Interrogative Thinking: Reflections on Merleau-Ponty’s Later Philosophy

  • Bernhard Waldenfels
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 129)


Thinking which presumes to be a sort of interrogative thinking is not satisfied with raising questions, rather it keeps questioning all the time. Trying to plunge us into a maelstrom of questions, Merleau-Ponty quotes from Claudel’s poetics, where we can read:

From time to time, a man lifts his head, sniffs, listens, considers, recognizes his position: he thinks, he sighs, and, drawing his watch from the pocket lodged against his chest, looks at the time. Where am I? and What time is it? — such is the inexhaustible question turning from us to the world.


Interrogative Mode Cultural Order Interrogative Thinking Transcendental Reflection Pure Question 
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  1. 1.
    M. Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. by A. Lingis (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968), p. 103, 121; French original: Le Visible et l’invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 140, 161. Page numbers following quotations refer to these two works, hereafter cited VI (English) and VI (French).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See The Visible and the Invisible, p. 166. Fr. 61, 70f., 129, 294 and my article “Das Zerspringen des Seins” in: A. Métraux and B. Waldenfels, eds., Leibhaftige Vernunft (München: W. Fink, 1986), pp. 144–161.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See Le temps vécu (Neuchâtel 2, 1968), p. 257.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See the explication of pathological disturbances of orientation in Phenomenology of Perception (New York: Humanities Press, 1962), p. 112, Fr. original: p. 130.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    In this sense one simply cannot put the difference “touching-touched” into the context of a logo-centric kind of self-affection as a ‘certain grammatology’ suggests. See De la grammatologie (Paris: Ed. de Minuit), p. 237.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt: M. Suhrkamp, 1965), p. 17.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    As to the difference between ‘answer’ and ‘response’, we may distinguish between the answer I give and the act or event of response. We can respond simply by giving an answer, but also by giving no answer or by posing a counter question.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Not: “returning to it” as the English translator writes; see in French: “elle en revient”. Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See the German expression: “Etwas gibt zu denken”. Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See my article “Vérité à faire. Merleau-Ponty’s Question Concerning Truth” in: Philosophy Today (Summer 1991), pp. 185–194.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Concerning the idea of responsiveness, see my hints in: Ordnung im Zwielicht (Frankfurt: M. Suhrkamp, 1987), p. 41ff., 210ff.; a detailed elaboration of this idea is in preparation.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

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  • Bernhard Waldenfels

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