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Ricoeur and Hermeneutics: Post-Critique?



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Ricoeur and Hermeneutics: Post-Critique?
Patrick Gamez

University of Notre Dame

South Bend, Indiana
In this paper, I want to address the question of an age of “hermeneutical reason” and its relation to our present age. I explore Paul Ricoeur’s notion of hermeneutical social science, its relation to philosophical notions of “critique,” and its place in a contemporary philosophical landscape characterized as being, in certain senses, “post-critical.”

First, I reconstruct the outlines of Ricoeur’s hermeneutical approach to the human sciences, relying heavily on those texts in which he mediates between different theoretical frameworks, or subsumes critical perspectives under his hermeneutic project. In particular, I address his early essays, “Structure and Hermeneutics,” “Hermeneutics and the Critique of Ideology,” and “Science and Ideology,” as well as his late opus, Memory, History, Forgetting. In the former, Ricoeur is primarily concerned with softening the ambitions of theoretical programmes with presumptions of “scientific” or “critical” authority, specifically Levi-Strauss’ structural anthropology, Althusser’s “scientific” Marxism, and Habermas’ reworking of ideology-critique. In dealing with these thinkers, Ricoeur delineates a peculiar position. He attacks Althusser for failing to give substance to the claim of “scientificity” on the part of his Marxism, implying that there are epistemic standards that any “scientific” philosophy ought to meet. Indeed, it is because structuralism is valuable scientific innnovation that, in “Structure and Hermeneutics,” Ricoeur finds a place for structural analysis in his hermeneutic vision of the human sciences. Rather than debunk its animating spirit, Ricoeur simply wants to restrict the domain of structuralism, draw its legitimate limits, and incorporate its insights into his own project. Similarly, Ricoeur clearly values and wishes to preserve the critical spirit of Habermas’ works, while nevertheless rejecting its claim to be “outside” of ideology in a way that hermeneutics fails to be; in short, he wants to preserve critique without the sort of scientific or quasi-scientific foundations on which critical thought demands it should rest. The issue, then, is that “scientificity” demands a place in the “hermeneutic” social sciences, but cannot found critique; critique, properly, is not properly a distinctive epistemic endeavour. It is one tradition among others, in which we find ourselves, and is subservient to the hermeneutic goal of making sense of those traditions and ourselves.

The mature Ricoeur, in Memory, History, Forgetting, develops a “critical hermeneutics” of history, a way of making sense of our traditions and our selves that allows room for normative judgment concerning our past and its atrocities. However, even in his late work, the critical hermeneutics of history is subservient to the “ontological” hermeneutics of historical being. There is, for Ricoeur, some “deeper” hermeneutic layer, some more primordial way of understanding our selves, which precedes and makes possible any sort of critical hermeneutics.

I wish to argue for a two-fold claim. On the one hand, insofar as Ricoeur wants both to maintain a critical edge to his hermeneutic project, while denying that critique can itself be “scientific” or indeed an epistemological project at all, he belongs to what David Hoy has called “post-critique,” which seems to be characteristic of our contemporary, 21st century philosophical scene. On the other hand, to the extent that Ricoeur’s thought is essentially post-critical, I suggest that there are reasons to think that he ought not so sharply delineate between what he terms “critical” and “ontological” dimensions of hermeneutics, and that – following, for example, Foucault, Butler, and Castoriadis – for us, here and now, there is a sense in which what remains of critique as a cognitive project is just as much an existential one.





Corps, histoire, et mortalité : l’herméneutique ricoeurienne de la condition historique versus les philosophies du cogito.

Anne Gléonec

Charles University in Prague

Czech Republic


Dans La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli, Paul Ricœur déploie une critique de Sein und Zeit, selon trois points principaux, mais qui visent au fond tous un même but : rendre possible une herméneutique de la condition historique qui aille à la rencontre de l’historiographie, pour comprendre son lien et sa différence d’avec le fonctionnement de la mémoire, tant individuelle que collective, et rejouer en amont une philosophie de l’action. C’est par l’absence de la chair que tout s’ouvre, Ricœur regrettant que l’analytique ne fasse pas place au corps animé, au corps mien, alors même que ce dernier semble impliqué dans la méditation sur la mort, et plus encore dans la méditation sur cet intervalle qui fera l’historicité elle-même, l’intervalle entre naissance et mort. La catégorie de chair appelle en ce sens, dira Ricœur, un franchissement du gouffre logique creusé par l’herméneutique du Dasein entre l’être du souci et tout le reste des étants, qui seraient toujours plus ou moins ramenés, même le corps vivant, à la catégorie de Vorhandenheit, car le corps est cette intériorité qui se déploie à même l’extériorité, à la fois être du monde et être dans le monde, dont l’absence ne peut in fine qu’interdire le déploiement des fondements d’une véritable phénoménologie de l’action.

Mais tout l’intérêt de la critique ricoeurienne si souvent rejetée, est – nous voudrions le montrer – plus dans la manière dont les trois axes en elle se relient, que dans l’une ou l’autre attaque qu’ils constituent – plus ou moins fidèles au texte de Heidegger –, c’est-à-dire dans la manière dont ce corps absent sera dévoilé comme le corollaire du « mirage de l’authenticité » puis de la négation de la mort des autres.

Au terme autoréférentiel d’authenticité – sur lequel porte la seconde critique –, discours de soi à soi que le lexique de la résolution ne ferait que redoubler, il va en effet s’agir pour Ricœur d’opposer l’idée de l’originaire comme condition historique, c’est-à-dire « une condition existentiale de possibilité de toute la suite des discours tenus sur l’historique en général, dans la vie quotidienne, dans la fiction et en histoire ». Or la voie du débat entre le philosophe et l’historien se formulant ainsi dès le niveau de la temporalité profonde, de la futurité, trouvera son lieu privilégié dans la troisième critique adressée à Sein und Zeit : la critique de l’être-pour-la-mort. Heidegger, en plaçant la futurité sous le signe de l’être-pour-la-mort, a compris le rapport authentique au temps comme se jouant dans une expérience solitaire, intransférable, et incommunicable, de ma propre finitude. Pourtant, nous dit Ricœur, dès ce niveau où « authenticité » et « originarité » se rencontrent, l’historien a lui aussi déjà quelque chose à dire, et même contre le « philosophe de l’authentique ». L’historien est l’avocat du « on meurt », où se consume la rhétorique de l’inauthenticité, et son geste invite à une lecture alternative du sens de la mortalité, ouvrant à une attribution multiple du mourir : attribution à soi certes, mais aussi aux proches, et aux autres. Et ici même se retrouve bien la première critique de l’absence du corps propre.

Pourquoi est-ce ici qu’elle réapparaît ? Parce que dans le mouvement qui amène Heidegger à expliciter l’être-pour-la-mort comme souci authentique, il y a un recouvrement du pouvoir-être. Il y a substitution de cette possibilité in fine fermée qu’est le pouvoir mourir au pouvoir-être comme possibilité ouverte, dont l’ignorance par Heidegger de la question de la naissance est le symptôme. Reliant la naissance à la chair, au corps comme premier « je peux », sans lequel on ne peut justement penser le pouvoir-être, Ricœur ouvre deux pistes que nous voudrions ainsi dévoiler dans leur jointure même, versus les philosophies du cogito, et la négation attenante de la pluralité dont le politique et donc l’histoire sont le théâtre : celle du pouvoir-être comme désir, et celle de la mort d’autrui.




Religion, Meaning, and Justification:

Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics of Religion in a Post-Secular Age
Brian Gregor

Fordham University

New York, New York
Given the theme of this year’s conference, I would like to discuss the promise of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics as a model of thinking about religion in a post-secular age. My essay will argue that Ricoeur is eminently helpful in this context, since he takes religion seriously and seeks to understand it on its own terms. Rather than seeking an abstract essence of religion, Ricoeur maintains that religion is always mediated linguistically, culturally, historically, and textually, and therefore the phenomenology of religion must therefore “run the gauntlet” of a specifically textual or scriptural hermeneutics. Part I will therefore outline Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of the religious imagination, which acts as a schematism of hope, since religious discourse (symbols, metaphors, narratives) discloses new possibilities of meaning and action.

Part II will then consider whether the concept of meaning is sufficient to deal with religion in all its particularity. Here I draw on Charles Taylor’s recent book A Secular Age, which critiques the interpretation of religion in terms of the human search for meaning. Such theories of religion tend to “absolutize the modern predicament.” They also focus attention on meaning as an abstract universal, whereas our lives are not attuned to meaning as such, but on “some specific good or value.” Although Taylor is right to raise these concerns, Ricoeur avoids the brunt of them insofar as his hermeneutical approach attends to the particularity of religious texts.

The more persistent question for Ricoeur, however, is whether his focus on meaning nevertheless does risk compromising certain religious convictions. Part III will focus specifically on the question of meaning in relation to the theology of justification. As Taylor observes, in Luther’s day there was not a lack but an excess of meaning: the sense of urgency over one’s salvation or damnation was overbearing. Now, however, we are burdened by a crisis of meaning. According to Ricoeur, for post-Nietzschean humanity the basic existential problem is no longer that of one’s own salvation or damnation, as it was in the Middle Ages and for Luther. We must now confront the question of “sense” and “non-sense,” since the most fundamental question is not sin and forgiveness, but the meaning of existence.

I will argue that the question of one’s justification before God should not be subordinated to the question of meaning. As Eberhard Jüngel argues, such a move locks us within an anthropocentric framework, since meaning concerns how things stand before the self (coram seipso) while justification concerns how things ultimately stand before God (coram Deo). Justification does address the loss of meaning, but it does not respond to this meaninglessness through a religious Sinngebung. Instead, justification transcends the question of sense-giving by relocating the question of meaning for me and for us within the question of truth. The question of meaning is a vital penultimate good, but it is not the ultimate, so it must be teleologically suspended (i.e. aufgehoben) by the question of justification. This is my critique of Ricoeur. However, by recognizing the importance of meaning as a penultimate good, there remains a space in which to recognize the role that the plurality of religious traditions play in constituting meaning for their adherents—precisely that area where Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of religion is so insightful.





Does “New Capitalism” Affect our Moral Capacities?

Ricoeur and Sennett on Moral Identity
Annemie Halsema

VU-University Amsterdam

Netherlands
The paper investigates whether a notion of the moral self that presumes the self’s narrative capacities still holds in present-day circumstances. It will do so by relating Paul Ricoeur’s work on the narrative and moral self (1992, 2005, 2007) to Richard Sennett’s critical perspective upon identity in, what he calls, “new or flexible capitalism” (1998, 2006). For both, moral capacities are closely related to narrative capacities. While for Sennett, however, recent developments in capitalism endanger the capacities to narrate about our lives and as such affect morality, Ricoeur develops a general philosophical sketch of the relationship between narrative and morality.

Sennett claims that in contrast to earlier forms of capitalism, in the new flexible economy, time has become discontinuous. It’s unstable, fragmentary social conditions make that only certain kinds of human beings can prosper, namely the ones that can meet the challenge of fast changes and short-term relationships, of a meritocracy that values potential abilities instead of achieved skills, and that are able to easily let go of the past and to take on the consumer attitude of valuing the new (2006, pp. 3-5). But according to Sennett, most people are not like this. Most people need a sustaining life narrative, take pride in being good at something and value their abilities and lived through experiences. In short, for Sennett new capitalism makes it impossible to develop a coherent narrative, which has fatal consequences for moral capacities (such as trust, loyalty).

In the paper, I will analyze Sennett’s claims with the help of Ricoeur, by addressing the following issues:


  • The relationship between narrative and time;

  • The capacity to deal with breaks in one’s life: Sennett claims that narratives imply continuity, but Ricoeur holds that narrative identity intermediates between continuity and discontinuity; also the notions of concordance and discordance are relevant in this respect.

  • The importance of authorship and mastery over the self.

With the help of Ricoeur’s analysis, I will put Sennett’s unambiguous critique of new capitalism into perspective, without losing sight of the problems that the new forms of capitalism bring about. Yet, the confrontation with Sennett will also allow me to reflect upon Ricoeur’s connection between the narrative and moral self. In what respects do the working conditions in the new flexible economy affect our abilities to narrate about our selves and what are the effects upon our moral capacities?
Literature

Ricoeur, Paul (1992). Oneself as Another. Translated by Kathleen Blamey. Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press.

- (2005). “Becoming Capable, Being Recognized”, Text Kluge Prize, Washington 2005. URL: http://www.filosofiayliteratura.org/lengua/segundo/06-07/volversecapazingles.pdf

- (2007) Reflections on The Just. Translated by David Pellauer. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

Sennett, Richard (1998). The Corrosion of Character. The personal consequences of work in the new capitalism. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.

- (2006). The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.





From Renouncement to Recognition: Ricoeur’s Hegel
Timo Helenius

Boston College

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Ricoeur situates himself “after Hegel.” Ricoeur’s problem, however, is Hegel’s “monological approach,” that the Spirit itself is “set over against itself in differentiating itself.” In particular, Hegel’s model of absolute history is for Ricoeur an impossible totalization. In this sense “after Hegel” means for him – as argued in Time and Narrative III – an “exodus from Hegelianism,” leaving Hegel behind, “quitting Hegelianism.” It appears, nevertheless, that la tentation hégélienne is renounced far too hastily – perhaps just to deny its seducing power and its irresistible call. Some twenty years later the whole third study of The Course of Recognition, which focuses on mutual recognition, grounds itself in Hegel’s concept of recognition, Anerkennung.
I argue that in his analysis on mutuality Ricoeur draws very close to Hegel’s notion of love as the source of true recognition – an idea that can be found, for example, in the Phenomenology as “ein Anerkennen der Liebe.” While searching for the “clearings” of good will under the aegis of agape, Ricoeur revitalizes Hegel by the very “broadening” of the scope of Sittlichkeit. I claim that another way of seeing this “broadening” is to maintain that Ricoeur returns to Hegel’s initial insight rather than that of Honneth. The System of Ethical Life, for example, pushes forward the ideas that mutual trust overcomes servitude, and that in ethical life “the individual exists in an eternal mode.” This ethical reality surpasses the individual in its systems of need, administration of justice, and disciplining cultivation, all of which – despite certain “empirical oscillation” – highlight ethicality beyond mere calculative reciprocity. From this point of view Hegel appears to confirm rather than to denounce that the moral motivation Ricoeur searches for is indeed real and not illusory at all.





Poetic Justice”: Paul Ricoeur and a Theory of Narrative Jurisprudence
Samia Hesni

Amherst College

Amherst, Massachusetts
This paper explores Paul Ricoeur’s intervention into legal interpretation by way of a twofold investigation. I argue primarily that Ricoeur’s theory of narrative offers a singularly rigorous account of the relationship between hermeneutics and law. Second, I hope to demonstrate that to understand his contribution, we must read and evaluate his two texts on justice – The Just (Le Juste, 1995) and Reflections on the Just (Le Juste II, 2002) – as both the continuation and the culmination of his philosophic and academic writings. In his works on language, identity, and time, Ricoeur began to develop a narrative theory that remains central to his last two academic works: The Just and Reflections on the Just.2
Stepping outside of the nominal and categorical constraints to embrace the interdisciplinarity and breadth of Ricoeur’s thought gives rise to a radically different understanding of his writings on justice – an understanding that allows for the bridging of his works and their contribution to the ongoing “law and literature” debate as it encompasses the relationship between law and narrative. To understand Ricoeur’s writings on justice as both a continuation and the culmination of his vast body of scholarship gives us a fuller appreciation of the scope and depth of his own writing, and also provides a new perspective from which to approach the relationship between law and literature.
Ricoeur crosses paths with a variety of philosophers and political theorists – three of whom prove especially relevant to the enterprise of discerning a relationship between narrative and justice. Ronald Dworkin, John Rawls, and Martha Nussbaum evoke literary thought in an attempt to rethink judicial liberalism. In exploring issues and themes that relate Ricoeur’s thought to their own, I will show how a specific aspect of Ricoeur’s narrative theory connects with and challenges each of his interlocutors and contributes to an overarching theory I will call “narrative jurisprudence.”


From Re-con-naissance to Méconnaissance
Cristal Huang

Soochow University

Taipei, Taiwan

In Ricoeur's The Course of Recognition, he addresses that the dictionary definition of the term recognition encompasses both cognition to recognition. I want to explore Ricoeur’s development of the distance between and the process between cognition and recognition. After we allocate meaning to a sign from a dictionary, we put a meaning into our heart through recognition. Ricoeur uses deviation – in the Chinese translation of the text the term is “distance” – as the chance for the subject to locate and then to re-locate the meaning that he or she recognizes in one’s heart. I analyze the meaning of marking a deviation between the “re-“ and the “con-“ in re-con-naissance and also explore the relation of the term to méconnaissance. I also independently offer the insights of semiology to support Ricoeur’s argument about the process from cognition to recognition and the understanding that the process is not totally free but involves a cultural horizon behind our interpretation.




Using our Hermeneutical Powers to Find a Symbolism of Good:

Building on the Thought of Paul Ricoeur
Rebecca Huskey

University of Oklahoma


If there is a way to use our hermeneutical powers to alleviate human suffering and to understand human capability better, it may be in inquiring after a symbolism of good.0 Paul Ricoeur’s writing leads the way in developing such a symbolism. Most relevant to this particular study are Ricoeur’s The Symbolism of Evil, his Oneself as Another, and his discussion of interpretation of biblical parables.
Finding stories of the primordial good in human beings is challenging; this dimension of human existence indeed seems altogether lost to us, having receded into the mists of a collective forgetting. We can nevertheless gather hints that point us towards such goodness. Ricoeur argues that the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis, and the casting out of humans from the garden, is a myth of radical disconnect.0 While we cannot ‘get ourselves back to the garden,’ literally or metaphorically, we can conceive of instances of the opposite of radical disconnect, of profound belonging and union with the other. These experiences, too, are part of the narrative of our existence.0 Human existence is replete with moments of what Ricoeur calls a “philosophical re-enactment of confession,” i.e., rational attempts to understand the wrong that we do. The inverse of this moment might be described as laudatory, one in which the human self is able to attest to itself. Ricoeur further reminds his readers that while much religious teaching (and indeed human history) indicates that we are sinful in the presence of God, we are nevertheless still in God’s presence. That is, the human race is still in relationship with something greater than itself, something infinite and profound, however tenuous that relationship may be.

Next, we must ask what stories provide a construct for a symbolism of good. Following Ricoeur’s lead, turning to stories from antiquity, we find images such as those of the suffering servant0, and the dictate to show hospitality to the stranger.0 Modern-day archetypes, such as that of the non-violent resister, may also prove to be fruitful. Ricoeur’s “Listening to the Parables of Jesus” provides a beneficial interpretive model for application to these stories and symbols.0 He directs readers not necessarily towards imitation of the figures in the stories, but towards the surprise, challenge, and work required to achieve understanding.


Attention to such tales may not be an obvious choice for an attempt as easing suffering, but it may still be helpful. With this approach we open the possibility for compassion for those who inflict suffering on others, for we contemplate the possibility that goodness is indeed more primordial than evil. The example of the suffering servant teaches patience as we attempt to serve one another, in religious or secular settings. Furthermore, we are reminded to look for examples of goodness in places we might not expect (opposing political parties, or strange cultures, e.g.). Finally, we recall what it is like to be the other ourselves, so that we may treat those others all the better.
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