Paul Ricoeur

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Paul Ricœur (February 27, 1913, ValenceMay 20, 2005, Chatenay Malabry) was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutic interpretation. As such, he is connected to two other major hermeneutic phenomenologists, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Ricœur's early years were marked by two main facts. First, he was born to a devout Protestant family, making him a member of a religious minority in Catholic France. Second, his father died in WWI in 1915, when Ricoeur was only two years old. As a result he was raised by his Aunt in Rennes with a small stipend afforded to him as a war orphan. Ricœur was a bookish, intellectually precocious boy whose penchant for study was increased by his family's Protestant emphasis on Bible study. Ricœur received his license in 1933 from the University of Rennes and began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1934, where he was influenced by Gabriel Marcel. In 1935 he agrégated second in the nation, presaging a bright future despite his provincial origins.

WWII interrupted Ricœur's career, and he was drafted to serve in the French army in 1939. His unit was captured during the German invasion of France in 1940 and he spent the next five years as a prisoner of war. His detention camp was filled with other intellectuals such as Mikel Dufrenne who organized readings and classes sufficiently rigorous that the camp was accredited as a degree-granting institution by the Vichy government. During this time he read Karl Jaspers, who was to have a great influence on him. He also began a translation of Edmund Husserl's Ideas I.

After the war Ricœur took up a position at the University of Strasbourg (1948-1956). In 1950 he received his doctorate submitting (as is customary in France) two theses: a 'minor' thesis which was a translation and commentary on Husserl's Ideas I (the first available in French) and a 'major' thesis that would later be published as Le Volontaire et l'Involontaire. As a result of his scholarly work, Ricœur earned a reputation as an expert in phenomenology, whose popularity in France had begun during the 1930s and increased during and after the war.

In 1956 Ricœur took up a position at the Sorbonne as the Chair of General Philosophy. This appointment signaled Ricœur's rise as one of France's most prominent philosophers. During this time he wrote Fallible Man and The Symbolism of Evil published in 1960, and Freud and Philosophy: Essays on Interpretation published in 1965. These works cemented his reputation.

From 1965 to 1970 Ricœur took up a position at the newly founded University of Nanterre. Nanterre was an experiment in progressive education and Ricœur hoped it would allow him the opportunity to escape the stifling atmosphere of the tradition-bound Sorbonne and its over-crowded classes and create a university in accordance with his vision. Unfortunately, Nanterre become a hot bed of protest during the student uprisings of May 1968 and Ricœur was derided as an 'old clown' and tool of the French government.

At the nadir of his popularity and disenchanted with life in France, Ricœur taught at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and also took a position at the University of Chicago in 1970 where he would remain until 1985. As a result Ricœur became acquainted with American philosophy and social science, making him one of the few thinkers equally at home with the French, German, and English-language intellectual scenes. The results were two of Ricœur's most important and enduring works: The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning of Language published in 1975 and the three-volume Time and Narrative published in 1984, 1985, and 1988. Building on the discussion of narrative identity, as well as Ricœur's continuing interest in the self, Ricœur presented the Gifford Lectures, which resulted in the important work "Oneself as Another" published in 1992.

With Time and Narrative Ricœur returned to France as an intellectual superstar. His late work was characterised by a continuous cross-cutting of national intellectual traditions, and some of his latest writing engaged the thought of the American political philosopher John Rawls.

On November 29, 2004, he was awarded with the second John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences (shared with Jaroslav Pelikan).

Paul Ricœur died the 20th May 2005 in his house in Chatenay Malabry, west of Paris, during sleep by natural causes. French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin declared that "the humanist European tradition is in mourning for one of his most talented exponents".


  • Gabriel Marcel and Karl Jaspers. Philosophie du mystère et philosophie du paradoxe. Paris: Temps Présent, 1948.
  • Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, trans. Erazim Kohak. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966 (1950).
  • History and Truth, trans. Charles A. Kelbley. Evanston: Northwestern University press. 1965 (1955).
  • Fallible Man, trans. with an introduction by Walter J. Lowe, New York: Fordham University Press, 1986 (1960).
  • The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan. New York: Harper and Row, 1967 (1960).
  • Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. Denis Savage. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970 (1965).
  • The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. Don Ihde, trans. Willis Domingo et al. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974 (1969).
  • Political and Social Essays, ed. David Stewart and Joseph Bien, trans. Donald Stewart et al. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1974.
  • The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-Disciplinary Studies in the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny with Kathleen McLaughlin and John Costello, S. J., London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1978 (1975).
  • Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning. Fort Worth: Texas Christian Press, 1976.
  • The Philosophy of Paul Ricœur: An Anthology of his Work, ed. Charles E. Reagan and David Stewart. Boston: Beacon Press, 1978.
  • Theology after Ricouer, Dan Stiver, Westminster: John Knox Press
  • Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation, ed., trans. John B. Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.
  • Time and Narrative (Temps et Récit), 3 vols. trans. Kathleen McLaughlin and David Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 1985, 1988 (1983, 1984, 1985).
  • Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, ed., trans. George H. Taylor. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985.
  • From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II, trans. Kathleen Blamey and John B. Thompson. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1991 (1986).
  • À l'école de la philosophie. Paris: J. Vrin, 1986.
  • Le mal: Un défi à la philosophie et à la théologie. Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1986.
  • Oneself as Another (Soi-même comme un autre), trans. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992 (1990).
  • A Ricœur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, ed. Mario J. Valdes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
  • Lectures I: Autour du politique. Paris: Seuil, 1991.
  • Lectures II: La Contrée des philosophes. Paris: Seuil, 1992.
  • Lectures III: Aux frontières de la philosophie. Paris: Seuil, 1994.
  • The Just, trans. David Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 (1995).
  • Critique and Conviction, trans. Kathleen Blamey. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998 (1995).
  • La mémoire, l'histoire, l'oubli. Paris: Seuil, 2000.
  • Le Juste II. Paris: Esprit, 2001.

Further reading

  • The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur. The Library of Living Philosophers (edited by L.E. Hahn), 1995.
  • Paul Ricœur: His Life and Work. Charles F. Reagan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Paul Ricœur: Les Sens d'une Vie. François Dosse. Paris: La Découverte, 1997.
  • Paul Ricœur (Routledge Critical Thinkers). Karl Simms. London: Routledge Press, 2002.
  • Essays on Biblical Interpretation. Paul Ricouer. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

External Links

ricoeur, paul (332-333)