Adventures of the Dialectic by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Joseph J. Bien

By Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Joseph J. Bien

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The past that I contemplate has been lived; and as soon as I want to enter into its genesis, 1 cannot be unaware that it has been a present. Because of the fact The Crisis of Understanding / I I that the order of knowledge is not the only order, because it is not closed in on itself, and because it contains at least the gaping blank of the present, the whole of history is still action, and action is already history. History is one, whether we contemplate it as spectacle or assume it as responsibility.

We must look in his historical works to see how he comes to terms with this object which adheres to the subject, how he forges a method out of this difficulty, and how he tries, by going beyond the past as spectacle, to understand the past itself by making it enter into our own lives. We cannot be content with the past as it saw itself; and it is understood that the very attempt to discover the past as it actually 12 / ADVENTURES OF THE DIALECTIC was always implies a spectator, and there is a danger that we will discover the past only as it is for us.

This time it is lack of distance which allows us to see only one side of it. Knowledge and practice confront the same infinity of historical reality, but they respond to it in opposite ways: knowledge, by multiplying views, confronts it through conclusions that are provisional, open, and justifiable (that is to say, conditional), while practice confronts it through decisions which are absolute, partial, and not subject to justification. But how can we hold to this dualism of past and present, which is evidently not absolute?

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