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On Two Forms of Superior Empiricism

This paper has three fundamental purposes. First, to show the structure of Russell’s highly influential “analytic empiricism”, an approach which Russell held to “eliminate Pythagoreanism from the principles of mathematics, and to combine empiricism with an interest in the deductive parts of human knowledge,” thus overcoming the limitations of both empiricism and rationalism which he saw to be at the heart of philosophy. In taking this approach, I want to show how Russell relied both on a certain conception of the physical world, in particular a certain conception of psychology, as well as a certain conception of mathematics. The second part of my paper will go on to explore the fundamental problems which developed within the system of psychology favoured by Russell, particularly through the work of Gestalt psychology, and how these ultimately led to its rejection in favour of a fundamentally less atomistic account of phenomena themselves. If, as the first part shows, Russell’s conception of psychology plays a fundamental role in his conception of philosophical method, the implications of this for the method of philosophy are then drawn out, particularly through Merleau-Ponty’s critique of Gestalt psychology’s underlying reliance of a certain form of scientific conception of the world. Following this, I will briefly discuss the implications for Merleau-Ponty’s rejection of this classical empiricism with a new model which places meaning inherent within the world, whilst radically restructuring the methodology and openness of empirical enquiry. Third, I will briefly deal with the obvious problem with dealing with Merleau-Ponty as an empiricist, namely, his full-out rejection of classical empiricsm both as it appears within this paper, and as it extends beyond. In doing this, I will allude to Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, and the structural analogies of what Deleuze takes to be essential features of any true empiricism between his own and Merleau-Ponty’s analyses of the world.