French philosopher and phenomenologist.
Educated at the École Normale Supérieure, Merleau-Ponty graduated in 1931. Before World War II, in which he served in the army, Merleau-Ponty taught in a number of lycées. After the liberation of France in 1945 he held chairs at the University of Lyon (1945–49), the Sorbonne (1949–52), and, from 1952 until his death, the Collège de France.
Merleau-Ponty is best known outside France for his two major works, Phénomenologie de la perception (1945; translated as The Phenomenology of Perception, 1962) and La Structure du comportement (1942; translated as The Structure of Behaviour, 1963), in which he sought to unite modern psychological theory, the phenomenology of Husserl, and the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. In France he was also known for his left-wing political activities. With Sartre he had founded and edited the journal Les Temps Modernes, in which many of the left-wing debates of the period were pursued. With the Korean War (1950–53), however, Merleau-Ponty abandoned his commitment to communism, broke with Sartre, and adopted a more independent position.