Date of Award
Religious and Theological Studies
Sarah Pessin, Ph.D.
Blindness, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Metaphysics, Ocularcentrism, Phenomenology
This project addresses the problem of an "ocularcentric" bias in philosophy, with a focus on phenomenological and continental thought. Being a blind phenomenologist, I noticed an ocularcentric tendency dominating philosophers' perspectives, including their arguments, use of metaphors, and choices of examples. As a blind reader I found that such ocularcentrism prevented me from understanding their claims. This made me wonder whether ocularcentric biases might be leading them to unbalanced or invalid arguments and world-views. The questions raised are: Can there be philosophy that is not reliant on vision above all other senses? Is it possible for philosophy to not be grounded at its core in vision and visual concepts?
In my project, I examine the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas to determine if it is possible to philosophize from a non-ocularcentric perspective. As part of my project, I examine a trend in continental thought towards what Martin Jay calls "anti-ocularcentrism"; while I find many of his insights quite valuable, I conclude that the "anti-ocular" cases examined by Jay are not ultimately free of ocularcentrism, nor do they provide a sound alternative to it: As long as vision (or its opposite, blindness) remains a core part of a philosophical world-view, it remains ocularcentric at its core.
I find in the works of Merleau-Ponty tantalizing philosophical arguments suggesting a potential alternative. In his emphasis on all five senses, including full embodiment of the perceiving subject, Merleau-Ponty can be seen as presenting an alternative to the ocularcentric perspective. In the end, though, his arguments prove unsatisfactory and remain ocularcentric. It is only when we turn to Levinas that we find a true break from ocularcentrism. Offering an "alternative metaphysical vision," his ethics is founded on relation to the Other as a metaphysical reality beyond comprehension, beyond experiencing with the senses, and beyond definition. Vision, in this case, doesn't reveal truth. Using the work of Levinas, one can arrive at a philosophical perspective that is not reliant on vision. With Levinas, we find that it is possible to philosophize from a truly anti-ocularcentric perspective.
Copyright Statement / License for Reuse
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
Workman, Jesse Younger, "Phenomenology and Blindness: Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and An Alternative Metaphysical Vision" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1210.
Received from ProQuest
Jesse Younger Workman
Philosophy, Ethics, Metaphysics