Spontaneous Heroism and the Intersubjective Nature of Sacrificial Selflessness in Merleau-Ponty

Emmanuel Cuisinier

Supervisor: David Morris

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that there are cases of selfless sacrifice, which I call spontaneous heroism, during which the hero is entirely motivated by moral significations that are perceptually provided to them on a pre-judicative level by the event they are experiencing. Spontaneous heroism is not a result of psychological conditioning or rational deliberation but the hero’s pre-judicative and bodily relation to perceptual motives and significations that engender the course of action that leads them to save others in danger. My argument both draws and contributes to scholarship and interpretation of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s texts on heroism and freedom in relation to perception. Most scholars have interpreted his references to heroism in relation to his political thought, but in ways that neglect his interest in the primacy of perception, which informs and leads him to discuss heroic experiences. I push back against this neglect in the literature in order to investigate sacrifice and heroism on the level of perception. I explain that moral significations can be obtained pre-judicatively if we understand the perception as being affective, linked to Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the body-schema as intersubjective, and involved with his own understanding of pre-judicative experience which he calls the pre-personal. The way in which I expose these phenomenological concepts to describe modern cases of spontaneous heroism leads back to freedom as a central issue for heroism in Merleau-Ponty’s work. Overall, my work further supports other research that has been going on to explain the phenomenon of moral orientation in recent years.


There are high chances philosophy students at university have to write exegetical papers, which we also call an exegesis reading in philosophy. An exegetical reading is an exercise that comes down from the Scholastic tradition in the Middle-Ages, which consists in doing a close reading of a text in philosophy. For historical examples, you can read Aquinas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Physics and Suárez’s commentary on Aristotle.

But what the Scholastics did were exegetical readings of entire books – for the most part. In contemporary philosophy we restrain the exercise to short passages. The idea behind this sort of assignment is to teach students the following skills: i) To be able to understand an argument by deconstructing it so as to highlight a crucial premise in it; ii) to be able to contextualize that premise within the whole argument, its relevance and significance; iii) to be able to clearly explain philosophical terminology that is proper to the historical context and the author using them.

Keep reading »

Copied below is the preface I wrote for the 18th edition of Pensées Canadiennes. You can read the published version here.

This issue marks the 20th anniversary of Pensées Canadiennes. The masthead undergoes a rotation every year, and this way has allowed the journal to grow as an entity of its own, intersubjectively dependent on generations of undergraduate students. This means that our journal has also witnessed many events both within and outside the philosophy community over the past twenty years. Among these events include September 11 2001, the emergence of social media and the spring of technology, two large-scale financial recessions, the Idle No More Rights Movement, advancements in the acceptance of human sexualities (such as the legalization of same sex marriage in Canada in 2005), and space exploration. These are just to name a few. The list is long, but needless to say history and the world have been a constant source of inspiration for the philosophical community. In this same amount of time, students and professors who contributed to P.C. have also experienced what might have felt, at times, like a finger snap or an insanely slow symphony that is analogous to the two decades they endured. Despite the facts, events, news, announcements, or happenings dropping into their lives at different speeds, the questionings and philosophical practices from this side of the globe have remained lively throughout the years, echoing different trends and different ways of thinking. But these “happenings” are usually thought to be structured by beginnings, middles, and endings. The defining moment of Pensees Canadiennes is undoubtedly this pondering that began from its inception to its latest publication. In other words, 20 years later we still feel the defining moments experienced by the first team of editors, and every year we look at the future of the journal with the same anxieties and excitements that the first team had. These sensations of time are even stronger as we pass the torch to the new Editors-in-Chief and look towards the journal’s future with so much excitement. We can only hope that it continues to project itself into a future that unfolds at various speeds and in various subjectivities and through doubts and interrogations that emerge in the now.

Keep reading »

What Is Trauma?

Sketch of a phenomenological description


This is what Trauma feels like: entering the now as if it were hell, wishing for the world to be real again (1). What is this hell? It is “living-missingly” or “being livingly-troubled.” Not being tuned correctly – harmoniously – with the real as much as with ourselves, thinking (believing? No – knowing) it is not right. It has changed. It has all changed somehow. The frames are not right, chairs are more crooked than before, floors seem to be leaning – all of this despite all the science and rationality available (2). The now is not experienced as it had to be (3). Everything is unforgiving: our mind, other people, time, and the facticity of life in general. What’s more unforgiving is forgiveness itself: it has lost its initial meaning.Forgiving oneself for what happened does not reset every clock in the world no matter what. It happened: The bomb detonated – she died – he was in the crowd when bodies fell on the ground (4). Trauma is permanent and the only thing for which empathy from others becomes a Sisyphus who sightlessly generates a movement of social back-and-forth. It is a mental tattoo. No amount of emotional distance will make us go back in time and prevent the unforgiving. Though we may find comfort over time and attempt to re-serialize our memories (5) to tune ourselves harmoniously back with time and space – this now, this space, of the right now, – the off-putting feeling evinced by what is real remains continuously. The French have the word “fatalité” to beautifully describe the unforgiving characteristic of time, but Trauma knows no language. Keep reading »

July In June
As it appeared in The Initial Journal vol. 1 no.1, August 2020.

Feels like July in June –
The nights quiet and dry,
Crushes blooming at scouts camp,
Engines purring in Alberta,
Street lights coming alive while you sleep.

July in June’s when I forget the sounds of winter
And hear crickets yelling so loud at each other.
A lonesome cabin in the woods
Away from concrete walls of my dorm room.
The smell of steak in the yard, or that of piss
In a resort. The heat is bliss.

It’s unseeing today’s discrepancies
And seeing them on August twelfth.
It’s not Brooklyn if you’re hiking.
Could be Louisville in November. Could be San Fran in rush hour.
This is time, so, slow, folding into the
La La Lands I wish to go.

Why universities should encourage developing knowledge-based opinions

Published in The Concordian in August 2017

I believe freedom of speech on college and university campuses should be limited when it jeopardizes academic endeavours. Academic institutions were originally intended to provide a wide understanding of the world through the lenses of the fields students were interested in. Research was mostly done to be able to understand certain phenomena, rather than to prove a certain ideology right or wrong.

This is where programs such as gender studies, First Peoples studies and exchange programs can be beneficial. When completed with academic rigor, they shed light on issues and perspectives that are unknown to those who don’t experience them firsthand.

As learners of the world, students should be exposed to as much knowledge as possible in order to take informed stances and develop thoughtful perspectives on various issues. I believe that advocates for free speech on university campuses often skip over another important right: the right to know as much as possible about a topic. The right to access information as free from censorship, bias and prioritization as possible before forming an opinion on a subject. However, the atmosphere of higher education has shifted to a more active and socially involved mindset which leads people to skip this first step that is necessary for them to form accurate and truthful opinions.

Keep reading »


My eyes paired in thrill and my
leg pulled to a crutch –
April has my heart too still.
Unsatiated murderous envy to rewind fireworks
and repeat momentums. But voices are stiffed and
my memory putrefies all the encores.
Such is the Spring of isolated minds –
Who waters plants no one could stool.

Spring as a frivolous rot –
Makes you reek of boredom and
wail infantile tears from your losses.
Rainbows to fade across every window of their bedroom.
My children never sleep untold.

What a horrendous day
without rain – without May –
never gay with the snow melting,
disturbed by the naked facts.
April has me in frills –
Geared up for June
and all its moods.

Dealing with love requires philosophy

A shorter version of this article was published in The Concordian newspaper in February 2020.

I believe we should be asking ourselves “What is the meaning of love?” more often than we usually do.

It’s not uncommon these days to end up seeing someone without knowing exactly what the outcome will be. We don’t know where this intimate bond stands, either between friendship and committal love or outside of these two poles, and that’s why current generations emphasize the open-ended ambiguity with phrasings such as “seeing each other”, “being friends” or “dating”.

One thing remains unchanging while developing interest with someone, be it from a two-date period to a defined relationship, which is our self and our psychological attributions. Our projections of insecurities and natural attitudes remain, but in the face of a romantic phase they take place against a seemingly different world.

Keep reading »

Some Remarks About Online Dating

PDF available here


What is online dating? The process of actively influencing one’s temporal tendency in order to increase the possibilities of romantic experience. (1) It is the merging of the non-technological behavior into the technological one. There is a belief that we will meet following a technological behavior – that of using a software, a piece of technology, and using it in relation to another person. Let us dive into an analysis of the usage of this kind of technology in order to understand some of its structures and outline some differences between that and the “real life” method of dating – between the technological and non-technological. (2)

Keep reading »