The concepts of Fundierung (“foundation” or “founding”) and Stiftung (“institution” or “instituting”) play a prominent role in the work of Edmund Husserl, who employs Fundierung to describe relations of essential necessity in “static” analyses of intentional consciousness, and Stiftung to describe movements of sedimentation and reactivation in “genetic” analyses of the co-advent of consciousness and the world. Martin Heidegger, meanwhile, employs the notion of Stiften (“establishing”) in his ontological questioning of the disclosure of the truth of beings. It is, therefore, surprising that scholars tend to assume, if not explicitly assert, that Merleau-Ponty treats Fundierung and Stiftung as synonyms. I argue, on the contrary, that Fundierung and Stiftung take on increasingly divergent functions over the course of Merleau-Ponty’s writings, with Stiftung ultimately giving voice to the “ontological operations” of individuation through intertwining whereby sensible and sentient beings, qua flesh, give birth to sense. In particular, I take seriously Merleau-Ponty’s account of Stiftung – from Institution and Passivity onward – as a “double relation of Fundierung”; given that Fundierung is already a “double relation” between the founding and the founded term, Stiftung must be conceived as a “fourfold” relation, wherein each term is simultaneously founding and founded, relative to the other. This fourfold structure articulates the relation of “simultaneity” or “existential eternity” between beings and sense in their advent. By tracing the development of the concept of Stiftung in Merleau-Ponty’s work, I attempt to show that interpreting his thinking of la chair as an “ontology of institution” – in the sense of an articulation of the movement of existence as relations of Stiftung – highlights the originality of his ontologization of Husserlian phenomenology, and thereby his status as a “foundational” thinker in his own right, rather than a merely regional thinker of embodiment.

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