Phenomenology and Ontology: Hannah Arendt and Maurice Merleau-Ponty

  • Laura Boella
Part of the Phaenomenologica book series (PHAE, volume 129)


The refusal of ontology underpins the principle philosophical positions of Hannah Arendt. The “dismantling of metaphysics” — her term for the “basic assumption” of her last book, The Life of the Mind’ — signifies first of all the impossibility of ontology, of the identity of Being and thinking. Only after the fact can the dismantling of metaphysics become a technique for deconstructing, and eventually reassembling, the traditional conceptual apparatus. It is in this context that we should understand Arendt’s preference for defining herself as “a kind of phenomenologist” and her refusal of the term “philosopher”. Indeed, ontology is not, for Hannah Arendt, merely a traditional form of thinking that one can easily dispense with. It is rather the professional form of thinking, arising from the attitude that philosophers (even those who revolted against that attitude) assumed with regard to what Arendt calls the historico-political “fact” represented by the loss of the context of tradition. As a student of Heidegger and Jaspers, Hannah Arendt very seriously reflects on the problem of Being. But she is convinced that when it is translated into a “philosophy” or “theory” of Being, the problem becomes a professional or “status” response. Within the context of modern, contemporary thought, on the contrary, the question of Being can be considered solely in terms of the gap between Being and thinking, or more precisely as the experience (in other words something other than reflection) of this gap, the continuous movement between the two poles.


Everyday World Contemporary Thought Ontological Project Spiritual Organ Intelligible World 
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  1. 1.
    Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977). All further references to this work will be indicated parenthetically in the text and abbreviated as LM, followed by the page number.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Signs,trans. Richard C. McCleary (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 21 (trans. altered).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1969), p. 18.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

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  • Laura Boella

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