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Between Literality and Absurdity: Ricoeur and Derrida on Metaphor, Meaning and Imagination

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Between Literality and Absurdity: Ricoeur and Derrida on Metaphor, Meaning and Imagination
Kevin W. Clark

Georgetown University

Washington, D.C.
Despite the well-catalogued differences separating hermeneutics and deconstruction, there is nevertheless a profound and surprising resonance in the works of Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida with respect to metaphor—both in their critique of the rhetorical tradition stemming from Aristotle and in their suggestion of a way of reading and writing metaphor that transcends the meaning-as-absent-presence that that tradition implies. This paper argues that by de-centering the word in his theory of metaphor, the hermeneutic philosophy of Ricoeur converges with Derrida’s deconstructive reading of metaphor to open the play of the text as a locus of emergent meaning. Ricoeur transcends the deconstructive critique, however, by a positive treatment of the semantics of metaphor in which he avoids the notion of truth-as-presence and meaning-as- literality without ending in either absurdity or non-meaning. Understanding, for Ricoeur, is rather a work of creative imagination in which the reader appropriates the being-in-the-world of the text disclosed by metaphor.

The paper focuses upon two readings in particular: Derrida’s 1972 essay, “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy,” and Ricoeur’s essay of the same year, “Metaphor and the Fundamental Problem of Hermeneutics.” I explore Derrida’s argument that the traditional con- cept of metaphor is precisely the metaphysics of presence at work in the tradition, a system whose logic denies limit and difference, and whose necessity eliminates the possibility of read- ing. His provocative deconstruction of the stability of metaphor so conceived opens room for the interpretive play of the kind of reading he refers to as writing difference. The effect, however, is not merely a critique of a lexical concept of metaphor, but a radical questioning of philosophy. I seek to show in my reading of Ricoeur’s article the resonance with Derrida’s critique of the rhetorical tradition mentioned above. Ricoeur, however, moves beyond critique by developing a semantic theory of metaphor that opens up room for a positive interpretation of the text by means of creative interpretation. In the course of the paper I consult relevant studies from Ricoeur’s 1975 book, The Rule of Metaphor, as well as Derrida’s response to that work.

From Crisis to ‘Loving Struggle’: History and Nonviolence in the early Ricoeur
Paul Custer

Lenoir-Rhyne University

Hickory, North Carolina
In this essay we trace a fascinating thread in Ricoeur’s early thought, spun through two 1949 articles, ‘Husserl and the Sense of History’ and ‘Non-Violent Man and His Presence to History’. By taking seriously the neglected relationship of history and nonviolence in the early Ricoeur, we believe there is a sketch of, and proposal for, a transcendental subjectivity that grounds nonviolence simultaneously as idea and action: the work of apprehending one’s other, or what amounts to the same thing, the bringing of others into the self. Set against the trauma of the Third Reich, this thesis takes as its foil, on the one hand, a radical scientism that objectifies everything and everyone to the point of emptying both of meaning; and on the other hand, an extreme politicism that channels human striving, past and present, through the state, and therefore into violence. What is needed to overcome both is a turn to a sort of imaginative empathy — a continual refiguring of the self and a striving to thematize one’s other — that can, perhaps, relieve the weight of past violence and bridge the gulf between Self and Other. This “loving struggle” is a maxim for action, Ricoeur argues, and therefore is immanently practical.

On the other hand, the occasion of Ricoeur’s second article is Garry Davis who, after serving as an Allied pilot in WWII, gave up his American citizenship in 1948 to become a world citizen. Davis, ‘the non-violent man’ of the article’s title, believed that peace would be actualised if everyone were to give up nationalism. Ricoeur’s claim is that ‘there is some value to non-violence’, which is not a passive or powerless activity, but actual forms of power. As Ricoeur writes, ‘The ethical nature of consciousness is essentially opposed to the historical course of events. History says: violence. Consciousness rebounds and says: love’. Like Garry Davis, Gandhi, Jesus, or the nonviolent prophets of the Hebrew scriptures, this loving struggle expresses a prophetic nonviolence, resulting in a victory of consciousness over the harsh law of history.

Oneself as Another: The Daring Inversion by Paul Ricœur
Giovanna D’Aniello

University of Bari

This paper aims at investigating the notion of love in the philosophical perspective of personal identity drawn by Paul Ricœur. In his work Oneself as Another (transl. by K. Blamey. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), based on the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Edinburgh in 1986 and entitled “On Selfhood: The Question of Personal Identity”, Ricœur explores the relation between selfhood and otherness as being essential to the construction of personal identity.
First of all, individual identity may be viewed as either sameness or selfhood, whereby sameness may denote a numerical identity, a qualitative identity, or even an uninterrupted continuity. Selfhood, on the other hand, typically refers to the identity belonging to an individual self, and to the identity belonging to oneself and not another, but it may also refer to the identity belonging to oneself as another.
Thus selfhood is to be read in conjunction with otherness. The hermeneutics of the self, therefore, radically differs from the philosophy of the cogito.
Oneself as another may be a mode of selfhood, rather than sameness. Hereby, the transition from the Same toward the Other is complementary to the transition from the Other toward the Same. Both of them realize a tension of distinctness in unity.
The dialectics of sameness and selfhood flows in the so-called narrative identity, which denotes an individual as being an agent of action. Ricœur views narration as a form of transition between description and prescription which implies the question of time – the lived time of consciousness and the cosmic time as well. Thus action (and its narration) inscribes the self in a relational frame of reference.
Ricœur’s Oneself as Another constitutes an enlightening examination of how selfhood is related to otherness, and how otherness belongs to the meaning of selfhood. To this extent it may be argued that to see oneself as another is related to seeing another as oneself. Thus, for instance, the suffering of others becomes our own suffering, and the happiness of others becomes important to us if we are to enjoy our own happiness.
By taking this perspective to extremes, we will not guess wrongly if we conclude that Ricœur realizes a daring inversion in the love-commandment, in so far as he rather points out the love of oneself as another.
Ricœur’s work is being usually analyzed either in the ethical perspective focusing on obedience, self-esteem, moral precepts and responsibility; or as a phenomenological hermeneutics of the self-construction. Both perspectives, nevertheless, fail to pay appropriate attention to the essential role of neighbor in the perception of selfhood and personal identity as well.
This paper will rather challenge the current interpretation of this work by sharpening the question of the ‘new’ commandment in the light of Ricœur’s conception of personal identity. Thus we will firstly ask which sense is intended neighbor, and which place does he occupy in an ontologically ordered hierarchy of love; secondly, we will examine in which way the term God occurs in the experience of otherness.
Transcendence in the Age of Hermeneutical Reason: On Paul Ricoeurʼs Poetics of the Will
Randolph Thompson Dible II

Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, New York
In interviews with Charles Reagan, in his book Paul Ricoeur: His Life and His Work (pp. 122 -125), Paul Ricoeur reflects on the unwritten Poetics of the Will, the ambitiously projected third volume of his early Philosophy of the Will. The Poetics of the Will was intended to reconcile the voluntary and involuntary structures of the will and lead to an ultimate restoration of the innocence of creation through transcendence of bound, ciphered existence. Erazim Kohak gives the examples of “the graceful, effortless movements of the dancer,” and the “unity of understanding and will surpassed in moments of love” as glimpses of poetics. Although Ricoeur said he accomplished a poetics of the will in other modalities, he admits that the recourse to transcendence originally inspired by his reading of Karl Jaspersʼ “Transcendence and Metaphysics” with Mikel Dufrenne during their five years of captivity was never written. Ricoeur admits also that the author is not the best interpreter of his own work, and assigns to the interested reader the continuation of the project. This task is as much for the philosopher of the reflective tradition as it is for the poet who is irrepressible enough to act despite the futility of a finite freedom and who may consent to the speculation inspired by the soul of the existential enigma. The poet must transcend the limit imposed by fault by reading it as a cracking of the enigma of the ground and meaning of being through creation. The philosopher must elaborate existential and anthropological concepts reconciled through critique and interpretation which work with an axiological phenomenology and hermeneutic ontology. But Ricoeurʼs grandest aspiration was to provoke a “second Copernical revolution,” a “second naivete,” whose power is revealed in an eschatological figure that incorporates such a philosopher with such a poet. Like Jaspersʼ secular theology, and Richard Kearneyʼs ʻanatheism,ʼ Ricoeurʼs Poetics of the Will embraces the Nietzschean death of God while affirming the hope and promise of salvation.
The Philosophy and the Poetics of the Will both come from an understanding of primary affirmation as the surplus of meaning, and develop through existential difference as finitude, but while the poetics can give closure to the adventure, philosophy can teach and expand the human world and ready it for transfiguration.

La sagesse tragique comme herméneutique du tragique de l’action
André Duhamel

Université de Sherbrooke/Campus de Longueuil

L’attention à la tragédie et au tragique est récurrente dans l’œuvre de Ricœur. Si elle est d’abord liée au mythe et au mal (1953a, b, 1960), puis au temps et au récit (1984), et enfin à l’action et à la mémoire (1990, 2004), elle écarte toujours l’affirmation d’un tragique de l’être au profit d’un tragique dans l’existence ou dans l’action. Dans la « petite éthique » de Soi-même comme un autre, Ricœur intercale entre l’examen de la norme morale et celui de la sagesse pratique un interlude, le seul dans l’ouvrage, consacré au « tragique de l’action ». Cela permet, dit-il, de préparer la thèse selon laquelle les conflits internes à la moralité « renvoie à l’affirmation éthique la plus originaire », à savoir, « la médiation pratique susceptible de surmonter l’antinomie, la sagesse pratique du jugement moral en situation » (p. 318-319). Or, cet interlude insiste aussi lourdement sur l’origine de la tragédie dans les passions et l’anthropologie de la démesure dont elle témoignerait. Dans la tragédie, lit-on, les agissants sont traversés par des « grandeurs spirituelles », des « énergies archaïques et mythiques qui sont aussi les sources immémoriales du malheur », et leurs motivations « plongent dans un fonds ténébreux de motivation » et de « contraintes destinales » qui leur font toucher la « profondeur des arrière-fonds de l’action » et le « fond agonistique de l’épreuve humaine » (p. 281-283). Cette insistance semble orienter l’instruction de l’éthique par le tragique moins du côté de l’action et de la sagesse pratique, que du côté de la mémoire d’un récit primaire et d’un passé intemporel échappant aux ressources de l’agir.

Nombre de lectures de cet interlude l’ont abordé seulement à partir de l’angle éthique, retenant en particulier la tentative de conciliation entre perspective téléologique et perspective déontologique que représente la sagesse pratique (Nussbaum 2002, Duhamel 2004). Mais ces lectures négligent les passages que nous venons de souligner et par suite ne retiennent guère l’importance de la « sagesse tragique » qu’ils appuient. Nous voudrions défendre ici l’idée que ces passages témoignent de la continuité de la réflexion ricoeurienne sur la tragédie, et ne peuvent apparaître que si l’on convoque son herméneutique de l’action développée ailleurs (1986). D’une part, cette continuité permet de souligner que la « sagesse tragique » puise dans une tradition anthropologique et symbolique, à l’image de la symbolique du mal, et d’autre part, qu’elle ne peut être pensée qu’à la frontière de l’éthique et d’une poétique, comme variation imaginative sur les inévitables apories de l’action. La sagesse tragique peut ainsi être revendiquée par Ricoeur comme ce détour symbolique et poétique qui permet à la sagesse pratique de demeurer critique d’elle-même.

Nussbaum, M.  [2002] “Ricoeur on Tragedy. Teleology, Deontology, and Phronesis”, in J. Wall, W. Schweiker and W. D. Hall (eds.), Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought, London, Routledge, p. 264-276.

Ricoeur, P. [1953a], « Sur le tragique », in Lectures 3, Paris, Seuil, 1994, p. 187-209.

______ [1953b], « Culpabilité tragique et culpabilité biblique », Revue d’histoire et de philosophie religieuse, 33 : 285-307.

______ [1960], « Le dieu méchant et la vision “tragique” de l’existence », in Philosophie de la volonté. 2 : Finitude et culpabilité, Paris, Aubier, 1988, p. 355-373.

______ [1984], « Au-delà du muthos tragique », in Temps et récit. 2, Paris, Seuil, p. 18-30.

______ [1986], Du texte à l’action. Essai d’herméneutique II, Paris, Seuil

______ [1990], « Le tragique de l’action », in Soi-même comme un autre, Paris, Seuil, p. 281-90.

______ [2004], « Le fonds grec : l’agir et son agent », in Parcours de la reconnaissance. Trois études, Paris, Stock, p. 111-126.

Balancing the Ordinary: The Value of the Hermeneutic Self for an Anthropology of Ethics
Darryl Ferguson

University of Chicago


In recent years, some anthropologists have turned to Wittgensteinian philosophy for assistance in considering the experience of ethics in human life. Veena Das, in particular, by way of Stanley Cavell, interprets Wittgenstein as locating skepticism at the heart of the ordinary. The ordinary life, for Das, is thus one of striving towards the achievement of the ordinary, without particular reference to following rules and obeying norms. In the scenes of violence and trauma with which Das is primarily concerned, the ethical striving thus leads to a disjuncture of the self between what she calls the “eventual everyday” and the “actual everyday.” But such an understanding of the ethical both uncovers a displacement of the possibility of achieving that for which one strives by the reality of uncertainty, and provides an insufficient account of the normative function of ethics. Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology is here helpful. Hermeneutic self-development, with recourse primarily to narrative, brings into focus the struggle that one faces with discordant experiences. While the possibility of a failed narrative attempt, or a breakdown in the narrative process that might lead to something like the “adjacent self” found in Das is all but absent from Ricoeur’s work, the introduction of the narrative self offers the possibility of holding in mediated tension the two poles of morality identified by Das. Ethics is not only about striving against the skepticism that constantly, and with divergent efficiencies, threatens the ordinary. It is also, at least in many circumstances, about or driven by rules, norms, or expectations whereby one can at least grasp that for which one strives. In this respect, Ricoeur’s philosophical anthropology may bring clarity and richness to an anthropology of ethics.

"Recognizing Oneself in One's Lineage”:

The argentine dictatorship and the problem of mutual recognition.
Maria Lujan Ferrari

Universidad Nacional de La Plata

The concept of recognition has always had an important role in practical philosophy. However we must consider that, except for Hegel, only in recent years political debates and claims of various social movements for recognition have imposed the need to put in the forefront of philosophical reflection the concept of recognition. This is attested by the impact of the precursory essay of Charles Taylor Multiculturalism and “the politics of recognition”, the debate between Axel Honneth and Nancy Fraser on the relationship between recognition and redistribution or the attempts of Seyla Benhabib to offer convincing answers to the challenges of multiculturalism from an ethics of discourse, to mention a few examples.

Our interest will be focused on the contribution of Paul Ricoeur to the debate on the issue of recognition in his latest work The course of recognition. 

The purpose of this paper will be to reconstruct the terms in which Ricoeur dialogues with the work of Axel Honneth, especially, in relation to the first model of recognition exposed in The struggle for recognition that includes under the aegis of love the range of erotic relations, friendship or familiar ties. Although Ricoeur agrees with Honneth, he suggests complementing the dimension of love with two new perspectives: the Simone Weill´s thesis on the reciprocity approbation between lovers and the more interesting thesis, in our view, on the “recognizing oneself in one´s lineage”. We will develop the last thesis and we will show its importance to think the systematic plan of illegal appropriation of children during the last military dictatorship in Argentine.
The Encounter with Fragility in the light of Ricœur's Pact of Care between a Patient and a Physician.
Gaëlle Fiasse

McGill University

Montreal, Quebec
I will use the contemporary ethics of Paul Ricœur and his specific articles on medicine in order to focus on the patient-doctor relationship. My goal is to apply his general analysis to a particular case: the relationship between not any patient but a patient in a situation of great fragility, and not a physician in any context but any caring person (e.g. a nurse, a doctor...) situated in the particular institution of a hospital. I will insist on the pact of care in order to highlight this particular encounter that happens in a hospital between a suffering person and a caring person who also has to acknowledge his or her own fragilities.

The first part of my presentation will recall Ricœur's Little Ethics and the case of Medicine, namely the encounter between a patient and a doctor in the light of the notions of sollicitude and the golden rule, with a particular insistence on the notion of prudential judgment. I will also recall the precepts and norms in medicine that help in taking care of a person in a situation of great fragility. I will show how Ricœur's particular developments on translation can be applied as a way of respecting the suffering person in which the caring person has to decipher the other as such, and acknowledge his or her limitation of not being able to perfectly communicate with the other person.

The second part of my communication will develop the pact of care between the patient and the caring person in light of the other dimension of sollicitude, according to which the caring person has to recognize herself as a fragile person, in order to reverse the power-relationship. I will highlight the consciousness of one's vulnerability and mortality; the loving presence and the ‘attention to reality’ (where the encounter must predominate in spite of other pressures, such as time and budget which can damage the relationship); the learning of another way of being toward the world; the joy and the ‘lâcher prise’; and the acceptance of one's own limits. Finally, I will conclude by showing the importance of narrative medicine in light of the pact of care.

Et nusquam locus? Ricoeur’s Readings of Augustine
David H. Fisher

North Central College

Naperville, Illinois
Ricoeur’s close readings of Augstine’s Confessions - (in Time and Narrative’s interveaving of distentio animi and Aristotle’s muthos, and subsequently in Oneself as Another), and on memory (in Memory, History, Forgetting, and The Couse of Recognition) are, in one sense, no surprise. Attentive readers of Freedom and Nature can discern already the impact of Augustinian texts such as De libero arbitrio and De gratia et libero arbitrio. Ricoeur’s life-long wrestling with the problem of evil likewise reflects Augustine’s De natura boni contra Manichaeos and other anti-Manichean writings, from Ricoeur’s “Original Sin: A Study in Meaning” (in The Conflict of Interpretations) through ‘Evil, a Challenge to Philosophy and Theology” (Figuring the Sacred).
But Ricoeur’s readings of others are always layered. Readings of the Confessions in Time and Narrative are undertaken as part of his dispute with Derrida over narrative vs. metaphor as the primary unit of meaning, and in the context of his longer dispute with Hegel and Heidegger over relationships between consciousness, time and identity. What is central, amidst all of these layers, is Ricoeur’s unique combination of historical and theological sensitivities with his philosophical agenda. He shares (with Charles Taylor, in Sources of the Self¸ and Charles Norris Cochrane in Christianity and classical culture: A study of thought and action from Augustus to Augustine) a sense of Augustine’s pivotal place in the history of Western culture and philosophy – and with John S. Dunne (A Search For God in Time and Memory) and David Tracy (The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism) a sense of the importance of Augustine for establishing analogical links between lifetime and story in a pluralistic age.
In the interest of finding a pathway through these sedimented conversations, the following remarks agree with David Tell that the central question of The Confessions is “How then do I seek you, O Lord?” (10.20.29). If this is the central question of The Confessions, the central answer is memory. The sheer facticity of Augustine’s divine recollections assures him that God “abide[s] within” memory: “Truly,

you dwell in my memory, since I have remembered you from the time I learned of you, and I find you there when I call you to mind.” . . .[but] His search for God ends with an emphatic double proclamation that there is no place for God: “There is no place, both backward do we go and forward, and there is no place” (et nusquam locus, et recedimus et accedimus, et nusquam locus) (10.26.37)1. Tell argues that “For Augustine, Memory is so bound to both Understanding and Love that to remember an object is also to understand and love it. For Memory contains Understanding and Love as essential ingredients even as it is itself ingredient in both: “Since any of the three contains any of the other two, or all of them, they must be equal to any of the others, or to all of them, each to all and all to each—yet these three are one life, one mind, one substance” (1991, 299)”

Ricoeur ends Oneself as Another with the observation that “Perhaps the philosopher as philosopher has to admit that one does not know and cannot say whether this Other, the source of the injunction, is another person whom I can look in the face or one who can stare at me, or my ancestors for whom there is noi representation . . . . or God – living God, absent God – or an empty place.” (p. 355) Ricoeur’s way from narrative identity through the storehouse of memory is an attempt to discern a place for God, through love.

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