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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


RICOEUR

(1913 — 2005)

 

HERMENEUTIC PHENOMENOLOGY

Paul Ricoeur was born in Valence, France and studied at the Sorbonne. While a prisoner of war in Germany he studied Husserl, Heidegger, and Jaspers — about whom he later wrote a book with a fellow prisoner. From 1948-1956 he was a professor of the history of philosophy at Strasbourg University. He occupied the chair of general philosophy at the Sorbonne from 1957 until 1966 when he moved to the University of Paris X, Nanterre. Although he resigned in 1970 during student riots and went to the University of Louvain he returned to Nanterre in 1973 and combined his teaching there with a professorship at the University of Chicago. He also became Director of the Centre for Phenomenological and Hermeneutical Studies in Paris.

 

PHENOMENOLOGY/ HERMENEUTICS

[1] Ricoeur's first interest was in what he saw as a lacuna in phenomenology: its apparent inability to deal with the concept of the will (reflecting no doubt Husserl's emphasis on the cognitive, perceptual consciousness in his analysis of intentionality). Ricoeur set out [Freedom and Nature] to provide an account of the will without abandoning the phenomenological method which purported to describe the 'essential' structures of consciousness. A key problem here proved to be the seeming opposition of the freedom of the will, which underlies projects and motives, and those features of human nature, such as preformed character, the unconscious, passions, our 'history', and indeed life and death themselves, which appear to condition, limit, constrict our willing. A 'common subjectivity' is the basis for what his 'descriptive phenomenology' reveals as "the reciprocity of the involuntary and the voluntary" [a]. To understand the relations between these aspects of our being we must, he says, "constantly reconquer the Cogito grasped in the first person from the natural standpoint" [F & N, Introduction]. In other words, we must not think of the body as just an object; for this tends to divorce knowledge of the involuntary from the Cogito and leads to its degradation through the loss of the two distinctive characteristics of consciousness: its intentionality and its reference to an 'I' which lives in its experience. Instead we must think in terms of the body as a 'subject' or 'personal' body, and existence as incarnated. But while the body and the involuntary can be discovered only in the context of the Cogito, this latter continues to posit itself; and Ricoeur suggests that complete reconciliation, a final objectivity of understanding, requires more than intellectual attention to structures: "It requires that I participate actively in my incarnation as a mystery. I need to pass from objectivity to existence" [ibid.]. The intellect itself will give us only 'limit concepts' of God, motivated freedom, incarnate freedom, and a final 'utopia' of freedom which reveals that the entire circle of limit concepts is focused around the idea of creative freedom. These limit concepts help us only to understand "the condition of a will which is reciprocal with an involuntary". They are regulatory and not constitutive; they are as "ideal essences which determine the limit degree of essences of consciousness". The ideal is a genuine Transcendence — as a presence which surpasses the subjectivity [b], the description of which characterizes the limit concepts. [See F & N, Conclusion.]

Ricoeur believed that this thesis raised two problems: (1) whether the human freedom and finitude or 'fallibility' could be dealt with adequately within a phenomenological framework [see Fallible Man]; (2) the experience of human evil. Arguing that this latter problem could not be treated satisfactorily by means of an analysis of phenomena, he embarked on a study of symbols — 'primary' symbols such as guilt and sin, and 'secondary' ones or myths, such as tragic blindness, the fall of the soul (which we encounter of course in Greek classics and in the Christian doctrine). This gave rise to a hermeneutic of symbolism. [See Symbolism of Evil]. By 'symbols' Ricoeur says he understands all expressions of double meaning, wherein a primary meaning refers beyond itself to a second meaning which is never given directly. He sees psychoanalysis as the paradigm in this initial account of hermeneutics. In this context Ricoeur identified two types of thinker — in relation to their respective interpretive systems for analysing the 'deep' meanings and desires underlying symbols. There are those (Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud) — Ricoeur calls them 'masters of suspicion' — who seek to destroy symbols on the grounds that they present a false reality: these are the 'demystifiers'. The other type, including Gadamer and Ricoeur himself, are 'demythologizers' in that they regard symbols as a window into a 'sacred reality' they are attempting to penetrate [see Freud and Philosophy] [c].

[2] Ricoeur came to recognise [The Conflict of Interpretation; see also Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, Pt. II] that there was a certain 'lingual' or semantic feature common both to the symbols of his hermeneutics and the distorted expressions studied by psychoanalysis. And here he encountered a new challenge — from structuralism. [According to the structuralists, for example, de Saussure — though Ricoeur responded more particularly to Hjelmslev, language must exist in some sense prior to its instantiation in individual speech-situations or, to use today's terminology, speech-acts. Language is regarded as possessing meaning in itself, as it were, rather than as the intentional object of mental acts or of psychological 'contents'. This thesis is implicit in de Saussure's distinction between 'langue' and 'parole'. 'Langue' refers to the total structure of 'signs', that is, meanings and words which parole, as a set of individual speech-acts (be they English, Chinese, or any other language), instantiates. Furthermore de Saussure argued in favour of a holistic approach to language. The meaning of a given word or term, considered as a 'sign', is to be understood relationally. When I say, for example, that an object is red, this entails it is not green, blue, and so on. What is signified is not some underlying non-linguistic 'essence'. Signification consists rather in the role played by the written or spoken word in the total structure of system elements or 'signifiers'.] Now the convergence between the structuralist and psychoanalytic critique — which Ricoeur saw as targeting his theory of symbols and 'philosophy of the subject' — he called the 'semiological challenge'. In response to this he worked out a new hermeneutics which extended interpretation to all phenomena which could be regarded as in some sense textual. And he claimed he was able to show that structuralism and hermeneutics are complementary approaches to the study of language, symbolism, and meaning [a]. While structuralist analyses are concerned with categorizing phenomena and describing the ways they combine in closed systems, the hermeneutic method can interpret descriptions by attributing to them specific roles or functions. The hermeneutic role thus becomes meta-linguistic.

Throughout the 1970s Ricoeur was concerned to develop a theory of language to support this new hermeneutic philosophy, for which purpose he drew on analytic philosophy. [See HHS, Pt II; also The Rule of Metaphor.] Of particular importance here are his distinction between system and discourse — the latter being understood in terms of a dialectic between event and meaning; his work on metaphor and narrative; his suggestion that action should be regarded as akin to a text [see sec. 5]; and his reworking of the initial debate between hermeneutics and phenomenology. This enabled him to attempt to resolve the dichotomy between understanding and explanation — between the human sciences and the natural sciences. [HHS, Pt. III.] His starting point is his distinction between discourse and dialogue. Discourse is closely related to interpretation, that is by language (before being interpretation of language) ['What is a text?' in HHS, Pt II]. To understand interpretation he notes that the relationship of signs relate to objects gives rise to a new and 'open' relation of 'interpretant' and 'sign' which can be grafted onto the former relation. This brings to light "a triangular relation of object-sign-interpretant" which can serve as a model for another triangle constituted at the level of the statements comprising text. Discourse is written text, dialogue spoken and heard [b]. Ricoeur says that discourse is detached from the circumstances which produced it — the speech acts, the intentions of the speaker have been left behind, the person addressed can be anyone, and there are no ostensive references. In these respects it differs from dialogue. Ricoeur now argues that similar characteristics may be identified in actions in so far as they can be detached from the agent and can be repeated — leaving their marks or records in the world. Underlying these distinctions is his view that as soon as objective meaning has been detached from the author's subjective intentions a multitude or 'plurivocity' of possible interpretations is opened up — interpretations which reveal the significance of an action or text as a function of the world-views of both hearer/ reader/ observer and speaker/ author/ agent. Central to his attempt to reconcile explanation and understanding is Ricoeur's notion of the 'hermeneutic arc'. The entire theory of hemeneutics, he says, "consists in mediating an interpretation-appropriation by the series of interpretants which belong to the work of the text upon itself" [HHS, ch. 5]. This idea of interpretation as appropriation lies at the extremity of the arc [c]. And he thinks it possible to situate explanation and interpretation along such an arc and thereby to integrate these opposed attitudes within an overall conception of reading as the recovery of meaning. This brings about an integration of two hermeneutical moves or directions — from existential understanding to explanation and from explanation back to understanding.

In the first move guesses are made. This is similar to the forming of hypotheses based on analogies, metaphors, 'divination', and the like. What these hypothetical guesses must accomplish is the provision of sense for terms and readings for texts, and the situation of parts and wholes in classificatory schemes or hierarchies, thus allowing a range of interpretations. The guesses are subjectively validated by means of rational argument comparable to the legal debate that takes place in court procedures. But this is not the same as empirical verification. Guesses which do not admit of confirmability or which are self-confirmed (compare the problem of verification in, say, Freudian, psychoanalysis) are eliminated in a manner comparable to the method of falsifiability — the criteria in Ricoeur's methodology being internal incoherence and relative implausibility.

As for the reverse move, Ricoeur makes a distinction between subjective and structuralist approaches in relation to what he sees as the referential function of a text. The subjectivist approach involves a gradual construction of the world behind the text but presupposes the 'pre-understanding' of the interpreter — which can never be fully transcended, though a kind of asymptotic approximation can be achieved. The structuralist approach, on the other hand, suspends reference to the world behind the text and concentrates on identifying and classifying the parts within the text and their interconnections [d]. Two levels can be identified here. (1) There is the naïve surface meaning (the narrative of the myth, for example). But (2) what understanding needs is a depth semantics. This is what the text (in the wide sense) is 'about' as a non-ostensive reference and which passes beyond the author's intentions. For understanding to be achieved requires an affinity between the reader and this aboutness, by means of which subjectivity and objectivity are intimately related. As Ricoeur concludes, understanding is entirely mediated by the whole of the explanatory procedures which precede it and accompany it.

[3] Ricoeur's interest in hermeneutics led him to enter into the Gadamer-Habermas debate [see HHS, Pt I; see also the respective Profiles]. His general thesis is that the critique of ideology and the hermeneutics of tradition are interdependent. And he thinks of the conflict between Gadamer and Habermas in terms of the apparent opposition between understanding and explanation. Gadamer's view is that this ontology of tradition — our pre-understandings, prejudices, effective historical consciousness — limits possible meanings. Habermas, however, aspiring to the ideal finality of emancipation, argues that these constraints can be transcended. Now, understanding involves mediation between the interpreter's immediate and emerging horizons, and this in turn requires the interpreter to 'distance' himself from the text. According to Ricoeur this is to adopt a stance of critical self-understanding similar to that proposed in Habermas's critique of ideology. At the same time he thinks that the critique of ideology cannot be separated from tradition. The ideals of emancipation and undistorted communication go back beyond the Enlightenment to the Greeks, Hebrews, and to the New Testament. Therefore there is no incompatibility between Gadamer and Habermas; indeed they complement each other, are mutually dependent. Moreover, each becomes ideological when they are artificially separated [a]. Ricoeur's approach here illustrates his quest for a method which will uncover the ontological structures of meaning and perhaps also succeed in giving an interpretation of a "type of being-in-the-world unfolded in front of the text" [HHS, p. 141] (as against that which is behind the text, for example, hidden psychological intentions).

[4] Underlying these attempts to resolve conflicting methods is Ricoeur's wider aim — to achieve a general philosophical synthesis of traditions; and central here is his approach to the relationship between hermeneutics and Husserlian phenomenology. [See HHS, Pt I, ch. 3.] Ricoeur follows Husserl in his claim to discover essences by means of his transcendental methodology, but he modifies the position to take account of the critiques of Husserl by (the later) Heidegger and Gadamer, both of whom locate understanding ontologically in language [a]. But as against Heidegger's (early) description of Dasein in terms of 'ready-to-handedness', its engagement with the world, the realization of its practical projects, Ricoeur argues that the meaning of Dasein is to be uncovered by a hermeneutic theory of interpretation [b]. The key notion here is that of 'distanciation' [ibid. chs. 3 & 4]. The eidetic, pre-linguistic data identified as a consequence of bracketing and the transcendental reduction are thereby distanced, set off from the linguistic descriptions; and indeed this distancing he regards as a precondition for any reference back to the existential structures of being-in-the-world. As he says, "the reference of the linguistic order back to the structure of experience (which comes to language in the assertion) constitutes. the most important phenomenological presupposition of hermeneutics" [ibid., p. 118]. It is only by application of a methodological hermeneutics to an eidetic phenomenology that the Husserlian project of transcendental phenomenology can be realized. Husserl's epochic suspension of the subject's concern for the life-world cannot of itself achieve objective knowledge. Ricoeur' aim therefore is to put an end to the ideal and desire of the "subject's transparence to itself" ['On Interpretation', sec. 3; and see HHS, Pt I, ch. 3] [c].

Ricoeur's research into the linguistic and historical aspects of human understanding culminated in the 1980s with his publication of Time and Narrative, in which he returned to his initial concern with subjectivity and human action but considered now in the context of his ideas on narrative and the interpenetration of thought and symbol in culture [see also 'The Narrative Function' in HHS; 'On Interpretation'; and further sec. 6]. But it is perhaps his most recent work, Oneself as Another — generally regarded as his magnum opus — that his ideas receive their fullest synthesis and integration. These are presented in some detail in the following sections.

 

PHILOSOPHY OF MIND AND ACTION

[5] [Oneself as Another, Introd.] Ricoeur's aim is to develop a 'hermeneutics of the self'. His approach is generally 'epistemic', grounded in the notion of 'attestation', but he also addresses the question of an ontology of the self in the final Study. He rejects both 'foundationalism', which characterizes the 'certainty' claimed by the Cartesian 'cogito' and similar accounts, and the kind of anti-Cartesian, naturalistic or 'positivistic' 'shattering' of the mind or self proposed by Nietzsche [a]. Attestation of the self, as credence (albeit without any guarantee) and trust in the power to say, to do, and to recognise oneself as a character in a narrative, is is equally distant from the cogito and undermining by Nietzsche's philosophy of 'suspicion'. For Ricoeur the self is (i) essentially 'embodied' — situated both in its own body and in a cultural world — and (ii) is an agent. Central to his thesis is a distinction between what he calls idem-identity and ipse-identity, both of which are required for an adequate grasp of selfhood. By the former he means 'sameness', understood in terms of spatio-temporal continuity, physical status, susceptibility of a causality of 'events'. Ipse-identity, however, relates to the self's capacity to initiate novel action imputable uniquely to itself, and explicable in terms of 'intentional' causality.

[Study I] He accepts that 'person' is a primitive notion to which both physical and mental predicates are ascribed, and which is capable of self-designation. But although he agrees with Strawson's rejection of "the dissociation of the person as a public entity and consciousness as a private entity", he argues that in the "problematic of the identifying reference" the sameness of one's body (idem-identity) conceals its selfhood (ipse-identity): the emphasis is on the 'What?' rather than on the 'Who?' [b]. Moreover, Ricoeur asks, how can sameness and selfhood refer to the same entity? How can mental predicates be attributable in the same sense both to oneself and to others?

To develop an integrated theory of the self these questions are taken up [Study II] initially on the linguistic level, through an appeal to the theory of speech-acts. Utterances are acts of speaking which designate a speaker reflexively — and consistently with a referential approach. "Language is included on the very plane of action." There can be no illocution without 'allocution'. Utterance therefore equates with interlocution, as an exchange of intentionalities. Thus advances in the direction of selfhood go hand in hand with advances in the otherness of the partner. However, while the pragmatic theory of speech-acts privileges the first and second persons and excludes the third person (which is privileged in the referential approach), Ricoeur says it tends to emphasize the 'factuality' of utterance, as just an event in the world, at the expense of overlooking its reflexive relation to selfhood [c]. As a result of paradoxes arising from, for example, the ambiguity of 'I', we find a lack of coincidence between the 'I' as the world-limit and the proper name that designates a real person. So what is needed is a "unique type of objectification" resulting from the interconnection of reflexivity of utterance (in which the subject is both the speaker [1st person] and the one spoken to [2nd person]) and an identifying reference (the person appearing as a basic irreducible particular). He says that a proper treatment of the double allegiance of the 'lived body' as (i) an observable physical reality, one body among others, and (ii) as the sphere of 'ownness', 'what is mine', will require us to move beyond the philosophy of language to the semantics of action; the "ultimate aporia of the speaking subject" can be resolved only through an intersection of the semantic and pragmatic paths.

[Study III] Ricoeur argues that the pair 'What?' 'Why?' have been "occulted" by analytic philosophy in so far as (i) the 'What?' itself has been "captured" by the 'Why?', and (ii) the pair have been captured by an ontology of the impersonal event. He identifies three levels in this process. (a) Although linguistic philosophers oppose actions to events (in the "What?') and motives/ reasons-for to causes (in the 'Why?'), through paradoxical assimilation the language game of action and reasons for acting have been "swallowed up" by that of events and causality. (b) The interpretation of intention as 'intentionally' ('intention-with-which') does not testify to the self-transcendence of a consciousness. The criterion of the intentional (hence the 'What?') is the form used by responses to the 'Why?' — which controls the 'What?' and hence leads away from the 'Who?'. Ricoeur advocates returning to 'intention-to' as an attestation of the self. (c) Analytic philosophy has prioritized 'intention-with-which' which has thereby "effaced" the subject, teleological explanation by reasons being subsumed within causal explanation. It has also developed an ontology of actions as anonymous events, which fails to account for the imputation of actions to its agent and inhibits recognition of the ipse [d]. He will therefore reconsider [in Study IV] the question of the relation of action to the agent — a pragmatics of action — with a view to reinstating the 'Who?'.

Following Aristotle, he firstly notes [sec. 1] (i) the action's dependence on a voluntary agent exercising preferential choice (proairesis), and (ii) the importance of collaboration between our choices and nature, in forming our dispositions and thus our character [e]. Similarly, for Strawson, physical and mental characteristics are said to 'belong to' or are 'possessed by' the person: 'ownness' governs the sense of possessive adjectives. So in general, according to Ricoeur, ascription consists precisely in this reappropriation by the agent of his/ her own deliberation. But we are still on the semantic level. The person remains a 'thing'; the theory of basic particulars is still captive to an ontology — not of events but of 'something in general' — and which obscures recognition of ipseity [f].

When we move from this semantic framework into a pragmatics of discourse we encounter further difficulties or 'aporias' [sec. 2]. These problems concern (i) the achieving of a self-designation which allows for a genuine other to whom attribution can be made; (ii) the status of ascription in relation to description in so far as the former has an affinity to prescription — applicable to self-designating agents and actions in respect of imputable responsibility [see further sec. 8]; (iii) the problem of determining the 'power-to-act'.

With respect to the last, Ricoeur wants to show that this power-to-act is a primitive datum, demonstrable as the conclusion to a dialectic. Such a dialectic must pass through a disjunctive stage and a conujnctive stage — at the end of which the original causality of the agent can be "coordinated synergistically" with other forms of causality. The primitive datum will then be recognised as 'initiative', that is, as an intervention of the agent which effectively brings about changes in the world. To illustrate this he examines firstly Kant's antinomy between causality in accordance with the laws of nature and the causality of freedom (similar to the oppositions between cause and motive; Davidson's event agency and agent agency; and the polarity between ascription and description (qua non-prescriptive). Although Ricoeur sees this grasp of the human agent on things in the world only as a conjunction between different levels of causality (anticipated tentatively by Aristotle's notion of sunaiton) nevertheless the systemic and teleological components of the dialectic, although intertwined, remain distinct [g]. And the power-to-act is a primitive datum is something of which we are assured — and here Ricoeur's notion of attestation is brought to the fore. The passage from the disjunctive to the conjunctive level can now be seen to bring to a reflective and critical level what was "precomprehended in this fundamental assurance". (The ontological relevance of this primitive datum will be shown in his Study X.)

In Study V he examines the concept of personal identity [sec. 1]. Analytical theorists have concentrated on idem identity. Ricoeur discusses this in terms of numerical and qualitative identity, supplemented by "uninterrupted continuity". These notions need to be underpinned by the principle of permanence in time, but one which is not reducible to the determination of a substratum, that is, where the 'Who?' is not reducible to a 'What?'. Ricoeur introduces two polar notions: (i) character, which expresses the mutual overlapping of idem and ipse; and (ii) keeping one's word, which expresses self-constancy and marks the gap between the permanence of self and that of the same (and attests to the mutual irreducibility of the two problematics). He notes that, whereas in previous writings he has interpreted 'character' in terms of the "absolute involuntary", as opposed to the "relative involuntary of motives and powers" [see The Voluntary and the Involuntary], or in terms of the non-coincidence between the finite and the infinite [see Fallible Man], he now argues it is attested by the interpretation in terms of acquired dispositions, which allows the temporal dimension to be 'thematized'. The idem (the 'What?') overlaps with the ipse (the 'Who?'), and at the limit they are indiscernible. (The distinction, Ricoeur says, is comparable to Heidegger's distinction between permanence of substance (Kant) and Selbst-Stndigkeit (self-subsistence or self-constancy), — which signifies "anticipatory resoluteness" in the face of death: an attitude which expresses a certain "existential investment of the transcendentals of existence".) When the two kinds of identity cease to overlap and dissociate entirely we must attend to 'keeping one's word'. This expresses a self-constancy which is inscribable solely in the dimension of 'Who?' [h].

In the light of his analysis Ricoeur examines several 'paradoxes' of identity. Locke's mental criterion of identity is a thesis which is clearly undecidable given such factors as sleep and memory failure. And it is Hume's supposition of a continuous identity (sameness) being superimposed on impressions through imagination and belief that gives rise to the paradox lying in his assertion that he always stumbles on a perception but never catches himself. As Ricoeur says, "with the question 'Who?' the self returns just when the same slips away". Lastly he looks at Parfit's impersonalist and reductionist account of personal identity (but notes that he does not seek to examine the criteria). According to Parfit personal identity is not what matters. But Ricoeur argues that we cannot ask ourselves about what matters if we could not ask to whom the thing matters or not. Parfit, he says, in failing to distinguish between selfhood and sameness (or, rather, in aiming at the former through the latter), has overlooked the possibility that there are different types of ownership: what I have and who I am [i].

[6] So far Ricoeur has confined himself to semantics and pragmatics. He has shown that the theory of action requires a new alliance between the analytic tradition and that of phenomenology and hermeneutics. Following this propaedeutic to the question of selfhood he explores the notion of narrative identity [see also Time and Narrative and 'The Narrative Function' in HHS], which he believes will carry the dialectic of sameness and selfhood to a higher level. The theory of narrative will mediate between the descriptive and prescriptive viewpoints in action — provided the practical field is broadened beyond the semantics and pragmatics of action and operates within a framework of ethics [see sec. 8]. This is because, for Ricoeur, there is no ethically neutral narrative. He notes that character has a history and contains a narrative dimension. The mediation between the poles of sameness and character and 'constancy of the self' (evidenced in, for example, making and keeping promises) is to be sought in the sphere of temporality which narrative identity comes to occupy. It oscillates between a lower limit (when permanence expresses a confusion of idem and ipse) and an upper limit (where ipse poses the question of identity without the assistance of idem). So in the next chapter [Study VI] he seeks (1) to carry to a higher level the dialectic of sameness and selfhood implicit in the notion of narrative identity; and (2) to explore the mediation that narrative theory can perform between action theory and moral theory. Ricoeur claims that through the application of narrative theory an identity of character will be achieved which will articulate at a higher, conceptual level the 'preunderstanding' of the historical significance of a 'life-history' [a].

(1) (a) What does this narrative function involve? [In 'On Interpretation' he identifies three concerns: (i) to preserve the fullness, diversity, and irreducibility of the various uses of language; (ii) to gather together the diverse forms and modes of the game of storytelling; (iii) with a view to making the problematic of temporality and narrativity easier to work with, to test the selective and organizational capacity of language itself when ordered into texts.] The central concept is that of 'emplotment', that is, the integrating of diverse, discontinuous, unstable events with permanence-in-time. Identity on the level of emplotment is explained in terms of a competition between a demand for 'concordance', that is, a principle of order that presides over the arrangment of facts, and the admission of discordances — 'reversals of fortune' that control the transformation of the plot from an initial to a terminal situation. The art of composition which mediates between concordance and discordance he calls 'configuration' — a creative, 'poetic' act; and the consequent 'discordant-concordance', which characterizes all narrative composition, he terms 'the synthesis of the heterogeneous'. This, he hopes, will account for the diverse mediations performed by the plot: the temporal unity of a story, components of action such as intentions, causes, chance occurrences); the sequence; and a pure succession and temporal unity. The diverse events thus synthesized are then defined in terms of their participation in this unstable structure. (Ricoeur notes that this model is to be sharply distinguished from the causal-type model in which events and occurrences are indiscernible.) It is the dynamic unity developed by the narrative operation which reconciles identity and diversity and facilitates a resolution of the problem of personal identity. This is seen when we pass from action to the performing character. Recounted action is emplotted and then transferred to the character, whereby its identity can be preserved and understood. "Characters... are themselves plots." Through this narrative structure of action and character the aporias of ascription [Study IV] are resolved. Responses to the 'Who?', 'What?', and 'Why?' form a chain in a story. (i) The attribution of mental predicates to a person is reestablished in the narrative. (ii) The articulation between plot and character facilitates an (infinite) inquiry into motives and a (finite, terminal) inquiry on the level of attribution — the two inquiries being interwoven in the process of identification (of plot and character). (iii) Kant's antinomy is also thereby resolved [b].

(1) (b) Ricoeur notes that the correlation between action and character results in a dialectic internal to character itself the temporal unity of whose life can be threatened by the disruptive effects of unforeseeable events. "Chance is transmuted into fate." Identity can be understood only in terms of this 'discordant-concordant' dialectic which must therefore be inscribed within the dialectic of sameness and selfhood. And here he draws on the "imaginative variations" found in literature, for example, literary fictions involving loss of identity (Ichlosigkeit) (as in the work of Robert Musil) and technological fictions which explore variations with regard to sameness, as in Parfit) to demonstrate the mediating function dialectic. "Unsettling cases" of narrativity can be reinterpreted as exposing selfhood by taking away the support of sameness.

(2) As for the second issue, if the relation between action and agent is to be translated to the level of narrative configuration on the scale of an entire life, both it and the concept of action will have to be revised. Ricoeur proposes a hierarchy of composite units of praxis, each containing its own principle of organization and integrating a variety of logical connections. Such units are either 'practices' or 'life-plans'.

Practices (for example, in professions, arts, games) are linear-relations, action-chains (which do not provide a configurational unity), or 'nesting' relations, whose unit of configuration is based on a relation of meaning expressed by 'constitutive rules', such as illocutionary force. [Searle] Implicit in the pragmatic framework are such concepts as otherness and the conduct of other agents. Through learning and acquired competence of practices interaction itself becomes 'internalized'. Ricoeur notes that negative modes of omission or submission are also data of interaction: "not acting is still acting", and "every agent has its patients". And he also says that the narrative operation relates mimetically to action: practices have a 'pre-narrative' quality.

Life-plans are ideals and projects (Sartre's "existential project of each of us") through which human life apprehends itself in its oneness, achieves a "narrative unity" [A. C. MacIntyre's phrase] which is necessary for an ethical perspective [c]. Such projects build on basic actions and practices. (Ricoeur compares the relation between the two levels of complexification to the hermeneutic comprehension of a text in terms of whole and part [cf. sec. 2] There are a number of difficulties in relating fiction to real life, but Ricoeur argues that exceptions can be incorporated in a more subtle and dialectical comprehension of appropriation. As for the fact that literary narrative (as mimetic praxis) is retrospective and has to be joined to anticipation and projects, the past of narration is only a 'quasi-past' of the narrative voice, and still recounts care:

Narrative is part of life before being exited from life in writing: it returns to life along the multiple paths of appropriation.

Finally Ricoeur addresses the ethical implications of the narrative. The key issue is whether in the 'unsettling' cases narrative identity (which mediates between character and self-constancy) undermines the ethical identity expressed in self-constancy (as in Musil's 'lack of selfhood', or Parfit's "identity does not matter"). In the extreme situation, Ricoeur observes, the response to 'Who am I?' is indeed empty: but we can assert ourselves, as subjects of imputation, on the level of moral commitment — "Here I am!" "I can act: you can rely on me". "Thus the imagined nothingness of the self becomes the existential 'crisis' of the self." How this new dialectic between narrative identity and moral identity can be resolved, and how the ethical self is to be maintained are matters to be discussed in Studies VII-IX [sec. 8].

[7] [Study X] The Ontology of the Self. What sort of being is the self? Ricoeur considers three questions arising from his hermeneutics of the self. These concern: (1) general ontological commitment on the basis of attestation; (2) the ontological bearing of the distinction between selfhood and sameness; (3) the special dialectical structure of the relation between selfhood and otherness (from which primarily his ontological investigation will develop). He says we need to distinguish between Platonic metacategories (second order discourse), to which the dialectic of selfhood and otherness belongs, and the categories or 'existentials', for example, persons and things, which constitute first order discourse.

(1) Ontological Commitment and Attestation. In his Introduction to Oneself as Another Ricoeur considered attestation to be a response to both the Cartesian cogito and Nietzsche's anti-cogito critique, grounded in the concept of 'suspicion'. But, he says, we need to go further and define 'attestation' from the viewpoint of truth (aletheia). Hence the need for an ontological approach. Discussing Aristotle's treatment of truth and falsity, he lists out a number of advantages but argues although language expresses being Aristotle is concerned principally with apophantic logic, whereas for Ricoeur the being-true expressed by attestation concerns the self (through the objectifying mediation of language, action, narrative, and ethical and moral predicates of action) [a]. Moreover, the concept of 'being-false' as 'suspicion' is not only the contrary of attestation but also the path towards and the crossing within it. In view of the perceived adherence of suspicion with respect to attestation in his examination of personal and narrative identity, and of ethical conflict [see sec. 9], Ricoeur says he must clarify the ultimate attestation of selfhood in the examination of the second and third questions.

(2) Selfhood and Ontology. Here Ricoeur connects his notion of the logical unity of human action to an ontology of act and power. He starts by attempting to utilize Aristotle's distinction between power (dynamis) and activity (energeia). There are difficulties with this but he suggests an ontology of selfhood can be constructed in terms of an actuality and potentiality constituted by the central character of action and decentring in the direction of ground of being at once potentiality and actuality, against which human actions stand out [b]. Actions should therefore appear by turns as central and decentred, just as Aristotle's upwards-downwards decentring of energeia-dynamis This concept of the Ground is then developed with reference to several Heideggerian concepts, in particular, conscience (Gewissen) and care (Sorge). Ricoeur notes that before it designates the capacity for good and evil Gewissen signifies attestation (Bezeugung); and he takes this to be the "gauge of primordiality" of his analysis, confirming his hypothesis that the distinction between selfhood and sameness involves two modes of being. Ricoeur considers the correlation between his category of sameness and Heidegger's notion of Vorhandenheit to be the same as that between selfhood and the mode of being of Dasein. The connection between selfhood and Dasein occurs through the mediation of the notion of care. So Ricoeur interprets Heidegger's thesis as passing from the assertion of Dasein's character of being in each case mine, through the existential question 'Who', the equating of Dasein with care, and thence to the connection of care with selfhood. Care thus initially appears as the ground of Heidegger's philosophical anthropology (before the notion of temporality carries his ontology beyond it).

Despite several problems with the Heideggerian concept, Ricoeur suggests Sorge could be equivalent to the 'analogical unity of action'. So he discusses Sorge further, setting it back within the framework of Dasein. Only a being that is a self is in the world (unlike categories of Vorhandenheit). Correlatively: the world which this being is in is not the sum of things composing the universe of subsisting things or things ready-to-hand (zuhanden). The being of the self presupposes the totality of the world that is the horizon of its thinking, acting, feeling — its care. The question 'Who?' having been answered by the 'What?' and 'Why?', the being of the world can be understood as the necessary correlate to the being of the self. Thus being-in-the-world is expressed in numerous ways; and it is together that oneself, care, and being-in-the-world are to be determined [c].

In order to clarify these three terms Ricoeur goes on to examine a Heideggerian reappropriation of Aristotle's ontology (as undertaken by several commentators). But this proves to be disappointing. Interpretations either distort Aristotle's intentions or attribute views to him he did not hold explicitly, if at all. Not least, Ricoeur says, the difference between energeia and dunamis, and the primacy of the former over the latter, is obscured. So he looks to Spinoza to provide another connection between the phenomenology of the acting and suffering self and the actual and potential ground against which selfhood stands out. For Spinoza life means power, and power means not potentiality but productivity. Productivity and actuality (realization) are not in opposition but are degrees of the power of existing. It follows that the soul is the idea of an an individual, an actually existing thing; and that the power of animation is of general application [prop. 13 schol]. Spinoza's notion of conatus is understood as the effort to persevere in being, or power of being, and constitutes the unity of man and every individual entity [d]. Ricoeur notes (i) that in Spinoza's account there is a close connection between life's internal dynamism and the power of the intelligence, which governs the passage from inadequate to adequate ideas; and (ii) that it is in man that conatus is most clearly readable; and (iii) everything expresses to different degrees what Spinoza calls the life of God, the primordial power, the essentia actuosa ('most active being') (towards which Ricoeur's discussion is directed). Spinoza, Ricoeur concludes, is the only thinker who could articulate the conatus against the backdrop of this actual and powerful primordial being.

 

ETHICS AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY

[8] Ricoeur's views on ethics and political philosophy are set out variously in a number of books and articles — but comprehensively in Oneself and Another [Studies VII-IX], where, in the context of his analysis of selfhood, he examines the question 'Who is the subject of moral imputation?' His aim is essentially to show that with his concept of practical wisdom we can reconcile Aristotle's phronesis (practical wisdom as the power of good deliberation, which Ricoeur equates with 'moral judgement in situation' — see p. 290), by way of Kant's Moralitt ('abstract morality'), with Hegel's Sittlichkeit ('concrete ethical life', situated in a social context).

Central to his account is a distinction between ethics and morality. The former is a teleological concept concerned with the aim of an "accomplished life", whereas the latter is a deontological concept which refers to the articulation of this aim in norms characterized by the claim to universality and by an "effect of constraint". He will attempt to establish the primacy of the former over the latter [a]. On the level of action the relevant predicates are respectively 'good' and 'obligatory'. On the level of self-designation 'self-esteem' corresponds to the ethical aim, while self-respect corresponds to the "deontological moment". Self-esteem is more fundamental than self-respect — indeed the latter is the aspect in which self-esteem appears in the domain of norm; and that "aporias of duty" create situations in which self-esteem appears as both the source and recourse for respect (when no norm offers guidance). These two notions therefore together represent the most advanced stages of growth of unfolding selfhood. He notes also that his distinction between ethics and morality (and their corresponding predicates) point to the inadequacy of Hume's objection that there is a logical gap between prescribing and describing [b]. Action must be accessible to precepts; moral rules are inscribed within the larger circle of precepts, which are intimately related to the practices they help to define; and narrative theory provides the transition between description and prescription. This can be shown through the subordination of the deontological viewpoint (and self-respect) to the teleological one (and self-esteem).

(1) [Study VII] The Self and the Ethical Aim. Aiming at the 'Good Life', he follows Aristotle's notion of praxis, and in order to analyse the ethical aim of 'living well' he emphasizes the close tie between practical wisdom and the phronimos — the man of phronesis, who is his guide. (Central here is the idea of 'internal goods', which constitute the teleology immanent to action. This provides initial support for the "reflexive moment of self-esteem" and will be considered later within the normative conception of morality.) Phronesis is interpreted not with reference to a means and ends model but in terms of a hermeneutic moving back and forth between ideals and an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of a life on the level of practice. The specific function (ergon) of man is then to his whole life as the standard of excellence is to a particular practice. The notion of a higher finality which never ceases to be internal to human action is thus a horizon or limiting idea [c]. Through this hermeneutic applied to action and oneself we search for the best in our choices and with regard to our whole life, and thereby enrich our concept of self: on the ethical plane self-interpretation becomes self-esteeem; and in the exercise of practical judgements open to attestation self-esteem will follow the fate of interpretation.

(2) Self-esteem is not to be understood as a crude self-centredness. Rather the self is worthy of esteem because of its capacity to evaluate and assess as good some of its actions and itself. To understand this we must extend the physical 'I can' to the ethical plane. This requires the 'Other' as the mediator between the self's capacities and their realization [d]. Ricoeur here builds on Aristotle's discussion of friendship (philautia) as the transition between the aim of the good life (leading to self-esteem as the 'solitary' virtue) and justice (the virtue of human plurality in the political sphere). Ricoeur comments that Aristotle's implicit appeal to 'otherness' helps him to avoid crude egotism. Friendship is a mutual relation of reciprocity, aiming at a shared life [e]. A friend is "another self". As Aristotle says, each loves the other as being the man he is — and not for utility or pleasure [8.3 1156, 18-19]. This becomes central to Ricoeur's notion of solicitude ("benevolent spontaneity"), which is intimately related to self-esteem within the framework of the aim of the 'good life'. As expressed through friendship it seems to constitute a balance in which giving and receiving are equal and avoids the extremes in which either the Other or the Self predominates in the initiative of exchange. In the former case the self is subject to a (moral) normative summons or injunction, while in the latter the other is the 'sufferer', reduced to the sole condition of receiving. But grounded in solicitude "receiving is on an equal footing with the summons to responsibility, in the guise of the self's recognition of the authority enjoining it to act in accordance with justice". Ricoeur notes also the role played in solicitude by feelings or affects, for these are revealed in the self both by the other's suffering and moral injunction. All these elements are identifiable in the notion of Aristotle's 'each other', which makes friendship mutual. Ultimately esteem of the other as a oneself and esteem of oneself as another are seen to become paradoxically equivalent [f].

(3) The notion of the other, which for Ricoeur is central to one's aim of living well, invokes the idea of justice; and this extends to institutions and requires equality. By institution Ricoeur means a historical community or living together characterized by ethos or common mores rather than constraining rules related to judicial systems and political organizations. Following Arendt, he contrasts 'power-in-common' with 'domination'. Power stems from action, and although it receives its temporal dimension from the institution it is irreducible to the state on account of the conditions of plurality and 'action in concert' (people wanting to live together). Because of domination power is generally invisible, but it is through power that the ethical aim invokes justice.

Ricoeur says the just points to both the good (thereby marking the extension of impersonal relationships to institutions), and the the legal — the judicial system conferring upon the law coherence and the right to constraints. But he confines himself to the former aspect (which is wider and closer to the popular sense of 'justice'). Again he follows Aristotle in so far as distributive justice is placed in the field of virtues and enclosed in the 'mean'. Distribution in a wide sense is for Ricoeur a key concept in that it rejects two views of society: (i) methodological individualism [Weber], and (ii) an organicist or collectivist view that it is more than the sum of its members [Durkheim]. The conception of society as a system of distribution transcends both positions [g]. The significance of the institution lies here as part of Ricoeur's 'ethical aim'. Although equality is the ethical core common to distributive and corrective ('reparative') justice, Ricoeur needs to confirm the connection between them without invoking egalitarianism. Equality, for him, is to life in institutions as solicitude is to interpersonal relations [h]. The role of justice (i) presupposes solicitude, (ii) adds to it in that the field of application of equality is all humanity.

[9] [gen. 9] [Study VIII] Self and the Moral Norm. Ricoeur now intends to show that 'ethical aim' must be subjected to the test of the norm if conflicts provoked by 'formalism' and the exercise of moral judgement are to lead back to an "enriched ethics". There are three stages in his argument.

(1) Good Life and Obligation. Arguing that 'universality' is central and that there is a continuity between the teleological and deontological traditions, he looks at the contributions of both Aristotle and Kant.

Aristotle's criterion, the 'middle term' (mesotes), common to all virtues, marks the beginning of universality and a move from teleology to deontology. Human 'capacities' are implicitly given a universal sense in that it is by virtue of them that we hold them and ourselves to be worthy of self-esteem. Likewise the "in each case" we recognise in Heidegger's 'mineness' (Jemeinigkeit) denotes the universal feature by which we can write das Dasein, das Selbst. However, Ricoeur says, the universality of the two 'existentialia', the ipse and the idem allows us to distinguish them and say in what way the 'who?' is worthy of self-esteem.

As for Kant, his identification of a 'good will' with 'good without qualification' (the meaning of morally good, says Ricoeur) preserves a continuity between his deontology and the teleological perspective. The finite will, as that which receives the teleological predicate 'good', takes the place of Aristotle's rational desire. Desire is recognised through its aim (teleological), will through its relation to law (deontological). The notions of 'good will' and 'action done out of duty' (to which universality is tied) are virtually mutually substitutable. So what is good without qualification will equate with the self-legislating will, as autonomous practical reason. Kant's opposition between autonomy and heteronomy thus appears as constitutive of moral selfhood.

Ricoeur ends stage (1) of Study VIII by drawing attention to three potential 'aporias', concerning autonomy, to be found in Kant's own writings, and which point up the gap between the deontological moral norm and the teleological ethical aim. These concern the relation of law to freedom; the problem of respect (Ricoeur distinguishes between legitimate respect as self-esteem tested by the criterion of universalization and a 'perverted' respect — self-esteem as the kind of self-love evident in the capacity for evil); and the problem of evil itself. All these raise the question whether the principle of autonomy, free choice, is genuinely independent. Given the problems of evil and the equally inscrutable constitution of free will, it follows that there is a necessity for ethics to assume the features of morality. The ethical aim must therefore be submitted to the test of the moral norm [a].

(2) Solicitude and the Norm. Ricoeur's primary concern in this second area is to show that the moral norm of respect (as relating to autonomy) is intimately connected to the "dialogic structure" of the ethical, that is, to solicitude (as relating to the 'good life'). This is implicit in Kant's move from the general formulation of the Categorical Imperative to the notion of the person as end in himself. The Golden Rule [cf. Aristotle's endoxa — common beliefs] is seen as an appropriate transitional formula. The positive formulation (as in "Love your neighbour as yourself") shows more clearly the connection between solicitude and the norm; while the negative formulation ("Do not do unto your neighbour what you would hate him to do to you") is better to exhibit the norm of reciprocity structured in various statements of the Rule.

This required reciprocity is understood against the background of a disymmetry between agent and patient (who submits, suffers), which finds its ultimate expression in 'power-over' (contrasted with 'power-to-do' and 'power-in-common') and physical or even verbal violence. (The need for the Golden Rule's prohibition of the evil established by solicitude is admitted by moral philosophy as it accepts the primacy of the ethical.)

As for Kant, in the context of solicitude his second imperative nevertheless reveals a tension between 'humanity' (a singular term introduced in the context of an abstract universality governing the principle of autonomy without any consideration of persons) and 'person as an end'. This latter requires account to be taken of plurality. However, his notion of plurality is restricted. He gives priority to 'humanity' and because of his formalization this notion only mediates between diversity of persons and thereby tends to eliminate otherness. His 'plurality' is understood only in terms of 'power-over'. In fact, argues Ricoeur, the notion of person as an end in himself balances that of 'humanity' [b] and introduces in the formulation of the imperative the distinction between 'your person' and 'the person of anyone else' and leads to a genuine 'otherness' which will allow the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative to reassume its original character. This, however, is hidden in Kant's account.

(3) Ricoeur now returns to the concept of justice. Central is the concept of distribution (implicit in Aristotle's distributive justice), which he says is placed at the point of intersection of the ethical aim and the deontological perspective. But this concept is ambiguous, as in the idea of the just share, our interpretation of which depends on whether we emphasize separation or cooperation; and in the distinction between arithmetical and proportional equality [c]. Attempts have been made to remove these ambiguities by applying a normative formalization and therefore a purely deontological interpretation of justice. Ricoeur is critical of attempts to remove teleological considerations (which originated with the Kantian imperative). A purely procedural conception of justice, he says, provides at best the formulation of a sense of justice that it never ceases to presuppose. In particular he rejects the utilization of the contractualist tradition by means of which the deontological approach has gained a foothold in the institutional domain. Attempts to ground the contract are unsuccessful. Rousseau appeals to a 'lawmaker'; Kant's theory presupposes a tie between the social contract and autonomy but does not justify it. Rawls's theory likewise fails. In his anti-teleological account (central to which is the concept of fairness), directed against utilitarianism, contractualism and individualism combine. His view is that the least well off, potential victims of distribution, should be treated not as a means but as an end. But his argument, says Ricoeur, seeks to shift the question of foundation to one of mutual consent. This is a deontology without a transcendental foundation, because it is the function of the social contract to derive the contents of the principle of justice from a fair procedure without an appeal to allegedly objective criteria or presuppositions concerning the good. The contract, he argues, is found to occupy on the plane of institutions the place that autonomy claims on the fundamental plane of morality. But whereas autonomy is a "fact of reason", as Kant puts it, the social contract can derive its legitimacy only from a 'fiction' — it is non-historical [d]. Perhaps people have forgotten that they are sovereign by virtue of their will to live together. And consequently there is the risk that the principle of autonomy may also be found to be a fiction as compensation for forgetting the foundation of deontology in the desire to live well and for others in just institutions.

[10] [Study IX] The Self and Practical Wisdom: Conviction. Ricoeur has shown that because a morality of obligation has produced conflicts practical wisdom has to return to the initial intuition of ethics — to the vision of the 'good life' with and for others in just institutions — but in the framework of "moral judgement in situation", which together with its inherent 'conviction' constitute practical wisdom. The morality of obligation is not rejected. Indeed it is essential to test illusions about ourselves and the meaning of our inclinations (which may obscure the good life). And without the conflicts produced by formalism moral judgment in situation would fall prey to the arbitrariness of 'situation ethics' [a].

Ricoeur argues that the Greek concept of tragedy [especially in Antigone], although 'non-philosophical', can teach us the inevitability of conflict in so far as it relates to spiritual powers and mystic energies. The transition from catharsis to conviction consists in a meditation on the inevitable place of conflict in moral life. Tragedy also outlines a 'wisdom' [touches on "the agonistic ground of human experience" — Georg Steiner's phrase] which takes practical wisdom back to the test of moral judgement in situation alone. The final appeal is to to phronein; and Ricoeur argues that it is the passage from tragic phronein to practical phronesis that can shelter moral conviction from univocity or arbitrariness [b].

What makes ethical conflicts inevitable? Ricoeur's answer is that their source lies not only in the one-sidedness of the characters in tragedy but also in the one-sidedness of moral principles in life's complex situations. And it is only through recourse to the 'ethical ground' against which morality stands out can give rise to the wisdom of judgement in situation. He examines conflict in relation to three areas: (1) Institution; (2) Respect; (3) Autonomy.

(1) Rawls's thesis is inadequate. Genuine conflict, Ricoeur says, arises from the diversity of distributed goods rather than from Rawls's equivocal treatment of distribution procedures [c]. The idea of primary social goods — which connects the teleological concepts of the just and the good — advantageously breaks up the unitary principle of justice to the benefit of the idea of 'spheres of justice' (rules, rights, security, etc.). It is the arbitration required by competition and dominance among these spheres that gives meaning to the notion of social conflict. [The conflict between the universalist claim and the contextualist limits of the rule of justice engendered by the historicity and culturally determined character of the estimation of these goods will be looked at under (3).]

Ricoeur is more sympathetic towards Hegel's project not least because on the level of institutions it reinforces claims against political atomism [see sec. 8, Study VII]: human action can flourish only in the institutional milieu. However, Hegel's phenomenology of the 'concrete ethical life' (Sittlichkeit), which he opposes to Moralitt, must be dissociated from the ontology of Geist [d]. Ricoeur is here critical of the notion of a spirituality distinct from individuals and grounded in the idea of a state as a superior agency supposedly endowed with self-knowledge. To demystify the Hegelian State and thereby free its resources on the level of political philosophy he questions political practice itself and examines the specific forms tragedy of action adopted there. Why political practice is the place of specific conflicts and how these relate to the ethical concept of justice is explained in terms of the distinction between power (potentia) and domination (potestas) [see sec. 8]. These notions are balanced by Aristotle's 'justice' as equality (isotes): it places the latter under the control of power-in-common, and thereby defines democracy. Ricoeur proceeds to discuss three levels of conflicts arising between the governing and the governed in relation to the distribution of potestas, and between rival groups in the distribution of political power. These concern deliberation concerning priorities to be established among primary goods; the ends of 'good' government'; and the legitimation of democracy. In all cases Ricoeur perceived the necessity to 'bend' Sittlichkeit towards, or equate it with phronesis [e].

(2) Conflict in the area of respect is discussed with reference to Kant's imperative. Ricoeur's concern here is the conflict between the universalist version (representing the idea of humanity) and the pluralist version (representing the idea of persons in themselves). Although for Kant there is no opposition Ricoeur says that the otherness inherent in the idea of human plurality in special circumstances proves to be incompatible with the universality of the rules that underlie humanity [f]. Respect tends to split into respect for law or rule and respect for persons. Practical wisdom may then give priority to the latter, in the name of solicitude (addressed to persons in their singularity). It is because of the multiplicity of rules generated by the Categorical Imperative that their presumed universalism collides with the demands of otherness inherent in solicitude. How then are maxims tested? We can subsume them under rules or we can attempt to apply them to concrete situations. Kant, says Ricoeur, allows only the former route; and this approach is limited in that it is only the latter in which the demands of otherness are recognised. Ricoeur shows this by an analysis of the making of false promises with reference to the tests of concrete circumstances and consequences. We respond to the expectations of the other by committing ourselves to the obligation to keep our promises (the 'principle of fidelity' — which Ricoeur equates with the rule of justice); and this expectation is taken as the measure for applying the rule. Exceptions in my favour may then give way to exceptions on behalf of others. Practical wisdom consists in conduct that will best satisfy the exception required by solicitude, by betraying the rule to the smallest extent. This is illustrated in moral conflicts associated with, for example, telling the truth to the dying and the right to life of the embryo. To deal with these problems practical wisdom should exhibit prudence (adverse positions should call on the same principle of respect); the search for a "just mean"; and attention to the counsel of "the most competent and wise" (this will make moral judgement less arbitrary) [g].

(3) Ricoeur now returns to an affirmation of autonomy and addresses the confrontation between the universalist claim (attached to rules) and the positive values of historical and communitarian contexts in which these rules can be realized. This will require a revision of Kant's formalism.

1. He questions the order of priority Kant gives to the principle of respect applied to the plurality of persons and to the principle of justice relevant to the plane of institutions. He will show that autonomy cannot be self-sufficient in that it is is "of a piece" with the rule of justice and the rule of reciprocity. The opposition between autonomy and heteronomy must therefore be reworked. Dependent autonomy must be understood not as 'tutelage' (when one's judgement is guided and dependent on that of others) but in terms of a threefold otherness — as the other of freedom in the figure of law (which freedom gives itself), in the figure of respect, and the other of evil in the figure of the penchant towards evil. It is the heteronomy of the "master of justice", facing the disciple (as against the master as dominator facing the slave) that has to be integrated into autonomy.

2. Kant's criterion of universality involves internal contradiction. Rather, says Ricoeur, a more constructive conception of coherence is offered by judicial reasoning (exemplified in/ epitomized by flexible common law). But it remains that it is the plea for universality that gives full weight to the problems tied to the historicity of concrete morality,

3. Lastly — in order to make tragic action appear in the wake of the requirement of universality (identified with the moment of morality) — Ricoeur utilizes the reconstruction of formalism through a "morality of communication" (developed by Apel and Habermas), which merges the three Kantian imperatives into a single problematic: the principle of autonomy (which follows the category of unity), that of respect (the category of multiplicity), and the principle of kingdom of ends (category of totality). The Self is thus grounded both in its dimension of universality and its dialogic dimension — interpersonal as well as institutional [h]. This undertaking is authorized, Ricoeur says, if it remains on the 'regressive path' of justification, thereby leaving uncovered the conflictual zone situated along the path of actualization. But justification does not commit us to an 'ultimate foundation':

If indeed we admit with Habermas himself that the "moral intuitions of everyday life are not in need of clarification by the philosopher" and that the foundational enterprise has, in the final analysis, only a therapeutic function, in the sense of Wittgenstein, with regard to skeptical counterarguments set up as "professional ideologies" — then the ethics of discussion will not simply involve an attempt to found the requirements of universalization along a regressive path but will also involve an examination along a progressive path on the level of actual practice [p. 283].

Ricoeur recognises (a) the tie between normative expectations and communicative action, (b) the tie between normative expectations and validation by reasons. What is important lies in the transformation undergone by the requirement of coherence, following its connection to a theory of argumentation (reducible neither to deductive reasoning nor to empirical proof). Ricoeur notes that Habermas's logic of practical discourse holds the same place here as that held by his analysis of coherence in moral systems, but whereas his own analysis was conducted without concern for the dialogic dimension of the principle of morality, Habermas's theory of argumentation unfolds entirely within the framework of communicative action. However, Ricoeur is not uncritical of the "ethics of argumentation". Just as Kant directed his "strategy of purification" against inclination, so does Habermas direct his against convention and tradition. The result is that the ethics of argumentation contributes to the impasse of a "sterile opposition" between a universalism as procedural as Rawls's and a 'cultural' relativism that places itself beyond discussion. What is needed is a reformulation of the ethics of argumentation that will allow it to integrate the objections of contextualism while allowing it to take seriously the requirement of universalization so as to focus on the conditions for placing this requirement in context. (For this reason Ricoeur prefers the term 'contextualism' to 'historicism' or 'communitarianism'.) He utilizes Rawls's notion of 'reflective equilibrium' — between the ethics of argumentation and considered convictions, where the articulations we continually reinforce between deontology and teleology find their highest expression. As an example of this dialectic Ricoeur refers to discussions concerning human rights, where one must accept both the universal claim attached to a few values where the universal and the historical intersect and submit this claim to discussion on the level of the convictions incorporated in concrete forms of life. Through recognition of potential universals in other cultures a consensus can emerge [i].

The notion of universals in context or of potential or inchoate universals is, in my opinion, the notion that best accounts for the reflective equilibrium we are seeking between universality and historicity. Only a real discussion, in which convictions are permitted to be elevated above convention, will be able to state, at the end of a long history yet to come, which alleged universals will become universals recognized by "all the persons concerned" (Habermas), that is, by the "representative persons" (Rawls) of all cultures [pp. 289-90].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Ricoeur is notable for the originality and breadth of his thought (comprehending theology, literary and critical theory, as well as hermeneutics and general philosophy), and his utilization of insights drawn from structuralism, analytic philosophy, existentialism, and phenomenology. The key feature of his philosophy is his extension of hermeneutics from the 'text' to embrace the totality of human existence. Indeed he may be said to have attempted to 'textualize' human action analogically. Characteristic also is his eclecticism and tendency to synthesize. He sets out to reconcile dialectically, for example, explanation and understanding, and to mediate between Gadamer and Habermas in their approaches to truth and rationality.

Various criticisms can be made of his bold enterprise (not least by those commentators most sympathetic to his work).

(1) It has been argued that conceptualization of action as a 'text' "rests upon an illegitimate extrapolation from language and results in an undesirable reification of action" [Thompson, p. 215].

(2) The methodology Ricoeur employs to deal with the social conditions of action has also been criticized [Thompson, p. 216]. In its explanatory aspect it has been held to be unsuitable for the task; while in its critical aspect it has been said to lack a firm basis for critique.

(3) While Ricoeur sets out to avoid what he perceives as the subjectivity associated with Verstehen in interpretation of texts, it can be argued that in seeking the objective he underplays, even dismisses the role of authors' intentions and thereby as interpreter falls back himself into a subjective mode. Moreover, his 'hermeneutics of suspicion', which claims to uncover the 'reality' (the world, including the 'self' "in front of the text") fails to close the 'hermeneutic circle' in relation to both science and art — he leaves the text 'open'. Ricoeur's position is that "the conflict of interpretations is insurmountable and inescapable", because "absolute knowledge is impossible" [Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, p. 193]. However, it is objected that no criteria are specified which might facilitate a resolution of conflicting interpretations and bring about partial knowledge.

(4) Although it would probably be generally accepted that Ricoeur's account of selfhood represents a brave attempt to reconcile constancy and change it can also be argued that it does not go far enough, and that ipseity and the idem self continue in opposition. A full integration of intentional causality and 'material' causality would seem to require the adoption of a new approach to the concept of cause — one from which both forms of causality are ultimately derivable. Ricoeur appeals to such key notions as attestation and moral imputability. However, while these may be pragmatically necessary for the sustainng of a sense of selfhood and for inter-personal relationships, they of themselves do not resolve the dichotomy between the ipse self and the idem self: the 'gap' (see Searle ) remains.

(5) As for his ethics and political philosophy, he will be applauded by philosophers who are suspicious of ultimate objective norms and for whom a diversity of moral positions is a necessary concomitant of the human condition. Ricoeur's advocacy of consensus ethics, following his ambitious attempt to reconcile Aristotle's phronesis, by way of Kant's Moralitt, with Hegel's Sittlichkeit, would likewise be welcomed. At the same time, it might be questioned whether his (non-formalistic) notion of a moral norm against which conflicts are to be tested has not become so fluid as to be virtually redundant. Universality seems in the last analysis to be defined in terms of consensual agreement. This is not of course an argument against a transcendental pragmatic approach, but for many commentators who espouse various forms of objectivist ethics such a position will be seen as untenable.

(6) Finally, as a general criticism, it might be said that Ricoeur's almost obsessive concern to reconcile and integrate all manner and kinds of positions in diverse fields of philosophy, which some readers will regard as his strength, will be considered by others as his weakness, in that firstly, not all philosophical claims have to be deemed as containing an element of 'truth' (whatever that might mean), and secondly that opposing theses often resist reconciliation however hard one might try to achieve it — whether one's dialectic is Hegelian or Ricoeurian.

 

READING

Ricoeur: [of many writings] La Philosophie de la volonté: I. Le Voluntaire et l'involuntaire (1950) (trans. as Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary by E. Kohak); II. Finitude et culpabilité (1960): part 1, L'homme faillible (Fallible Man, trans. W. J. Lowe); part 2, La Symbolique du mal (The Symbolism of Evil, trans. E. Buchanan); De l'Interprétation: Essai sur Freud (1965) (trans. as Freud and Philosophy: an Essay on Interpretation, trans. D. Savage); La Métaphore vive (1975) (The Rule of Metaphor, trans. R. Czerny with K. McLaughlin and J. Costello); Temps et récit, 3 vols (1983-5) (Time and Narrative, trans. K. McLaughlin and D. Pellauer); Soi-mIme comme un autre (1990) (trans. as Oneself as Another, trans. K. Blamey). See also three sets of essays: Le Conflit des interprétations: essais des herméneutique (1969) (The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. D. Ihde, trans. W. Domingo et al.); Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences (essays written 1970-79) (1981), ed. trans. J. B. Thompson; From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II (1991), trans. K. Blamey & J. B. Thompson. See also his 'On Interpretation', in Philosophy in France Today, ed. A. Montefiore, trans. K. McLaughlin, reprinted in After Philosophy: End or Transformation, ed. Baynes et. al. A useful anthology is The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, eds. C. Regan and D. Stewart.

Studies

S. H. Clark, Paul Ricoeur.

D. Ihde, Hermeneutic Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur.

J. B. Thompson, Critical Hermeneutics: A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jürgen Habermas.

Collections of essays

L. E. Hahn (ed.), The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur.

R. Kearney (ed.), Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action.

C. Regan (ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Ricoeur

 

Note: in addition to the many philosophers listed in the Connections, the use made by Ricoeur of the work of E. Lévinas (1906-95), H. Arendt (1906-75), G. H. von Wright (1916-2003), K.-O. Apel (b. 1922), and D. Parfit (b. 1942).

 

Phenomenology/ Hermeneutics
[1a] Phenomenological method extended to volition; common subjectivity as basis for reciprocity of voluntary and involuntary

   Descartes

   Husserl

[2a]

[2c 5a]

 

[1b] Utilization of 'cogito' and non-reductionist treatment of body; regulative ideas ('limits') of God, freedom, transcendence (surpassing subjectivity)

   Descartes

   Kant

[2a]

[2d 5e]

 

[1c] Hermeneutics of symbolism; psychoanalysis as paradigm: (i) demystification, (ii) demythologization

   Marx*→

   Nietzsche*

   Gadamer

   Habermas

[2a]

[2a]

[2a]

[2c]

       [*Ricoeur's rejection is in very general
   terms and with respect to what he sees
   as their 'demystification'; Gadamer by
   contrast is a 'demythologizer']

 

[2a] Common semantic feature in symbolic hermeneutics & psychoanalysis; language as sets of speech-acts; langue & parole; complementarity of hermeneutics and structuralism

   Austin

   Searle

[1d]

[1a]

   

   [Structuralism — see account in

   Merleau-Ponty [4c] ]


 

[2b; also 2d 3a] System-discourse distinction; discourse and interpretation (signs & objects); action as text → resolution of explanation/ understanding dichotomy

   Aristotle

   Peirce

   Gadamer

   Hempel

   Habermas

   Searle

[2b]

[1d]

[2b 3a]

[2a]

[2e]

[4c]

 

[2c] Hermeneutic arc; interpretation- appropriation

   Peirce

   Heidegger

   Gadamer

[1d]

[6a]

[2e]

 

[2d; cf. 4c 5d] Explanation & understanding: (i) hypothesis formation ('divinatory'); (ii) subjective pre-understanding — approximation to truth; structuralism and suspension of reference to world

   Schleiermacher

   Heidegger

   Gadamer

   Habermas

   Searle

[3c]

[6b]

[2b e]

[2e]

[4c]

 

[3a; cf. 2b 10i] Interdependence & complementarity of critique of ideology & hermeneutic of tradition; understanding & explanation

   Gadamer

   Habermas

   Searle

[3a CSa]

[2e CSa]

[4c]

 

[4a] Hermeneutic phenomenology; transcendental method → essences; ontology in language

   Husserl

   Heidegger

   Gadamer

[2d 7e]

[5c]

[2a]

 

[4b] Uncovering of Dasein by hemeneutic theory of interpretation — not engagement with world ('ready-to-hand')    Heidegger [2f 6b]

 

[4c; cf. 2d 5a] 'Distanciation' of eidetic prelinguistic data → reference to 'being-in-world'; no objective knowledge from epochic suspension of concern for life- world; freedom from subjective transparency

   Descartes

   Fichte

   Husserl

   Gadamer

[2a]

[1a]

[2c d 4b 8a]

[2c]

 

Philosophy of Mind and Action

[see also sec. 1]

[5a; see also 5d 7a] Attestation of the self; rejection of foundationalism and the philosophy of 'suspicion'

   Descartes

   Fichte

   Nietzsche

   Husserl

   Heidegger

   Searle

[1b 2a]

[1a]

[2a]

[5a]

[3b]

[2a]

 

[5b; see also 5g h] Person as primitive notion, but in analytic philosophy idem-identity ('sameness', causality of events) conceals ipse-identity (agency, intentional causation): 'What? rather than 'Who?'    Strawson [2d]

 

[5c] Pragmatic theory of speech-acts: utterances designate speaker reflexively, but tends to emphasize utterance as event and overlooks reflexive relation to selfhood

   Austin

   Searle

[1e]

[1a]

 

[5d; cf. 2d; see also 5a 7a] In analytic philosophy the 'What?' captured by the 'Why?', and both by ontology of impersonal event; and teleological explanation subsumed under causal explanation. Attestation of self in 'intention-to' and not 'intention-with-which'    Davidson [2a]

 

[5e] Actions dependent on voluntary agent exercising proairesis; collaboration between choices and nature forms dispositions and character    Aristotle [15f 21a]

 

[5f; see also 5h] Ascription as agent's reappropriation of deliberation — but in analytic philosophy remains on semantic level and 'captive' to ontology of 'something in general' (ipseity obscured)    Strawson [2d]

 

[5g] 'Power-to-act' as primitive datum: agent's intervention produces changes in world; conjunction between different levels of causality but systemic and teleological components distinct

   Aristotle

   Fichte

   Davidson

   Searle

 

 

[21a]

[1a]

[2g]

[2f]

 

       [Ricoeur refers in particular to the 'quasi-causal'
   model of von Wright — whose in
fluence on Apel
   should also
be noted.]

 

[5h; cf. 1a 5f 9a] Personal identity: idem-identity as continuance and permanence in time; relationbetween idem- and ipse-identity in terms of character and keeping one's word ('self-constancy')

   Kant

   Heidegger

[3f 5b]

[3c]

 

[5i] Personal identity: Rejection of empiricist memory and reductionist accounts; different types of ownership

   Locke

   Hume

   Wittgenstein

[2h]

[2d]

[2d]

       [Note also his critique of Parfit's thesis]

 

[6a] Narrative identity mediates between descriptive and prescriptive viewpoints (within ethics framework) and self-sameness & self-constancy; will achieve identity of character which articulates 'pre-understanding' of historical significance of a 'life history'

   Dilthey

   Strawson

[1a]

[2d]

 

[6b] The narrative function: 'emplotment' as 'configuration' (as 'poetic act')/ synthesis of diverse events (contrast causal mode) — reconciles identity & diversity, aporias of ascription, and Kant's antinomy

   Aristotle

   Kant

   Davidson

   Strawson

[sec. 23]

[5c]

[2b]

[2d]

 

[6c] Life plans configured on basis of meaning expressed by 'constituent rules'

   Sartre

   Searle

[6d]

[1a]

 

[7a; see also 7c] Attestation and truth: the being-true expressed by attestation concerns the self

   Aristotle

   Heidegger

[3a]

[3b]

 

[7b] Ontology of selfhood in terms of actuality and potentiality (cf. power and activity); action and ground of being

   Aristotle

   Heidegger

[5b 9a 14a b]

[5a]

 

[7c] Gewissen attests; 'Ground' and relation to conscience and care; selfhood and sameness as two modes of being; Being of self and world (horizon of care) as correlative    Heidegger

[3b c]

 

[7d; cf. 7a 8g] Connection of phenomenology of acting & suffering self in terms of conatus as 'power of being' — constitutes unity of individual beings; power as 'productivity'

   Spinoza

[3a]

 

Ethics and Political Philosophy
[8a] Distinction between ethics: (teleology — 'good life', self-esteem) and morality (deontology — norms, self-respect); primacy of ethics

   Aristotle

   Kant

[18c 22a]

[6b d]

 

[8b] No gap between prescription and description

   Hume

   Searle

[3j]

[5b]

 

[8c] 'Good life' and man of phronesis (understood hermeneutically) — centrality of 'internal goods'; man's function as whole life: 'horizon' of limiting idea

   Aristotle

   Gadamer

[18d 20d]

[1a]

 

[8d] Capacity for self-esteem requires the 'other': need to extend 'I can' from physical to ethical plane

   Heidegger

   Merleau-Ponty

[2g 3a]

[3e]

 

[8e] Concept of reciprocal friendship and transition from aim of good life (singularity) to justice (plurality)

   Aristotle

   Rousseau

[21c]

[1b]

 

[8f] Solicitude: expressed in friendship avoids extremes of other and self; esteem as equivalence of other as a oneself and oneself as another

   Aristotle

   Husserl

[21c]

[5a]

       [Lévinas as proponent of the philosophy of the 'Other']

 

[8g; see also 8h 9c 10c e] Notion of 'Other' invokes 'justice' & requires 'power' ('in common' — opposed to 'domination') and equality in institutions; distributive justice as virtue enclosed in 'the mean'; society as system of distribution transcends both methodological individualism and 'organicist' views

   Aristotle

   Rawls

   Hampshire

[19 b c 22 a b d]

[1b]

[2d]

 

[8h] Equality (common to distributive and corrective justice) in institutional life as solicitude is to inter-personal relations — but no egalitarianism invoked

   Aristotle

   Rawls

[19c]

[1e]

 

[sec. 9] (General)    Hampshire [2d]

 

[9a] Continuity of teleological and deontological traditions preserved by identification of 'good will' with 'good without qualification; centrality of 'universality' (mesotes, Jemeinigkeit); given evil and free will, ethical aim to be tested by moral norm

   Aristotle

   Kant

   Heidegger

[19b]

[6d]

[3a]

 

[9b; cf. 8g 10f] Connection of (moral) norm of respect to (ethical) solicitude implicit in move from general formulation of Categorical Imperative to that of person as end in himself (balances 'humanity'); problems in Kant's account; Golden Rule as transitional

   Kant

   Rawls

[6d f]

[1a]

 

[9c; see also 8g 10c e] Justice — concept of distribution (ambiguous) and intersection of ethical aim with deontological perspective

   Aristotle

   Kant

[19c]

[6d e]

 

[9d] Criticism of removal of teleological considerations, esp. by contractualist tradition ('unfounded' historical 'fiction'),whereas autonomy a 'fact of reason'

   Hume

   Kant

   Rousseau

   Mill

   Rawls

[4c]

[6f]

[1f]

[3h]

[1b d]

 

[10a; cf. 10g] Formalist morality of obligation not rejected; 'illusions' need to be tested, and defence against 'situation ethics'

   Kant

   Sartre

[6b d e]

[5a CSa]

 

[10b] Heuristic value of Greek tragedy; final appeal to phronesis

   Aristotle

   Hegel

[23b]

[8b]

 

[10c; cf. 8g] Conflict from diversity of distributed goods rather than distribution procedure

   Rawls

   Hampshire

[1b]

[2c]

 

[10d] Human action flourishes only in institutional milieu, but Sittlichkeit must be dissociated from ontology of Geist

   Aristotle

   Hegel

[22a]

[7a]

 

[10e; see also 8g 9c] Relation of conflict in political practice to ethical concept of justice — power and domination balanced by isotes; Sittlichkeit to be conformed to phronesis

   Aristotle

   Hegel

[19c 20d]

[7a]

 

[10f; also 9b] Incompatibility between 'human' plurality and universality of underlying rules    Kant [6d f]

 

[10g; cf. 10a] Practical wisdom to prioritize respect for persons to take account of exceptions required by solicitude; minimal 'betrayal' of rules through prudence, just mean, wise person; makes moral judgement less arbitrary

   Aristotle

   Kant

[21a]

[6d f]

 

[10h] Resolution of confrontation between universalism (rules) and communitarian context in which they operate revision of Kant's formalism (concerning respect, universality, imperatives); reconstrucion of formalism on basis of 'morality of communication'. Self now grounded in 'universal' and 'dialogic' dimensions

   Kant

   Hegel

   Hampshire

   Habermas

[6b d-f]

[5e]

[2b]

[2d 3a]

 

[10i; cf. 3a] Foundation not needed for justification; coherence in moral systems connected to 'theory of arguments', must be reformulated to avoid impasse between universalism and cultural relativism 'reflective equilibrium' between 'ethics of argumentation' and convictions (interplay of teleology and deontology); convention and tradition

   Gadamer

   Hampshire

   Habermas

[CSa]

[2b]

[2d 3a b]

       [Ricoeur notes also the contribution of Apel
     to a reconstruction of formalism.]