An exploration of a Merleau-Pontyan approach to cognitive ethology
This dissertation explores some areas of philosophical concern to the comparatively new empirical science of cognitive ethology from the philosophical perspective of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. It does this by extrapolating, from Merleau-Ponty's philosophy and psychology of human perception as already intrinsically meaningful and cognitively informative apart from supervening intellectual operations, to some controversies that exist concerning possible (nonhuman) animal mentation. Negatively speaking, the goal is neither to judge cognitive ethology nor Merleau-Ponty, but rather to propose one way in which the former might consider approaching enquiry into animal mentation somewhat differently.
Such an extrapolation, it is argued, implies first, that cognitive ethology reconsider its usually unexpressed commitment to a theoretical dichotomy of “subject/object”, and second, that it turn its attention to the nature of perception. For, according to Merleau-Ponty, human predicative experience rests on antepredicative experience, where meaning has already arisen as perceived “gestalts”.
If Merleau-Ponty's is indeed a more adequate account of human perception than those found in most philosophies and psychologies (as I believe, but do not attempt to demonstrate here), then it would seem unwise to pass over at least the possibility of empirical enquiry by cognitive ethology into comparably meaningful experience in other animals. Therefore, I try to call attention to those ideas of Merleau-Ponty regarding antepredicative experience that might be pertinent to some selected issues given prominence by a current and widely-respected work in cognitive ethology.