An Indirect Unity: Merleau-Ponty and Nāgārjuna on the Human and the Non-human

Michael Berman


The nature of the non-human assumes an understanding of the nature of the human, which we may claim, having our experience as from within this latter realm, but this leaves the operant term, nature, at a distance. This essay will investigate this problem through Maurice Merleau- Ponty’s musings on human being and nature, and will compare these with Nāgārjuna’s Mulamadhyamikakārikā (The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way), particularly drawing upon the experiential notion of pratītya-samutpāda (relational origination). The comparative approach herein will explain aspects of the Merleau-Pontyean ideas about Gestalt, reversibility and wild-being, and Nāgārjuna’s treatment of the Buddhist tetralemma, nirvāna and śūnyatā, ranging them against each other, counter-pointing similarities and differences, and then finally demonstrating that through their shared perspectives there exists, what Merleau-Ponty calls, an indirect unity between these philosophers.

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