The earliest sense of self and others: Merleau-Ponty and recent developmental studies


Recent studies in developmental psychology have found evidence to suggest that there exists an innate system that accounts for the possibilities of early infant imitation and the existence of phantom limbs in cases of congenital absence of limbs. These results challenge traditional assumptions about the status and development of the body schema and body image, and about the nature of the translation process between perceptual experience and motor ability. Merleau-Ponty, who was greatly influenced by his study of developmental psychology, and whose phenomenology of perception was closely tied to the concept of the body schema, accepted these traditional assumptions. They also informed his philosophical conclusions concerning the experience of self and others. We re-examine issues involved in understanding self and others in light of the more recent research in developmental psychology. More specifically our re-examination challenges a number of Merleau-Ponty's conclusions and suggests, in contrast, that the newborn infant is capable of a rudimentary differentiation between self and non-self.

Publication Title

Philosophical Psychology