Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

The Birth of Sense
Generative Passivity in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy

By Don Beith

“An original and thoughtful contribution to scholarship on Maurice Merleau-Ponty.…Beith draws Merleau-Ponty’s thought into conversation with a wide range of thinkers and traditions—Bergson, Deleuze, Derrida, liberalism, social constructivism, autopoietic enactivism—and articulates an original conception of life and personhood. Summing up: Essential.”

CHOICE Reviews

“A timely contribution to scholarship on Merleau-Ponty’s work, considering the emerging focus in phenomenological literature on the significance of the dimension of passivity.… Beith advances a phenomenology of embodiment by going beyond a mere ‘corporeal essentialism’ to a focus that can engage with difference and oppression generally and issues of gender and race more specifically”

Fiona Utley, University of New England, Australia

“Beith fruitfully deploys the concepts of 'institution' and 'passivity' to interpret central issues in Merleau-Ponty's corpus and in contemporary philosophy, ultimately offering an account of the emergence of personhood and sociality out of the matrix of intercorporeal embodiment and behavior. This is a significant addition not only to Merleau-Ponty scholarship but also, more broadly, to philosophical discussions about nature, development, learning, self-consciousness, agency, and politics.”

Scott Marratto, author of The Intercorporeal Self: Merleau-Ponty on Subjectivity

In The Birth of Sense, Don Beith proposes a new concept of generative passivity, the idea that our organic, psychological, and social activities take time to develop into sense. More than being a limit, passivity marks out the way in which organisms, persons, and interbodily systems take time in order to manifest a coherent sense. Beith situates his argument within contemporary debates about evolution, developmental biology, scientific causal explanations, psychology, postmodernism, social constructivism, and critical race theory. Drawing on empirical studies and phenomenological reflections, Beith argues that in nature, novel meaning emerges prior to any type of constituting activity or deterministic plan.

The Birth of Sense is an original phenomenological investigation in the style of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and it demonstrates that the French philosopher’s works cohere around the notion that life is radically expressive. While Merleau-Ponty’s early works are widely interpreted as arguing for the primacy of human consciousness, Beith argues that a pivotal redefinition of passivity is already under way here, and extends throughout Merleau-Ponty’s corpus. This work introduces new concepts in contemporary philosophy to interrogate how organic development involves spontaneous expression, how personhood emerges from this bodily growth, and how our interpersonal human life remains rooted in, and often thwarted by, domains of bodily expressivity.

Don Beith practices philosophy phenomenologically, researching the role of the body in self-identity and learning, the nature of interpersonal relationships, and existential concepts of health, care, and authenticity. His work appears in Chiasmi, Continental Philosophy Review, Symposium, and elsewhere. He teaches at the University of Maine.   More info →

Order a print copy

Hardcover · $76 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $95.00 · Save 20% ($76)

Buy from a local bookstore


US and Canada only

Buy an eBook

Amazon Kindle Store Barnes & Noble NOOK Google Play iBooks Store

Availability and price vary according to vendor.

Cover of The Birth of Sense

Share    Facebook icon  Email icon


Desk Copy Examination Copy Review Copy

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center

Related Subjects

Click or tap on a subject heading to sign up to be notified when new related books come out.

In Series

Series in Continental Thought, № 52


Retail price: $95.00, S.
Release date: April 2018
240 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: April 2018
240 pages ·
Rights:  World

Related Titles

Cover of 'Thinking between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty'

Thinking between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty
By Judith Wambacq

Questioning the dominant view that Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty have little of substance in common, Judith Wambacq draws on unpublished primary sources and current scholarship in English and French to bring them into a compelling dialogue to reveal a shared concern with the transcendental conditions of thought.

Philosophy | Movements | Phenomenology · Continental Philosophy · Philosophy

Cover of 'Time, Memory, Institution'

Time, Memory, Institution
Merleau-Ponty's New Ontology of Self
Edited by David Morris and Kym Maclaren

This is the first investigation of the relation between time and memory in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s thought as a whole and the first to explore in depth the significance of his concept of institution. It brings his views on the self and ontology into contemporary focus, arguing that the self is not a self-contained or self-determining identity.

Philosophy | Aesthetics · Philosophy | Movements | Phenomenology · Philosophy

Cover of 'Merleau-Ponty'

Space, Place, Architecture
Edited by Patricia M. Locke and Rachel McCann

Phenomenology has played a decisive role in the emergence of the discourse of place, and the contribution of Merleau-Ponty to architectural theory and practice is well established. This collection of essays by 12 eminent scholars is the first devoted specifically to developing his contribution to our understanding of place and architecture.

Philosophy | Movements | Phenomenology · Art Criticism and Theory · Philosophy | Aesthetics · Philosophy

Cover of 'From Mastery to Mystery'

From Mastery to Mystery
A Phenomenological Foundation for an Environmental Ethic
By Bryan E. Bannon

From Mastery to Mystery is an original and provocative contribution to the burgeoningfield of ecophenomenology. Informed by current debates in environmental philosophy, Bannon critiques the conception of nature as u200a“substance” that he finds tacitly assumed by the major environmental theorists.

Continental Philosophy · Philosophy · Environmental Studies

Sign up to be notified when new Philosophy titles come out.

We will only use your email address to notify you of new titles in the subject area(s) you follow. We will never share your information with third parties.