In several papers, Mark Wrathall argued that French phenomenologist, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, identifies a sui generis type of grounding, one not reducible to reason or natural causality. Following the Phenomenological tradition, Merleau-Ponty called this form of grounding “motivation,” and described it as the way in which one phenomenon spontaneously gives rise to another through its sense. While Wrathall’s suggestion has been taken up in the practical domain, its epistemic import has still not been fully explored. I would like to take up the epistemic dimension of Wrathall’s thought in this paper. Following Wrathall, I explain how motivation can help us understand the manner in which perceptions ground singular, experiential judgments. But I extend this work in two ways. First, I suggest some additional considerations that support Wrathall’s view. Second, I argue that motivation can also help account for the way perceptions ground general judgments. My aim here will not be so much to rule out other answers to these longstanding epistemological questions, as to show that motivation carves out an attractive epistemological space.
Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences