Merleau-Ponty's transcendental analytic and recent advances in psychobiology


Division of Psychobiology and Miguel Covian Center for the History of Science, University of São Paulo, Av. dos Bandeirantes 3900, 14040-901 Ribeirão Preto, Brazil


In the History of Science Merleau-Ponty is considered a researcher interested in going beyond the dichotomous positions between body and consciousness, and behavior and existence. In his anti-reductionist efforts, Merleau-Ponty held that the human sciences do not necessarily dispense with experimental study and consideration of the biological determinants of behavior, although he felt the need to go beyond the limits of empirical data. In La structure du Comportement (1938) he criticized both experimental psychology and psychophysiology, based on very rigorous knowledge of recent scientific advances. Merleau-Ponty asserted that stimulus and response could not be defined as isolated elements, and demanded comprehension of their structural connection. He also criticized the brain localizationism of mental functions in the brain. These criticisms formed the basis of his proposal for a transcendental analytic (Phénomenologie de la Perception, 1945). In the mean time, the advances in Psychobiology over the last 50 years have shown remarkable changes in approach. Animal behavior is no longer understood as constituted by automata reflexes ; behavior involves information processing systems for environmental adaptation, subject to computational and combinatory procedures. The representations formed, organized as an animal imagery (Bueno, 1997) recreating experience and action, are auto-generated events which provide access to a large repertoire of actions. These affirmations lie in opposition to the merely localizational concept of brain structure. Analysis of this historical development is oriented by two main questions. Given its recent advances, has psychobiology alone the necessary competence to fulfill the demands of the concept of behavioral structure; and, can transcendental philosophy, particularly considering the context of new animal experimental science, still contribute to the study of behavior?


Panel 5A   (Search Machine)
Wednesday, 15 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999