Ricoeur, Paul

▪ 2006

      French philosopher (b. Feb. 27, 1913, Valence, France—d. May 20, 2005, Châtenay-Malabry, France), was one of the foremost exponents of hermeneutics, the theory and method of interpreting texts that became a principal concern of continental philosophy under the influence of German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Ricoeur, who was orphaned at age two, was raised in Rennes by his paternal grandparents. He attended the University of Rennes and then went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne (Ph.D., 1950), where he was influenced by Gabriel Marcel. Ricoeur worked as a secondary-school teacher from 1935 until he was drafted (1939) into the army. Taken prisoner in 1940, he spent his time in captivity studying German philosophers such as Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, and Karl Jaspers. After the war Ricoeur taught school for three years until he was appointed a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. In 1957 he took a chair in general philosophy at the Sorbonne, and in 1965 he moved to the University of Nanterre. He became dean of the faculty of letters there in 1969 but resigned the next year under pressure from radical students. Ricoeur also visited several American universities and was a professor (1971–91) at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His major writings included Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary (1966), The Symbolism of Evil (1967), The Rule of Metaphor (1977), and Time and Narrative (1984–88). In 1986 he went to Scotland to deliver the Gifford Lectures, which were published under the title Oneself as Another (1992), and in 2004, with Jaroslav Pelikan, he shared the $1 million John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences.

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▪ French philosopher
in full  Jean Paul Gustave Ricoeur 
born February 27, 1913, Valence, France
died May 20, 2005, Châtenay-Malabry

      French philosopher and historian, who studied various linguistic and psychoanalytic theories of interpretation.

      Ricoeur graduated from the University of Rennes in 1932 and engaged in graduate studies of philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, receiving master's (1935) and doctoral (1950) degrees there. He served on the faculties of a number of institutions (1933–48) before becoming professor successively at the University of Strasbourg (1948–56) and the University of Paris at Nanterre (now University of Paris X; 1956–70). Ricoeur also taught at a several schools in the United States, including the University of Chicago (1971–91).

      Ricoeur tried to mediate between the conflicting interpretations offered by phenomenology and such contemporary movements as structuralism and post-structuralism, hermeneutics, and semiotics. He focused on language and the interpretation of meaning, emphasizing the idea that Freudian, Marxist, and other interpretative traditions involve a dialectic of both negative and positive assumptions and expectations. He also tried to relate modern traditions of linguistic and critical analysis to various precursor movements in the history of Jewish and Christian biblical exegesis, an effort that gives much of his writing a theological cast.

      Ricoeur's principal writings included Le Volontaire et l'involontaire (1950; Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary), which is the first volume in Philosophie de la volonté, 3 vol. (1950–60; Philosophy of the Will); Histoire et vérité (1955; History and Truth); Le Conflit des interprétations: essais d'herméneutique (1969; The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics); Temps et récit, 3 vol. (1983–85; Time and Narrative); and Soi-même comme un autre (1990; Oneself as Another).

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Universalium. 2010.

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