Conference Presentation: A Merleau-Pontian Reading of Aristotle’s Notion of Form in ‘Book Z’ of the Metaphysics

I had the opportunity to present for the first time at the Northern Plains Philosophy Conference at North Dakota State University on April 2, 2022.

Here is my abstract:

I believe that Merleau-Ponty’s unique approach to the notion of form offers a fresh perspective that will reinforce and bring credibility to Aristotle’s account. Coming from a psychological and phenomenological angle, Merleau-Ponty argues for the necessity of form in his first major work, The Structure of Behavior. Although his path toward defining form differs from Aristotle’s metaphysical path, Merleau-Ponty argues, like Aristotle, that the notion of form is what provides intelligibility to the world around us. 

In this paper, we will focus on the description of form in chapters 10 and 17 of Book Z of Aristotle’s Metaphysicsand look at the evidence for this idea of form in Merleau-Ponty’s The Structure of Behavior. This is not to say that Merleau-Ponty is purposely writing to verify Aristotle’s account, for he does not explicitly relate his analysis to Aristotle. And though he was most likely exposed to Aristotelianism, particularly Scholastic and Renaissance Aristotelianism, through his study of the Rationalists, he appears more interested in engaging with other schools of thought and rarely mentions Aristotle or his works. Nevertheless, a reader of Merleau-Ponty’s The Structure of Behavior, who is familiar with Aristotle’s description of form, cannot ignore the unmistakable parallels between their two accounts. 

We will begin by considering the question (aporia), which I will call the “problem of parts,” that both Aristotle and Merleau-Ponty are concerned with and which ultimately leads them to posit the notion of form. Second, we will examine Aristotle’s metaphysical description of form in chapters 10 and 17 of Book Z of the Metaphysics. As we make our way through the text, I will link Aristotle’s senses of form with Merleau-Ponty’s senses of form which he gathers from his studies on animal and human behavior. 

To those who are concerned that Aristotle’s notion of form is no longer relevant or applicable, this paper advances that Merleau-Ponty’s re-imagining of form both defends Aristotle’s metaphysical explanations while, at the same time, extends them into pertinent areas of ethical interest.

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