In The Birth of Sense, Don Beith proposes a new concept of generative passivity, the idea that our organic, psychological, and social activities take time to develop into sense. More than being a limit, passivity marks out the way in which organisms, persons, and interbodily systems take time in order to manifest a coherent sense. Beith situates his argument within contemporary debates about evolution, developmental biology, scientific causal explanations, psychology, postmodernism, social constructivism, and critical race theory. Drawing on empirical studies and phenomenological reflections, Beith argues that in nature, novel meaning emerges prior to any type of constituting activity or deterministic plan.
The Birth of Sense is an original phenomenological investigation in the style of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and it demonstrates that the French philosopher’s works cohere around the notion that life is radically expressive. While Merleau-Ponty’s early works are widely interpreted as arguing for the primacy of human consciousness, Beith argues that a pivotal redefinition of passivity is already under way here, and extends throughout Merleau-Ponty’s corpus. This work introduces new concepts in contemporary philosophy to interrogate how organic development involves spontaneous expression, how personhood emerges from this bodily growth, and how our interpersonal human life remains rooted in, and often thwarted by, domains of bodily expressivity.