Dermot Moran: "Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and the 'double sensation'".

Lecture by Dermot Moran, Department of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Ireland.

It is appropriate, three hundred years after George Berkeley's groundbreaking New Theory of Vision (1709), which argued for the heterogeneity of the objects of touch and sight, to revisit the analyses of the relationship between vision and touch in phenomenology. In Ideas II Husserl argues that the experienced world is constituted in levels (§ 18c), with touch playing a major role since the whole body is an organ of touch. The senses convey a single world; touch and vision give rise to one single shared conception of space. Nevertheless, for Husserl, touch is more complex than and has priority over sight. Earlier, in Thing and Space (Ding und Raum, 1907), Husserl discusses what ‘sensations' contribute to the experience of spatiality (§ 47). In Ding und Raum Section § 46 he had discussed visual and touch sensations separately as to whether they underpin differing conceptions of space, .i.e. visual space or tactile space. For Husserl visual experiences, unlike touch sensations, are not experienced as ‘localized' in the body. Vision in this sense is ‘transparent'. In Ideas II Husserl claims the phenomenon of ‘double sensation' to be a part of touch but not of vision: ‘in the case of an object constituted purely visually we have nothing comparable' (Ideas II § 37, p. 155; IV 147). Likewise, we see colours but there is no localized sensing of the experiencing of colour or of the eyes that are doing the seeing: ‘I do not see myself, my body, the way I touch myself' (Ideas II § 37, p. 155; IV 148). The psychologist David Katz (1884-1953), a student of Husserl's in Göttingen, published his World of Touch (Aufbau der Tastwelt) in 1925; and Merleau-Ponty draws heavily on it in Phenomenology of Perception (1945). Katz had a strong influence on Gibson. Katz emphasises the importance and diversity of motility for touch. Merleau-Ponty wants to emphasise the continuity between sight and touch in the constitution of the sense of materiality and spatiality. For instance, it is often thought that the sense of touch disappears when one lifts one's hand off one kind of surface before touching another surface. Merleau-Ponty, on the contrary, thinks a kind of indefinite sense of touch remains. It is not, Merleau-Ponty, says ‘a tactile nothingness' but ‘a tactile space devoid of matter, a tactile background' (PP, p. 316; Fr. 365). In this paper I will explore the different approaches to sight and touch in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty and examine the mediatng role of Katz. Husserl's account focuses in particular on touch and sight ‘sensations', however, his overall account is still revolutionary in its understanding of the interpenetration of sight and touch.

Dermot Moran (PhD Yale) is Professor of Philosophy at University College Dublin and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. His books include: The Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena (1989), Introduction to Phenomenology (2000), Edmund Husserl. Founder of Phenomenology (2005), and (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Twentieth Century Philosophy (2008). He is Founding Editor of The International Journal of Philosophical Studies, and co-editor of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (Springer). He a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Advanced Research in Phenomenology (CARP) and a member of the Steering Committee of the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP). He is currently completing a book on Husserl's Crisis of European Sciences for Cambridge UP.