acknowledgement of evolutionary continuity between ourselves and other animals, and it forms the basis for his explanation of the relation of humans and animality as a lateral relation, or Ineinander. (71) The word ineinander literally translates as 'in an other' and suggests merging, meshing, engaging, and entangling, the kinds of literal intertwining that are posited among beings and things in The Visible and the Invisible. But a precise description of this Ineinander is not provided, and the term's implications conflict to some degree with the notion of a lateral relation to animality which he calls 'a moving beyond (depassement) that does not abolish kinship'. (72) It is unfortunate that Merleau-Ponty died before he could more fully explore this 'strange kinship' between humans and other animals. (73) Near the end of this lecture, he says that the kinship 'is quite illusory, and the human and animal bodies are only homonyms'. (74) We now know what he could not, because the evidence had not yet been discovered--that the kinship is no illusion.

Biologists Lynn Margulis and Steven Rose are among many scientists who have helped to establish more complex perspectives on evolutionary change in the past half-century. Rose explains how organisms are now understood to play active roles in their own destinies, how co-evolutionary relationships among species have come to be recognised as increasingly important, and how symbiosis among early organisms is now seen as a major driver of evolutionary change. (75) All these findings support Merleau-Ponty's claims about synergies and intertwinings among life forms. Lynn Margulis's theory of symbiogenesis posits a merging of microorganisms in the early history of planetary life as a key element in evolution, which each human body illustrates as a highly integrated community of different organisms. All of our cells contain mitochondria, semi-independent functioning remnants of a once-separate microbe that is now necessary for our metabolism. At birth, each of our bodies is colonised by millions of bacteria without whose symbiotic cooperation we could not survive, so that some 90 per cent of the cells in our bodies are bacterial symbionts and viruses. (76) We share genes with many other species of mammals and even with plants. These are the kind of lateral relationships Merleau-Ponty seemed to anticipate. His description of the relationship between the microstoma worm and the hydra is similar to the predatory activities that Margulis suggests were the first stage of early evolutionary symbiosis. In a related vein, David Queller and Joan Strassmann have recently described unusual organismic alliances among such creatures as the individual bacteria in slime molds, symbiotic fungus and ant colonies, and figs and fig wasps whose transformational behaviours may well be stages in evolutionary change. (77)

It is even common sense to recognise biological continuism, for how else could veterinarians treat dogs and cats and horses with the same drugs that relieve human symptoms? How else could diseases such as smallpox and AIDS and avian flu jump from one species to another? Understanding and accepting evolutionary kinships with other animals need not lead to the kind of biologism condemned by Heidegger, Derrida, and, more recently Raymond Tallis in Aping Mankind, which demotes our species to some bestial level that erases human uniqueness. (78) Such an extreme definition of biologism cannot coexist with evolutionary science, and it betrays a lack of appreciation for the richness of animal life that Heidegger himself realised might be far greater than that of our human experience. Humans are obviously very different from other animals. But we can appreciate our own cultures, languages, and technical accomplishments without denying complex life to other animals or failing to seek greater understanding of them and our relationships with them. How strange that elephants and dogs and whales have the same basic organs as chimpanzees and humans! How strange that the builders of pyramids, airplanes, and computers are biological relatives of horses, dogs, beavers, and even slime molds! The articulation of this strange evolutionary kinship in Merleau-Ponty's late philosophy opens the way to recognising many styles of animal being and a myriad of relationships among them, as Kelly Oliver suggests. (79) I would go further to say that, taken as a whole, his work moves in a much more radical direction than Heidegger's acknowledgement of the great wealth of animal existence, by suggesting that the Logos of the incarnate world can be perceived in many animal styles and voiced by many different creatures. In our own time, these animal Umwelten are gradually being glimpsed and shared through scientific studies of cognition and communication on apes, elephants, dogs, parrots, bees, ants, and dolphins. Merleau-Ponty's philosophy is foundational for the new interdisciplinary field of Biosemiotics that is bringing a whole array of biological and physical scientific disciplines together to describe the vast array of meaningful communications in the organic world from the intracellular level to organismic and species levels. (80) 'The Intertwining--The Chiasm' section of The Visible and the Invisible ends with Merleau-Ponty's assertion that 'the whole landscape is overrun with words' and that, 'as Valery said, language is everything, since it is the voice of no one, since it is the very voice of the things, the waves, and the forests'. (81)

Translator Robert Vallier explains that the records of Merleau-Ponty's three lecture courses at the College de France are fragmentary and not all from his own pen (Nature pp xiii-xiv). Notes from the first two courses of 1957-58 and 1958-59 are those of an anonymous student. But for the third course of 1959-1960, Merleau-Ponty's own lecture notes provide the record, and this is the course that focuses on evolution and the human place within its history. Even though they are incomplete and sometimes cryptic, they come directly from his pen and are traces of his thinking as it was developing just before his untimely death.

DOI: 10.3898/NEWF.76.03.2012

(1.) M. Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, W. McNeill and N. Walker (trans), Bloomington, University of Indiana Press, 1995, pp192273; and 'Letter on Humanism' in Basic Writings, D.F. Krell (ed), HarperSanFrancisco, 1977, p206.

(2.) In particular, see J. Derrida, 'Heidegger's Hand (Geschlecht II),' J.P Leavey, Jr. (trans) in Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, J. Sallis (ed), Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987, p173; and "'Eating Well": An Interview' in E. Cadava, P. Connor, and J-L. Nancy (eds), Who Comes After the Subject?, London, Routledge, 1991, p111.

(3.) J. Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am, D. Wills (trans) and M-L. Mallet (ed), New York, Fordham University Press, 2008, p30.

(4.) M. Calarco, Zoographies, New York, Columbia University Press, 2008, p145.

(5.) Ibid., p147.

(6.) G. Agamben, The Open: Man and Animal, K. Attell (trans), Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2004, p16; see also p37.

(7.) C. Wolfe, 'Human, All Too Human: "Animal Studies" and the Humanities,' PMLA (March 2009): 564-575; M. Calarco, Zoographies, New York, Columbia University Press, 2008, p149; D. Haraway, When Species Meet, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2008, pp93, 220, 301; K. Oliver, Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human, New York, Columbia University Press, 2010, pp208 228, 303-306.

(8.) D.B. Dillard Wright is the first MerleauPonty scholar to specifically consider Merleau-Ponty's treatment of animals throughout his philosophy, in Ark of the Possible: The Animal World in Merleau-Ponty, New York, Lexington Books, 2009.

Oliver's chapter on Merleau-Ponty in Animal Lessons, op. cit., pp228 places his animal writings in the context of the 'continental' discourse on animals.

(9.) Calarco, Zoographies, op. cit., pp10, 13.

(10.) Geschlecht II, op. cit., p173-174; The Animal, op. cit., p89.

(11.) See Haraway's evaluation of Derrida's failure to seriously consider his cat's subjective experience and to engage in the ethological investigations he chides other philosophers for neglecting, When Species Meet, op. cit., pp20-23.

(12.) Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, op. cit., pxiii.

(13.) W. McNeil and N. Walker, 'Foreword' to Martin Heidegger, ibid., pxxi.

(14.) Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, op. cit., pp188-191.

(15.) The Animal, op. cit., p143.

(16.) Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, op. cit., pp241-246, 261267. See Agamben, The Open, op. cit., pp51-56.

(17.) Ibid., pp259264.

(18.) Derrida sees Heidegger's philosophy as Cartesian, and asserts that 'Cartesianism belongs, beneath its mechanicist indifference, to the Judeo-Christian, Islamic tradition of a war against the animal, of a sacrificial war that is as old as Genesis', The Animal That Therefore I Am, p101. Calarco describes Heidegger as using Christian ideas about the place of the human, op. cit., pp20-21.

(19.) Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, op. cit., pp176-177.

(20.) Ibid., pp177, 264, 270, 275.

(21.) Ibid., p285.

(22.) Ibid., p199.

(23.) Ibid., pp203, 210-211.

(24.) Ibid., pp194, 255.

(25.) See Calarco's very nuanced examination of the problems and contradictions of Heidegger's arguments, Zoographies, op. cit., pp18-37; and also Kelly Oliver, Animal Lessons, op. cit., pp193-207.

(26.) Calarco, Zoographies, op. cit., p20.

(27.) Ibid., p3.

(28.) Ibid, p263; see also pp259, 264-266.

(29.) Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, London, Penguin Books, 1985, pp140-142.

(30.) Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, op. cit., p277.

(31.) 'Letter on Humanism,' in Basic Writings, David Ferrell Krell (ed) and Frank A. Capuzzi (trans), San Francisco, Harper San Francisco, 1977, pp206 and 204.

(32.) What Is Called Thinking? F.D. Wieck and J.G. Gray (trans), New York, Harper, 1968, p16.

(33.) 'Heidegger's Hand (Geschlecht II),' J.P. Leavey, Jr (trans) in Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, J. Sallis (ed), Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1987, pp173-175. See also Calarco, Zoographies, op. cit., pp36-37.

(34.) See R. Vallier, 'Translator's Introduction to M. Merleau-Ponty, Nature: Course Notes from the College de France, R. Vallier (trans), and compiled with notes by D. Seglard, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2003, ppxix-xx. During this time Merleau-Ponty was also thinking about Descartes, Kant, Husserl, Bergson, Whitehead, Teilhard, Bachelard, and many scientific writers such as Darwin, Uexkull, Jeans, Tinbergen, Lorenz, Gesell, and Simpson.

(35.) M. MerleauPonty, Nature: Course Notes from the College de France, R. Vallier (trans), and compiled with notes by D. Seglard, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2003, pp152, 140151.

(36.) Oliver, Animal Lessons, op. cit., pp208-216; and Merleau-Ponty, ibid., pp167-178. See my fuller discussion of MerleauPonty's analysis in 'Merleau-Ponty's Human-Animality Intertwining and the Animal Question' in Configurations, 18 (Winter 2010): 166-172.

(37.) M. Merleau Ponty, 'Working Notes' in The Visible and the Invisible, A. Lingis (trans), Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1968, p271.

(38.) Nature, op. cit., p224.

(39.) Oliver, Animal Lessons, op. cit., pp208-210 and Note 2, p328.

(40.) Derrida, The Animal, op. cit., p30.

(41.) M. MerleauPonty, Phenomenology of Perception, C. Smith (trans), London, Routledge, 1962, pxx.

(42.) Op. cit., p166.

(43.) 'Working Notes' in The Visible and the Invisible, op. cit., p274.

(44.) Nature, op. cit., p87; see also 'Working Notes' in ibid., p225.

(45.) Phenomenology of Perception, op. cit., pix.

(46.) M. MerleauPonty, 'The World of Perception and the World of Science' in The World of Perception, Oliver Davis (trans), London, Routledge, 2004, pp44-45. See also Nature, op. cit., pp88-100.

(47.) Nature, op. cit., pp86-87.

(48.) The Visible and the Invisible, op. cit., p225.

(49.) Ibid., p115.

(50.) Ibid., p142.

(51.) 'Translator's Introduction', Nature, op. cit., ppxiv-xv.

(52.) Nature, op. cit., p151.

(53.) Ibid., pp142 143.

(54.) Ibid., pp144, 146.

(55.) See Oliver's assertion of MerleauPonty's notion of the richness of the animal's Umwelt p208, but her continued use of the language of captivation describing his use of the concept, op. cit., pp208 and 215. Clearly Uexkull's Umwelt is open to divergent interpretations, and indeed he himself disparaged Darwinism, as Dorian Sagan admits in his 'Introduction' to Uexkull's A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, J.D. O'Neil (trans), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2010, p5. See also G. Winthrop-Young's 'Afterword' to this text, pp242-243.

(56.) Nature, op. cit., pp176-177.

(57.) Ibid., p180.

(58.) Ibid., pp206 and 208.

(59.) Nature, op. cit., pp209, 214, 225.

(60.) Ibid., p212.

(61.) Ibid., pp176, 199.

(62.) Smyth, Bryan, 'Merleau-Ponty and the Generation of Animals,' PhaenEx, 2 (2007): 204.

(63.) Merleau-Ponty's Philosophy of Nature, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2009, pp95-96.

(64.) 'Exploring the World of Perception: Animal Life', in The World of Perception, op. cit., p75.

(65.) See, for example, D. Griffin, Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2001; S. SavageRumbaugh, S.G. Shanker, and TJ. Taylor, Apes, Language, and the Human Mind, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998; and I. Pepperberg, The Alex Studies:Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2000.

(66.) Nature, op. cit., p272; La Nature: Notes Cours du College de France, Dominique Seglard (ed), p341.

(67.) See especially S. Rose's discussion of Neo-Darwinism in Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, Determinism, London, Penguin, 1998, pp 209-249; and R. Lewontin, The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, Cambridge, Massachussets, Harvard, 2000.

(68.) Ibid., pp244257.

(69.) Ibid., pp264266.

(70.) Ibid., p267; cf. Derrida, The Animal, op. cit., p30.

(71.) Ibid., p273.

(72.) My translation of the phrase from M. Merleau-Ponty, La Nature: Notes Cours du College de France, D. Seglard (ed), Paris, Editions Seuil, 1994, p335.

(73.) In his postmodern ecological rhapsody, T. Morton proposes a different kind of relationship among living things, that of 'strange strangers', The Ecological Thought, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard, 2010, pp38-58, which are intricately interrelated and yet weirdly alien to each other. Without ever mentioning Merleau-Ponty he also claims that the world is an interconnecting 'mesh,' a term oddly rhyming with Merleau-Ponty's 'flesh' of the world.

(74.) Nature, op. cit., p272.

(75.) S. Rose, Lifelines: Biology, Freedom, Determinism, London, Penguin, 1998, pp215-230; see also 233-237.

(76.) L. Margulis, The Symbiotic Planet: A New View of Evolution, New York, Basic Books, 1998, pp28-49; 88, 98-99. See also A. Lingis, 'Animal Body, Inhuman Face' in C. Wolfe, Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, pp166 167.

(77.) D. Queller and J. Strassmann, 'Beyond Society: the Evolution of Organismality', Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B (2009): 31433155. As we saw above, op. cit., Darwin mentioned such evolutionary relationships between pollinating insects and flowers. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari speak of them as 'blocks of becoming' across species in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, B. Massumi (trans) Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, 1987, pp237-239.

(78.) R. Tallis, Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, Durham, Acumen, 2011.

(79.) Animal Lessons, op. cit., pp218-228, where she also calls for an ethics of such relationships.

(80.) See J. Hoffmeyer, Signs of Meaning in the Universe, B.J. Haveland (trans), Bloomington, University of Indiana, 1996 and Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs, Scranton, University of Scranton, 2008.

(81.) The Visible and the Invisible, op. cit., p155.
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