Sunday, May 22, 2005

Au Revoir Paul Ricoeur

Paul Ricoeur passed away Friday at the age of 92. He was one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

I read Ricoeur's Symbolism of Evil in the summer of 1983 as I was preparing a prospectus for my doctoral dissertation. That was the first book by Ricoeur that I had read. It completely reoriented my research on the theology of love and pointed to a way of thinking that always seems to provide fresh glimpses of the inexhaustible depths of God's love and grace.

The title of my doctoral dissertation is The Symbolism of Love and in it I tried to show that woven into Ricouer's text on The Symbolism of Evil and throughout his other writings there is a theology of love that is deeper and more profound than can be found in the writings of contemporary theologians.

In my mind, Martin Buber's I and Thou and Ricoeur's Symbolism of Evil are the two theological works from the 20th Century that will have the most lasting influence. The only other book that could compete is Ricoeur's Oneself as Another which combines the best insights of both works.

For those who would like a taste of Ricoeur's thought without the philosophy, the descriptions of sin that I gave in my recent speech On the Ethics of Evangelism are all simplifications of themes in Ricoeur's Symbolism of Evil.


Greek Shadow said...

It's always a sad day when great minds are laid to rest. It is my hope that Ricoueur will be remembered more than Sartre as the best French philosopher of the 20th century.

Dr. Mike Kear said...

Amen to that, Shadow!



fernando said...

shadow's hope will be realised, in my opinion. i also suspect that over the next years a lot more people will come to realise how deep ricouer's influence has really been.

Faithful Progressive said...

I 'discovered' Ricouer while working on a senior thesis on Michel Foucault (hey,it was 1978)--Ricouer was onto the idea of "discourse" as a system way before Foucault. He also wrote a killer book on Freud...What a towering genius-- you're right, people will read him long after they stop trying to make sense of Sartre!



Faithful Progressive said...


Dr.Bruce has convinced me to read The Symbolism of Evil...

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


Ricoeur's book on Freud is related to Symbolism of Evil. Here are a couple paragraphs from the outstanding essay on Ricoeur in the Stanford Online Encyclopedia:

Ricoeur's conception of the disproportion that characterizes human beings was, he came to conclude, insufficient to account for occurrences of actual bad will and evil deeds. No direct, unmediated inspection of the cogito, as Descartes and Husserl had proposed, could show why these evils, contingent as each of them is, in fact came to be. Recognizing the opacity of the cogito in this respect confirmed his suspicion that all self-understanding comes about only through ?signs deposited in memory and imagination by the great literary traditions.?[4] This suspicion was a major motivator for his hermeneutic or ?linguistic turn.?

Ricoeur explored his suspicion first in The Symbolism of Evil, a study devoted to learning from the great symbols and myths how people have tried to make sense of the enigma of evil. Then he turned his attention to other aspects of the cogito's opacity. Stimulated by structuralism, he embarked upon a detailed study or psychoanalysis that culminated in his Freud and Philosophy and the essays that make up his The Conflict of Interpretations (1969). These investigations reinforced his view that there is no unmediated self-understanding.

Foucault's buddy said...

I'm an ex-fundamentalist, but Ricoeur's humane thought is one of the few factors that might tempt me back to consider Christianity (albeit in a very different form). I don't always agree with him, but whatever he writes is imbued with a spirit of humility and openness; and he never forgets the realities of the suffering world. Those of his last essays I've read - essays which concentrated on the themes of memory, forgiveness, and forgetting - are some of the most powerful. Ricoeur may be dead but many of us will spend a lifetime discovering the riches of his thinking.