Embodiment and the experience of built space: the contributions of Merleau-Ponty and Don Ihde

  • M Viljoen University of Pretoria


This paper explores the problem of how we perceive built space and the ways that we relate to its abstract representations. Poincaré presented the problem that space poses for the 20th century in his essay ‘The Relativity of Space’, in which the human body and technics are already a part of our spatial perceptions. Merleau-Ponty, the “philosopher of the body”, and Don Ihde, a philosopher of technology, ground their work on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger (to different degrees). For Merleau-Ponty, our primordial perception is general, pre-reflective, and ambiguous. One’s own body (body-subject) is the means of having an already inter-subjective world. Merleau-Ponty explicates our irreducible relation to the world by showing that bodily motility, the spatiality of one’s body, and habit acquisition inform our spatial experiences, as well as the syntheses of our perceptions and the unity of the world. Merleau-Ponty describes the constitution of embodiment
relations (by means of habit acquisition) with artefacts that mediate our interaction and perceptions in the world. Ihde poses his intentional human-technology (artefactual) relations that transform our perceptions of the world and ourselves. These relations are ever-present in our everyday lifeworld of which built space forms the background or foreground of our projects and actions. In this paper, I provide a phenomenological explication of a specific space to test how both philosophers’ work compare to and/or supplement each other.

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eISSN: 0258-0136