Master of Arts (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

Document Type



The linguistic structuralism of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) attracted the attention of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, prompting what is thought to be Merleau-Ponty’s “linguistic turn” of 1947. Saussure’s theory of the self-referential structure of linguistic signs as constitutive of value, was tied by Merleau-Ponty to his conception of the structure of intercommunication as constitutive of human value and meaning. Jacques Derrida, in the 1960s, also appealed to Saussure’s theory in formulating his thesis of a deferring and differing relationship between linguistic signs as constitutive of meaning, but rejected what he saw as the privileging of a metaphysics of presence-to-meaning in Saussure. One set of questions raised here concerns the relationship between thought and perception and calls for a reevaluation of Merleau-Ponty’s thesis of the primacy of perception in light of his final, posthumously published work. The possibility of a full philosophical dialectic between Merleau-Ponty and Derrida was rendered impossible by Merleau-Ponty’s sudden death. In the interest of such a dialogue, this study addresses the similarities and dissimilarities in their positions regarding language and meaning within a central theme of: truth. An area of concern is how their views come to bear upon the ongoing debate between subjectivist and objectivist theories of meaning. Can we arrive at an authentic understanding and expression of truth and meaning? Getting there entails an iv understanding of the formal structure of language and its role in the genesis of linguistic meaning. This study treats the subject of the origins of language and meaning in terms of a phenomenological approach which places all origin squarely in the lived-world of experience. If we agree that our very being is constituted by and in an immersion and interaction in the world, this will suggest that meaning is posited by consciousness in a process of repetition in which thought serves to confirm an initial pre-reflective perception. Merleau-Ponty’s interwoven flesh of the world and Derrida’s interwoven textuality are proposed as alternatives to tradition's reliance upon external referents in intellectualism and internal intuitions of empiricism for validation of what we name “truth”.



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Committee Chair

Francois Raffoul