Paul Ricoeur

Paul Ricoeur

Paul Ricoeur
Born 27 February 1913
Valence, Drôme, France
Died 20 May 2005(2005-05-20) (aged 92)
Chatenay Malabry, France
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Christian theology
Main interests Phenomenology
Philosophy of action
Moral philosophy
Political philosophy
Philosophy of language
Personal identity
Narrative identity
Literary criticism
Ancient philosophy
Notable ideas Psychoanalysis as a hermeneutics of the Subject, theory of metaphor, metaphors as having "split references" (one side referring to something not antecedently accessible to language),[1][2] criticism of structuralism

Paul Ricœur (French: [ʁikœʁ]; 27 February 1913 – 20 May 2005) was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics. As such his thought is situated within the same tradition as other major hermeneutic phenomenologists, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. In 2000 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy for having "revolutionized the methods of hermeneutic phenomenology, expanding the study of textual interpretation to include the broad yet concrete domains of mythology, biblical exegesis, psychoanalysis, theory of metaphor, and narrative theory."[4]


Ricœur was born in Valence, Drôme, France to a devout Protestant family, making him a member of a religious minority in Catholic France.

Ricœur's father died in a 1915 World War I battle when Ricœur was only two years old. He was raised by his paternal grandparents and an aunt in Rennes, France, with a small stipend afforded to him as a war orphan. Ricœur, whose penchant for study was fueled by his family's Protestant emphasis on Bible study, was bookish and intellectually precocious. Ricœur received his bachelor's degree' 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 was awarded the second-highest agrégation mark in the nation for philosophy, presaging a bright future.

World War II 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.

Ricœur taught at the University of Strasbourg between 1948 and 1956, the only French university with a Protestant faculty of theology. In 1950, he received his doctorate, submitting (as is customary in France) two theses: a "minor" thesis translating Husserl's Ideas I into French for the first time, with commentary, and a "major" thesis that he would later publish as Le Volontaire et l'Involontaire. Ricœur soon acquired a reputation as an expert on phenomenology, then the ascendent philosophy in France.

In 1956, Ricœur took up a position at the Sorbonne as the Chair of General Philosophy. This appointment signaled Ricœur's emergence as one of France's most prominent philosophers. While at the Sorbonne, he wrote three works that cemented his reputation: Fallible Man and The Symbolism of Evil published in 1960, and Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation published in 1965. Freud and Philosophy contains the famous assertion that Marx, Nietzsche and Freud are masters of the School of suspicion.[5][6][7] Jacques Derrida was an assistant to Ricœur during this time.

From 1965 to 1970, Ricœur was an administrator at the newly founded University of Nanterre in suburban Paris. Nanterre was intended as an experiment in progressive education, and Ricœur hoped that here he could create a university in accordance with his vision, free of the stifling atmosphere of the tradition-bound Sorbonne and its overcrowded classes. Nevertheless, Nanterre became a hotbed of protest during the student uprisings of May 1968 in France. Ricœur was derided as an "old clown" and tool of the French government.

Disenchanted with French academic life, Ricœur taught briefly at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, before taking a position at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, where he taught from 1970 to 1985. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.[8] His study culminated in 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. Ricoeur gave the Gifford Lectures in 1985/86, published in 1992 as Oneself as Another. This work built on his discussion of narrative identity and his continuing interest in the self.

Time and Narrative secured Ricœur's return to France in 1985 as an intellectual superstar. His late work was characterised by a continuing cross-cutting of national intellectual traditions; for example, some of his latest writing engaged the thought of the American political philosopher John Rawls.

In 1999 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Philosophy "For his capacity in bringing together all the most important themes and indications of 20th century philosophy, and re-elaborating them into an original synthesis which turns language - in particular, that which is poetic and metaphoric - into a chosen place revealing a reality that we cannot manipulate, but interpret in diverse ways, and yet all coherent. Through the use of metaphor, language draws upon that truth which makes of us that what we are, deep in the profundity of our own essence".

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

Ricœur died on 20 May 2005 at his home in Chatenay Malabry, France, of natural causes.[9] French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin declared that "the humanist European tradition is in mourning for one of its most talented exponents".


Overzee (1992: p. 4) states that:

"Paul Ricœur speaks of the theologian as a hermeneut, whose task is to interpret the multivalent, rich metaphors arising from the symbolic bases of tradition so that the symbols may 'speak' once again to our existential situation."[10]


  • Gabriel Marcel and Karl Jaspers. Philosophie du mystère et philosophie du paradoxe. Paris: Temps Présent, 1948.
  • Entretiens sur l'Art et la Psychanalyse (sous la direction de Andre Berge, Anne Clancier, Paul Ricoeur et Lothair Rubinstein (1964), Mouton, Paris, La Haye 1968.
  • 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. Charles A. Kelbley, 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.
  • “Patocka, Philosopher and Resister”. 31 (Spring 1977). New York: Telos Press.
  • The Philosophy of Paul Ricœur: An Anthology of his Work, ed. Charles E. Reagan and David Stewart. Boston: Beacon Press, 1978.
  • Essays on Biblical Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980)
  • 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 Philosophy of Paul Ricœur, ed. Lewis E. Hahn (The Library of Living Philosophers 22) (Chicago; La Salle: Open Court, 1995)
  • 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).
  • Thinking Biblically, (with André LaCocque). University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • La mémoire, l'histoire, l'oubli. Paris: Seuil, 2000.
  • Le Juste II. Paris: Esprit, 2001.
  • Reflections on the Just, trans. David Pellauer. University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • Living Up to Death, trans. David Pellauer. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

See also

Biography portal


Further reading

  • Pamela Sue Anderson, 1993. Ricœur and Kant: philosophy of the will. Atlanta: Scholars Press.
  • Boyd Blundell, 2010. Paul Ricoeur between Theology and Philosophy: Detour and Return. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
  • Larisa Cercel (ed.), "ISBN 978-973-199-706-3 (paperback), 978-973-1997-07-0 (ebook).
  • Bernard P. Dauenhauer, 1998. Paul Ricœur: The Promise and Risk of Politics. Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield.
  • François Dosse, 1997. Paul Ricœur: Les Sens d'une Vie. Paris: La Découverte.
  • online excerpt).
  • W. David Hall, 2007. Paul Ricoeur and the Poetic Imperative. Albany: SUNY Press.
  • Don Idhe, 1971. Hermeneutic Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Paul Ricœur. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  • Fredric Jameson, 2009. "The Valences of History." In Valences of the Dialectic. London and New York: Verso. 475-612.
  • David M. Kaplan, 2003. Ricœur's Critical Theory. Albany, SUNY Press.
  • David M. Kaplan, ed., 2008. Reading Ricoeur. Albany, SUNY Press.
  • Richard Kearney, ed., 1996. Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action. SAGE.
  • Richard Kearney, 2004. On Paul Ricœur: The Owl of Minerva. Hants, England: Ashgate.
  • David E. Klemm, 1983. The Hermeneutical Theory of Paul Ricoeur: A Constructive Analysis. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press.
  • Gregory J. Laughery, 2002. Living Hermeneutics in Motion: An Analysis and Evaluation of Paul Ricoeur's Contribution to Biblical Hermeneutics. Lanham: University Press of America.
  • Francis J. Mootz III and George H. Taylor (eds.), 2011. Gadamer and Ricoeur: Critical Horizons for Contemporary Hermeneutic. Continuum.
  • Kuruvilla Pandikattu, 2000. Idols to Die, Symbols to Live: Dynamic Interaction between Language, Reality, and the Divine. New Delhi: Intercultural Publications.
  • Kuruvilla Pandikattu, 2013. Between Before and Beyond: An Exploration of the Human Condition Inspired by Paul Ricoeur. Pune: CreatiVentures.
  • Charles E. Reagan, 1996. Paul Ricœur: His Life and Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Salvioli, Marco, "Il Tempo e le Parole. Ricoeur e Derrida a “margine” della fenomenologia", ESD, Bologna 2006.
  • Alison Scott-Baumann, 2009. Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion. Continuum.
  • Karl Simms, 2002. Paul Ricœur, Routledge Critical Thinkers. New York: Routledge.
  • Dan Stiver, 2001. Theology after Ricœur, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Henry Isaac Venema, 2000. Identifying Selfhood: Imagination, Narrative, and Hermeneutics in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur (Mcgill Studies in the History of Religions), SUNY Press.
  • Haggag Ali, 2011. Paul Ricoeur and the Challenge of Semiology. Saarbrücken:VDM Verlag Dr. Müller.

External links

  • Paul Ricoeur — by Bernard Dauenhauer.
  • Paul Ricoeur — by Kim Atkins.
  • Études Ricoeuriennes / Ricoeur Studies
  • The Society for Ricoeur Studies
  • Irish Theological Association
  • "Ricœur et Lévinas" by Henri Duthu
  • Fonds Ricoeur - Paris
  • Paul Ricoeur: A Hermeneutical Theologian in The Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology