Paul Riceur

Paul Riceur

French philosopher
Date of Birth: 27.02.1913
Country: France

  1. Biography of Paul Ricœur
  2. Introduction
  3. Early Life and Education
  4. Academic Career
  5. Philosophical Themes and Works

Biography of Paul Ricœur


Paul Ricœur, a French philosopher known for his hermeneutic variant of phenomenology, holds a significant place in French philosophy, comparable to the position occupied by Hans-Georg Gadamer in the German philosophical community.

Early Life and Education

Paul Ricœur was born on February 27, 1913, in Valencia, Spain. After receiving his education at Sorbonne, he taught philosophy at a high school for five years. At the beginning of World War II, he became a soldier in the French army and was taken prisoner. It was during his time in captivity that he started working on the translation of Edmund Husserl's Ideas (Ideas I was published in French in 1950 with Ricœur's commentaries).

Academic Career

Following the end of the war until 1948, Ricœur taught in Strasbourg. In 1956, he received an invitation to join Sorbonne. In 1961, after the death of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, leadership of the "Archives Husserl" was passed on to Ricœur. For many years, he co-edited the left-Catholic journal "Esprit" with Emmanuel Mounier. Ricœur's political and religious beliefs led him to the University of Paris-Nanterre in 1966. However, in 1969-1970, as a philosopher and dean, he found himself caught "between two fires" - Maoists on one side and bureaucracy on the other. Political disillusionment and strong opposition from the growing structuralism movement prompted Ricœur to accept an invitation from the University of Chicago, where he worked from 1970 to 1992.

Philosophical Themes and Works

Ricœur's themes of interest are interconnected: Will - Evil - Symbol - Metaphor - Narrative - Otherness - Memory. The first volume of his work, Freedom and Nature (Le volontaire et l'involontaire, 1950), practically applied the theoretical foundations of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. The study covers phenomena from consciously chosen volitional decisions to involuntary forces of life and inherent elements of character and desires. Throughout his works, Ricœur draws from various sources. He borrows the style of phenomenological description from Husserl's "eidetic phenomenology" and the dynamics of exposition from authors such as Maine de Biran and Jean Nabert. His main intuitions are indebted to the religious existential philosophy of Gabriel Marcel and Karl Jaspers. After completing the first volume on the will, Ricœur's main focus became the phenomena of sinfulness and guilt. In 1960, his two-volume work on Finitude and Guilt (Finitude et culpabilité) was published. While working on the second volume - The Symbolism of Evil - Ricœur experienced a turn towards hermeneutics: since evil can only be understood through symbols and myths, it necessitates seeking interpretive detours. This led to a series of hermeneutic works by Ricœur, which brought him worldwide recognition. The first work of this kind was a major book on Freud - On Interpretation (De l'interprétation, 1965). Ricœur understands psychoanalysis as a kind of "archaeology" of the subject. This research strategy, with its "anti-phenomenological" orientation focused on the reduction of consciousness rather than to consciousness, allows the investigation to penetrate into the hidden world of desires, which is inaccessible to reflection. However, in the end, Ricœur opposes "archaeology" of the subject to the "teleology" of the subject - the return of the unconscious to the realm of consciousness. Ricœur's "semantics of desire" encountered strong resistance from Jacques Lacan and his supporters. The polemic with structuralism led Ricœur to new ideas presented in the work "The Conflict of Interpretations" (Le conflit des interprétations, 1969), in which he provides an interpretation of Ferdinand de Saussure's linguistics and Claude Lévi-Strauss' anthropology and mythology. The intensity of the polemic gradually diminishes in works written mainly in the USA, where Ricœur turns to the analytic philosophy of language. In the study "The Rule of Metaphor" (La métaphore vive, 1975), the author's attention is focused on the poetic power of metaphor, which not only adds beauty to a known object but also reveals new connections and relationships through "seeing as...". This work is followed by a three-volume work "Time and Narrative" (Temps et récit, 1983-1985), in which Ricœur analyzes various theories of time (Aristotle and Augustine, Husserl and Heidegger). The path of investigation leads from historical and literary narration (with illustrations drawn from great novels about time by writers such as Thomas Mann, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf) to "narrative time".

In his last major work, "Oneself as Another" (Soi-même comme un autre, 1990), Ricœur develops a hermeneutics of human self, in which he contrasts the Cartesian search for certainty with practical characteristics and ethical testimonies. The "otherness" of the self is revealed as the "otherness" of the body, of the other, and of conscience. The resulting ethics focuses on the balance of justice, in contrast to Emmanuel Levinas' "ethics of the other" which is based on the asymmetry of the self and the other.

Ricœur's corpus of works is framed by his writings on political and historical topics (History and Truth - Histoire et vérité, 1955), as well as studies in phenomenology (At the School of Phenomenology - A l'école de la phénoménologie, 1986), theory of action (From Text to Action - Du texte à l'action, 1986), legal theory (On Justice - Au juste, 1995), and finally, lectures on current issues of modernity (Lectures, I-III, 1991-1994).