February 27, 2010
French philosopher PAUL RICOEUR (1913-2005) had such a long and productive life that it is no surprise it contains enough work to fill several careers. Early Ricoeur, in the early to mid-1960s, was a prominent advocate of a hermeneutic approach to phenomenology. His works from this period, especially Fallible Man (1960), The Symbolism of Evil (1960), and Freud and Philosophy (1965), are rich, rigorous, and best of all, accessible. By the late 1960s, though he had been instrumental in the founding of the progressive university at Nanterre in the Parisian suburbs, Ricoeur was out of favour with the more radical elements of French intellectual life. He continued to develop his ideas on interpretation and published to acclaim in the rest of the world: The Conflict of Interpretations (1969) and Interpretation Theory (1976) became staples of the 1980s “theory” movement in American graduate schools, even as the philosopher himself decamped to Chicago. It was not until after Ricoeur completed his monumental three-volume study Time and Narrative (1983-5) that his native country began to celebrate him as the intellectual hero he was. In 1985 and ’86 he gave the Gifford Lectures in Edinburgh, the celebrated series delivered by everyone from John Dewey and William James to Hannah Arendt and Iris Murdoch. Ricoeur crafted from these his most affecting book, Oneself as Another (1992), which analyzes how personal identity hinges on self/other relations. Its message is simple but profound: as you tell this temporal story you call my self, remember that you are not alone.
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