Maurice Merleau-Ponty (14 March 1908 – 3 May 1961) was a French phenomenological philosopher, strongly influenced by Karl Marx, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger in addition to being closely associated with Jean-Paul Sartre (who later stated he had been "converted" to Marxism by Merleau-Ponty) and Simone de Beauvoir.
At the core of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy is a sustained argument for the foundational role that perception plays in understanding the world as well as engaging with the world. Like the other major phenomenologists, Merleau-Ponty expressed his philosophical insights in writings on art, literature, linguistics, and politics. He was the only major phenomenologist of the first half of the twentieth century to engage extensively with the sciences and especially with descriptive psychology. It is because of this engagement that his writings have become influential in the recent project of naturalizing phenomenology, in which phenomenologists use the results of psychology and cognitive science.
Merleau-Ponty emphasized the body as the primary site of knowing the world, a corrective to the long philosophical tradition of placing consciousness as the source of knowledge, and his insight that the body and that which it perceived could not be disentangled from each other. The articulation of the primacy of embodiment led him away from phenomenology towards what he was to call “indirect ontology” or the ontology of “the flesh of the world” (la chair du monde), seen in his last incomplete work, The Visible and Invisible, and his last published essay, “Eye and Mind”.