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NOVEMBER 3-4, 2012




Helplessness and Attestation in Times of Crisis
Sophie-Jan Arrien

Université Laval

From the "financial crisis" to the "climate crisis", by way of the "education crisis", the "culture crisis", the "religion crisis", the crisis of "institutions" and ultimately the crisis of "democracy", the contemporary westerner seems to spontaneously understand himself within the horizon of a world and society "in crisis". What do all these manifestations of crisis refer to? The first step is to identify something which could unite these manifestations without obliterating, by way of an abstract concept or generality, their concrete plurality and specificity. More specifically, this common dimension needed to understand the idea of crisis seems to refer less to a content of sense than to a characteristic of the lived experience of crisis, or to the feeling of "being-in-crisis". But if this lived experience of crisis is proper to individuals, must it only be considered as a psychological phenomenon? We rather believe this issue calls for a proper hermeneutical and phenomenological insight, capable of formalizing the lived experience of "being-in-crisis" without, on the one hand, reducing it to a simple affect nor, on the other hand, dissolving its concreteness through a process of generalization or abstraction. Under these conditions, we shall therefore treat the lived experience of crisis as one of the possible facets of the self's attestation, to employ Paul Ricoeur's terminology.
When an individual defines himself, when he fundamentally lives and tells his life story within a horizon of "crisis", his self-being or selfhood is thereby instituted and attested, albeit in a negative but nonetheless determinant way. We shall elaborate upon this proposition by following in a novel way Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutical phenomenology of the "capable man". Our guiding hypothesis will be that the lived experience of crisis, as constitutive of contemporary man in his relation to himself and his world, ultimately leads back to a profound feeling of helplessness. But this helplessness itself reveals, if not the outright failure, at least the weakening of the "being capable" dimension into which Ricoeur's phenomenology of the self culminates and resolves itself. Therefore, much like a "photographic developer", we will use Ricoeur's hermeneutical phenomenology of the "capable man" to identify the price to pay in terms of dignity, self-esteem and responsibility when man attests himself through his helplessness. In other words, we shall endeavor to understand how the phenomenology of the "capable man" can, via negationis, shed light on the helplessness characteristic of our generalized situation of "being-in-crisis", from the point of view of the self's attestation.
The Text Is Not the Model:

Explanation and Understanding in the Human Sciences
John Arthos

Denison University

Denison, Ohio
A 1971 issue of Social Research published Paul Ricoeur’s essay “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text.” The essay is a hallmark statement of Ricoeur’s programmatic effort to mediate structuralism and hermeneutics. It was clearly an important text for Ricoeur himself because he republished it, after it had had what he called “a certain success in English,” as the seventh chapter of Du text à l’action (From Text to Action), a book which he denominated as the successor volume to The Conflict of Interpretations. The essay has a complex double structure that (a) articulates the basic tenets of a structural-hermeneutic method, and (b) indicates how that method might serve as a paradigm for the human sciences. Ricoeur hoped that hybridizing structuralism and hermeneutics could avoid the barren positivism and impressionistic subjectivism that characterized opposing tendencies and tensions of human studies in the French academy old and new. By marrying the virtues of objective analysis and interpretive judgment he hoped to suggest a paradigm for work in the human sciences going forward. Ricoeur’s programmatic argument, I will argue, is a mixed success, in some ways not surviving its historical context, and in other ways a lasting achievement.

The first part of the hypothesis is a typical Ricoeurian effort to mediate contending philosophical alternatives. By moderating the objectivist impulse behind the linguistic dream of a science of language with the appreciation for the unique that had traditionally marked off humanistic values, the human sciences would secure the legitimacy of a science but maintain its identity as a humanistic discipline. The scientific ambitions of structuralism had by the late 1960s been under attack for some time, so in this respect Ricoeur’s effort was backward looking. Indeed his continuing engagement with Lévi-Strauss and Greimas must have appeared outdated in light of the post-structuralist sea-change in which the classification of universal deep structure had become a suspect activity. Likewise Ricoeur’s effort of hermeneutic integration of semiotics and semantics must also have sounded out of tune, since at that time the philosophical and literary winds of fashion had an antipathy to the very idea of extra-textual reference. And as we see from the history of the time, Ricoeur’s championing of Benveniste and of the English-language schools of speech-act theory generally fell on deaf ears among his French peers. So we have to see Ricoeur’s hypothesis both as an attempt to stand above the fashions of the moment and as a product of its historical context.

The paradigmatic half of Ricoeur’s hypothesis would have been buoyed by its historical context. By the 1960s, the French academy was an ossified system of entrenched intellectual elites, and the need for change found subversive force in the upstart discipline of linguistics, which had both the mark of scientificity to challenge the stale conventions of classical humanism, and a universalizing potential hungrily exploited by young intellectuals anxious to seize the reigns. Semiotics was not shy to assume the mantel of a universal science, and Ricoeur was really only riding the wave of this totalizing urge. Nevertheless, from the distance of time, we are jarred by the universal ambition of his proposal. What methodological model or theoretical paradigm could hope to encompass the research practices of the human studies in all their variety? We have since become more sensitive to disciplinary and methodological pluralism, so that this part of Ricoeur’s theory sounds anachronistic. Its global ambitions can be set aside as another example of the dream of a unified science for the humanities common to that period.

If the overhanging programmatic hypothesis of the essay falls of its own weight, still much in the essay makes a lasting contribution: Ricoeur’s definition of the text as a hermeneutic object (the only systematic breakdown of its enumerated features that I am aware of in his work); the significance of textual autonomy that he secures by a point-by-point contrast with spoken discourse; the collaborative relation established between the event-structure of speech and its stabilization in the text; and the elaboration on his thesis of textual reference. Of particular value is the description Ricoeur provides for the reintegration of the meanings yielded by structural analysis back into the lived world of subjective and social understanding.

Distinguishing between the strong and weak aspects of Ricoeur’s hypothesis opens up a clearer view of the significance of his turn towards a hermeneutics of the text in the 1970s. The axis between explanation and understanding that undergirds the entire program is located in the autonomy of the fixed text that empowers it to interact with new audiences and occasions. Its fixity yields to explanation, while its appropriation allows subjective and referential dimensions of meaning back in. It is in this essay that Ricoeur outlines how interpretation passes from explanation to understanding, and his specific description of this process here will allow me to assess the strength of the methodological model he proposes for a hermeneutic perspective.
A Dialogical Challenge to Ricoeur’s Narrative Account of Identity
Lauren Swayne Barthold

Gordon College

Wenham, Massachusetts
This paper, which is part of a larger project that draws on hermeneutic theory to explain the nature of social identities, assesses the potential of Paul Ricoeur’s narrative theory of personal identity (primarily found in Time and Narrative, vol. 3, and Oneself as Another) for contributing to a theory of social identities.
I begin by highlighting four components of narrative identity that I take as central to Ricoeur’s own writings and that play a central role in the work of other identity theorists who build on his theory (e.g., Atkins, Mackenzie, and Schechtman). Specifically, I argue that Ricoeur’s narrative approach to identity allows us to 1) construe identity as an answer to a question; 2) incorporate multiple and even competing stories of our lives; 3) affirm the socio-historical embeddedness of identities; and 4) defend the ethical saliency of our lives to the extent that all narrative proves not just descriptive but also evaluative.
Yet while Ricoeur’s theory of narrativity does go some way in fostering an understanding of how we give meaning to our social identities, I go on to argue that a dialogical account of identity proves more adequate since it affirms the plurality of our identities without requiring a unity or hierarchy of identities. Drawing on Gadamer’s hermeneutics, I suggest five criteria that define the workings of a good dialogue and show how each fosters a related criterion for thinking about the way our identities interact with each other. I argue that dialogue is superior to narrative as a model for understanding social identities since the former: 1) encourages an openness that allows us to take into account not just the multiple stories we are but the fluid nature of identity formations, i.e., that identities are constantly changing over time; 2) emphasizes the contextual nature of conversation that reveals a plurality of questions directed at our identities, i.e., it allows us to avoid the tyranny of the single question, “who am I?” and its assumed god’s eye view; 3) incites a willingness to listen and alleviates the need to posit one overarching and imperialistic identity; 4) requires reasoned explanation that provides the constraint needed to discern true from false stories; and 5) sustains a more thorough-going critique of subjectivism to the extent it challenges the myth of the author-as-autonomous agent who is free to create his or her own story.
The Capable Human Being in an Age of Environmental Violence
“An Animal among Others: Ricoeur’s Ethics in Environmental Hermeneutics”

Nathan M. Bell, University of North Texas

“Ricoeur in the Wild: Environmental Hermeneutics beyond the Cogito”

David Utsler, University of North Texas

This panel seeks to explore the relevance of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophy to contemporary environmental problems. We live not only in the age of hermeneutical reason, but also (and increasingly) in the age of unprecedented violence against the natural environment and nonhuman living things. What are we to say about the capable human being in an age of such environmental violence?

The first paper, “Ricoeur in the Wild: Environmental Hermeneutics beyond the Cogito,” seeks to draw on Ricoeur’s philosophy to re-examine the human/nature relationship. The hermeneutics of the self that Ricoeur developed provides a way of framing the human/nature relationship that isn’t trapped in the human/nature dualism of the cogito, while at the same time does not require that humans be dissolved into nature via the anti-cogito in order to solve the environmental crisis. This paper seeks to trace out both epistemological and ontological aspects of the hermeneutics of the self that will reveal that an underlying problem of the environmental crisis and the response of the environmental movement lies in the immediacy of self-reflection that characterizes the cogito as well as the shattered cogito. Either alternative leaves the capable human in a relationship with nature characterized by separation and alienation. The hermeneutics of the self places the capable human in the environment through an understanding of nature as one’s self and other than self simultaneously. Through this creative dialectical tension the self is constituted through the detours of reflection upon place and environment.

The second paper, “An Animal among Others: Ricoeur’s Ethics in Environmental Hermeneutics,” seeks to examine the possibility of ethical consideration of animals. The capable human being can have ethics with animals because we interpret and recognize both our selves and (animal) others. One possibility for animal ethics, in light of Ricoeur’s Onself as Another, is when a person interprets the animal other seeing her as able-to-judge, able to act ethically and do otherwise. In such cases this person clearly interprets the animal also, in judging her, as being able to judge. Such an interpretation is potentially possible because going beyond the cogito opens us to other ways of thinking about selfhood, agency, and judgment. With Ricoeur’s work we can further explore a openness to both different ideas of the self and therefore to different ideas of others. This brings us to potentially inclusive ideas of animal agency or suffering that open a ground for ethical consideration of animals.

The goal of this panel, then, is twofold: on the one hand, we want to show how Ricoeur’s philosophy can provide new approaches to the questions faced by environmental philosophers. On the other hand, engaging with environmental philosophy can help us to push the boundaries of the hermeneutical thinking we pursue with Ricoeur scholarship. In applying Ricoeur’s hermeneutics to the environment we can explore how this is an age of both hermeneutical and ecological reason.

Rethinking the hermeneutical phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur
Alejandra Bertucci

Universidad Nacional de La Plata

The need for a graft of the hemeneutic problem in the phenomenological method was exposed by Ricoeur in the 60s. This is a novel idea since phenomenology and hermeneutics did not seem to be intended to meet. At first sight, they advocate two unconnected ideas of understanding; phenomenology ultimately leads us to the giving intuition, whereas hermeneutics needs the mediation of the interpretative act. Then, when Ricoeur expresses the need for an implant one wonders whether hermeneutic phenomenology is on the side of work by Husserl or of the heresies.

Ricoeur devotes several of his works to advocate the possibility of a “graft”; the key of his position is that the Auslegung is not absent from the phenomenological look, for which reason phenomenology and hermeneutics are mutually implied.

Another problem that crosses over the graft is its relation with ontology. On the one hand, there is a rejection to Husserl’s transcendental reduction, and on the other, the questioning of ontology of the undestanding reached by Gadamer and Heidegger by the short way. Which is the relationship of Ricoeur's hermeneutic phenomenology with ontology?

After The voluntary and the involuntary, Ricoeur repositions himself regarding the phenomenology and thematizes what he considers its limits and limitations. Although the dimension of the phenomenology corresponding to the intentionality and the reduction as redescription of the problem of being in terms of the sense is deemed fruitful, he questions Husserl’s idealistic version that closes the conscious of the self in the cogito’s apodicticity. Both the transcendence implied in the intentionality and the impossibility of a complete reduction reflect the need of the shift to the ontology that will be given by Heidegger. However, if Ricoeur appreciates the ontologic effort of Being and Time, he would rather not opt for Dasein’s short way but by the long way through the mediation of the symbols.

This work is meant to revise the shift from the phenomenology of symbols towards the hermeneutics of texts, which is the period of "grafting” into Ricoeur’s philosophy, stressing on the ontologic scope of one moment and another.

Author Session

Paul Ricoeur between Theology and Philosophy: Detour and Return
Boyd Blundell

Loyola University New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana
I would like to propose an author session on Boyd Blundell's book Paul Ricoeur between Theology and Philosophy: Detour and Return, published by Indiana University Press in 2010. His book is significant and unique in that it is not only a sustained treatment of Ricoeur's importance for theology, but it also presents a major reorientation for Ricoeur's relationship to theology, especially for the North American context. Blundell sharply criticizes the way Ricoeur has been conflated with his colleague David Tracy and thus criticized by the so-called Yale School of Hans Frei and George Lindbeck. In fact, Blundell argues that Ricoeur is actually quite compatible with the theology of Karl Barth, a theologian who influence the Yale thinkers and should therefore be a significant ally in their project. Moreover, in a very creative way, Blundell interprets Ricoeur's philosophy as having a Chalcedonian pattern. Blundell also argues that theologians should rely on Ricoeur's philosophical writings and not his occassional theological forays, being so insistent on this point that he does not particularly deal with the latter. Besides these major theses about Ricoeur and theology, Blundell's book is rich in insights into Ricoeur's thought, especially in seeing the “detour and return” pattern and in elucidating Oneself as Another.


Cristina Bucur

Duquesne University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ricoeur’s reflections on ipseity in Vivant jusqu’à la mort are insightful and uncondescending exercises in phenomenological recollection. Specifically, this is a recollection of the ambiguities of the life of I, of dying and death: ambiguities or, in other words, semantically abyssal phenomena. In Vivant jusqu’à la mort, as earlier in Soi-même comme un autre, Ricoeur speaks of ipse as gratuitously amorous self-giving. However, similar to what one finds in Derrida’s Donner la mort and Politiques de l’amitié, this amorous self-giving is an ambiguity, a secret really beyond ipseity. Ricoeur even speaks of a “renoncement à l’ipse pour une preparation à la mort.” Ricoeur’s question, “renoncer à l’ipseité?” can be asked as follows: How does ipseity intersect the anguish of dying, in a place of self-sacrifice, sacrifice of the ipse? The sacrifice of the ipse does not undo the love one offers even at the “end”; what is undone, rather, is the framework of ipseity, the framework of “subjectification” that is prone to becoming the subject-matter of discussion. By contrast, the silence to which Ricoeur draws us in Vivant, is the “place” of remembrance of the I in and beyond dying as beyond-ipse, but not beyond either life-offering or love. In a nutshell, I will tell (from my own “place,” of course, namely from a phenomenological reading equally re-appropriative and dialogical) Ricoeur’s story of the Passion of ipse.

Daniel John Carroll

Boston University

Boston, Massachusetts
In the Sixth Study of Oneself as Another, Paul Ricoeur expounds his concept of “discordant concordance” as entailing the simultaneous existence of the conscious manipulation of characters and information in order to form a plot and the sense of order and organization that presides over the work as a whole. In the same study, he explains how the concept of emplotment entails the consideration of the development of a particular plot as a matter of necessity and “inversion” of contingency (or possibility for the action to have taken a different turn) in that the plot itself. Thus, “narrative necessity” is distinguished from “physical necessity” in that the former is manifested within the demarcating boundaries of the narrative which establish it as a narrative.
While their application to literary narrative is clear, what implications can these concepts have for the practice of musical improvisation? In this paper, Ricoeur’s thought is applied to this field and the nature of improvisation is revealed as a mode of “discordant concordance” by virtue of the individual musical gestures, while perhaps not sounding as if they are of a particular tonal character, being nonetheless united in an overall harmonic architecture It is further demonstrated how even the most seemingly erratic examples of jazz improvisation—musical moments that might seem to be entirely “random” while hearing it or even observing a written transcription of it—are curious examples of “physical contingency,” “physical necessity,” and “narrative necessity.” A contribution to the philosophy of musical improvisation is thus advanced.

Wonder, Eroticism, and Enigma:” Reading Ricoeur and Irigaray on Love and Eros

Jennifer Lyons Carter

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, New York
Ricoeur in his 1964 article "Wonder, Eroticism, and Enigma" (Cross Currents: Spring 1964) writes, "The difference between sexes cuts across humanity in another way from a difference between species, or a social or spiritual difference. What does that suggest?" (133). This sounds strikingly like some of what Luce Irigaray's writes in her An Ethics of Sexual Difference some twenty years later. Irigaray has focused on sexual difference as "the primary difference" understanding sexual difference as expressing a primacy unmatched in any other relation. Ricoeur's position in the 1964 essay seems to presage her sweeping critique of the anti-sexual bias of modern Western philosophy when he introduces the opposing terms of eroticism and tenderness. He argues that were we to adopt an ethic of tenderness as opposed to eroticism, we might be able to "reconstruct a symbol of innocence, to ritualize our dream of innocence, to restore the integrity and integrality of the flesh" (136). Irigaray echoes this sentiment in her essay, "The Fecundity of the Caress," when she calls for "eros prior to any eros destined or framed as such" (186), an eros that can "arrive at the innocence which has never taken place with the other as other" (187). It is difficult to know whether Ricoeur had in mind Levinas' 1961 essay "e Phenomenology of Eros" when he refers to the tenderness in the ethical relation to the other, but all three figures (Ricoeur, Irigaray, and Levinas) appear at times to be particularly concerned with the enigmatic relationship of sexed existence to the ethical. Ricoeur and Irigaray are not often thought of as having so similar an understanding of the ethical as appears in these two essays, but the connection is long due to be explored. Both think that a refiguring of the sexual relationship could bring about a reintegration of self in the reciprocal relation of self and other. Irigaray is more consistently explicit throughout her work about the role of sexual difference in the ethical relation, but one wonders if Ricoeur isn't working along the same lines, though in a differently focused way. In his Oneself as Another, Ricoeur, like Irigaray, argues that the relation between the self and other cannot lead to a total dissolution of one person into another. Is it possible that Irigaray and Ricoeur are much more similar in their approach than previously imagined? Both call for a resacralization of the sexual in order to restore the loving aspect of eroticism. Perhaps the significance of the sexual relation is more pervasive in Ricoeur than one might at first think. Could we look to some of Irigaray's work to shed light on Ricoeur's notion of self and other?
Re-/Productive imagination in the context of intercultural becoming
 Hsueh-i Chen
National Taiwan Normal University

Taipei, Taiwan

This paper is an attempt to compare different but similar philosophical concepts which derive from different philosophical realms; first, Ricoeur's work on imagination and second, identity theory which involves Baudrillard's theory of simulacra and third, theories of intercultural philosophy developed by some contemporary German philosophers.
Reproductive and productive imaginations are philosophical concepts Ricoeur developed in his unpublished "Lectures on Imaginations" in order to investigate questions concerning definition of image, theory of fiction and their reference to reality. In his analysis he criticized occidental preference for reproductive imagination, which is dependent on the idea of an original. He argued that fiction derives from creativity and new discovery which are based on a different ontology apart from the ontology of the original.
Original, model, copy, and simulacra are terms signifying distinctions in the identification process as conceptualized by Baudrillard in order to unveil the problem of identity and reality in our technology and media-dependent society. Similar to Ricoeur's interpretation of productive imagination, Baudrillard's simulacrum claims to exit from the identity circulation of the original by means of deception and by elevating itself to a reality plane of its own.
Philosophy as academic discipline usually focuses on topics about human nature, world and truth etc., in other words, about questions of universal dimensions. The word "universal" signifies that principles which are explored within philosophy are trans-cultural, meaning that they are applicable in every culture. Philosophy itself is confronted with dilemma of culturality, because philosophy cannot escape from its cultural influence, from its cultural origin. But culturality of philosophy does not only concern philosophical traditions, it is also related to philosophizing person who is influence able by different cultures and who seeks new possibilities of intercultural becoming of incompatible, contradictory philosophical theories.
Although all three issues mentioned above have different philosophical foci, their fundamental questions relate to their common concern of establishing new reference of reality. The aim of this paper is to interrelate and analyze their different approaches.

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