Introduction : On the Proper Use of Phenomenology

Paul Ricœur devoted his intellectual life to rigorous philosophical thinking, while engaging in close dialogue with different branches of the human sciences. He significantly contributed to major debates of his time, not only by addressing an impressively wide range of topics, but also by proposing innovative approaches to various disciplines such as psychoanalysis, history, narratology, or semiotics. The centenary of Paul Ricœur’s birth is thus an opportunity to celebrate, through the multiplicity of reflexive paths he set forth, the possibility of “philosophizing and continuing to do philosophy”. Upon closer examination of Ricœur’s philosophical itinerary – which begins with a phenomenology of the will and ends with an extended phenomenology of what he calls “the capable human being” – it would be no overstatement to consider his philosophizing a “questioning of the destiny of phenomenology today”.

This centenary issue of Studia Phaenomenologica is an invitation to pursue the phenomenological paths of Ricœur’s work, an itinerary whose achievement implies two types of timing: the first consists of lingering over and insisting upon the source-texts whereas the second is putting forward a complex analysis leading to three major directions.

Under the first type of timing, that of the return to the first ascents of an idea, we place two unpublished texts of great importance for those interested in the genesis of phenomenology and in its hermeneutic turn in the contemporary French thinking. The former of the texts is from Ricœur’s youth – an extended version of the lecture on attention that the young teacher, aged 26 at the time, held at Rennes, on the 2nd of March 1939, before the Philosophical Circle of the West. It is this text to which Ricœur refers in his interviews with François Azouvi and Marc de Launey, gathered under the inspired title of Critique and Conviction, in these exact words: “The choice of my area [of study, the voluntary and the involuntary] had been sketched out even earlier [of 1945], as witnessed by a lecture I gave in Rennes at the beginning of the war, while I was on leave: it was on attention considered as the voluntary orientation of the look” (p. 27). Searching deeply for the sources of the first volume of his Philosophy of the Voluntary, i.e. The Voluntary and the Involuntary, we discover this text on attention which is rich in references to psychology, history of philosophy and phenomenology, proving the “overdetermined” character of Ricœur’s first area of study. At the same time, it is equally important to notice the significance given by Ricœur, throughout his analysis of attention, to the phenomenological approach of this phenomenon. It is by considering attention and perception from the point of view of intentionality that he comes to draw a close relation between them; the way Ricœur discerns the paradox of attention which consists in bringing to light what was already there is typical of the phenomenological approach. At the same level, we encounter Ricœur’s questioning about the relation between duration and attention, a rapport essential for a deeper understanding of the decision; as well as his phenomenological-inspired reading of the history of philosophy (from Descartes to James), in searching for the relation between attention and truth, attention and liberty. By its phenomenological dominant feature and by choosing to analyze a phenomenon placed half-way the poles that will leave, from now on, a mark on his entire oeuvre, i.e. the reflexive consciousness and the action, this text represents one of the most clarifying sources of Ricœur’s phenomenological thinking.

The latter unpublished text is of great significance for those interested in the hermeneutical phenomenology and in the relations between two major representative figures: Paul Ricœur and Hans-Georg Gadamer. It consists of their correspondence which spreads over for more than thirty years: it begins in 1964, when Ricœur proposes to Gadamer the translation of Truth and Method, in a new series he directed for the Seuil Publisher. It ends up on Gadamer’s inspired words congratulating Ricœur for the publication of his last opus, Memory, History, Forgetting – equally a good occasion for Gadamer to remind their first encounter (so as to close the circle of time), at Louvain, during his lectures on The Problem of the Historical Consciousness. This correspondence – transcribed, edited and translated by Jean Grondin – does not come solely to fill a gap in the exegesis of their relations and to actuate the studies inquiring the common dimension of Gadamer’s and Ricœur’s hermeneutics (the fundamental expressibility of experience, the thing of the text, the historicity of comprehension); it also sheds light on the historical context of this project of translating Truth and Method into French, a project that will leave a mark (to quote Jean Grondin) on their entire correspondence. A difficult project, as we will see, leading to what may be seen as an unfortunate result, which indirectly explains the weak impact of Gadamer’s thinking in France until the ’90s, when reparation is made – and a new and complete translation is launched, still at the Seuil Publisher, and still under Ricœur’s insistence. Exegetical considerations aside, the reading of this correspondence offers us an insight of the particular values that nourished their dialogues on the question of memory, signification, or mimesis, i.e. their mutual respect doubled by the profound feeling of belonging to the same interrogative community.

We place the second phenomenological itinerary of Ricœur’s oeuvre under the auspices of another type of timing, of advancing, of the creative irruptions and clarifying insights. Enfolding studies of a high academic level, this itinerary follows three major directions: inquiring the phenomenological sources and the hermeneutical breakthroughs of Ricœur’s thinking, recognizing the creative role played by the heresies and the
limiting-notions at the heart of the Husserlian orthodoxy (if there is one), and finally returning to the impassable presuppositions of the hermeneutical experience (the horizons), but also to what may give the openness to the horizons, namely the dialogues.

The first step consists of reconsidering, by means of an immanent analysis of his texts, the encounters that Ricœur made possible between phenomenology and hermeneutics. However, each encounter poses a new challenge; and from each challenge, the hermeneutical “graft” of phenomenology enhances not only its capacity to receive the plural logos of experience, but also its penetrative insight into the things themselves. It’s within the spirit of reseizing the keenness of these first hermeneutical breakthroughs in Ricœur’s work, that Jean Grondin is launching, in the article that effectively opens the exegetical section of this issue, into an incisive interpretation of the second volume of the Philosophy of the Will, i.e. Finitude and Culpability. His article intends to change the established interpretation of Ricœur’s first formulation of hermeneutics, according to which it is the problem of evil, inscrutable for an eidetic analysis, that forced him to approach a hermeneutics of myths and symbols. In fact, this first Ricœurian hermeneutics draws its strength from his manner of approaching the modernity. Although it is in itself an acquisition of modernity, this hermeneutics presents itself, as Grondin points it out clearly, as one of the manners by which modernity overcomes itself as a forgetfulness of the sacred. Burkard Liebsch puts forward in his article a complete and rigorous itinerary of Ricœur’s phenomenological thinking: it starts from his early works on attention and the philosophy of the will and concludes with Ricœur’s late discussions with Levinas on the theme of the other and the alterity. Another manner of looking into the phenomenological sources of Ricœur’s thinking, in order to mark out its hermeneutical breakthroughs, is proposed by Marc-Antoine Vallée who, with this purpose, dwells upon the problem of language. Replacing the husserlian theory of language, built upon the idea that experience precedes language, in the framework of a philosophical hermeneutics which defends the linguicity of the entire experience, as Ricœur intends to do, proves to be a difficult task; we are confronted with the paradox (highlighted by Claude Romano) of overlaying the intelligence of language to a prelinguistic intelligence, thus contesting the autonomy of the ante-predicative experience. It is the author’s merit to have seen the solution to this (false) paradox in the “reflexive capacity inherent to language”, a capacity which confirms the openness of language to being, without even reaching the ontological hypostasis of language. Another attempt to revisit the sources of Ricœur’s hermeneutical thinking is proposed by David Le-Duc Tiaha who places the hermeneutical breakthrough not in the ’60s, within the second volume of the Philosophy of the Will – as the exegesis is inclined to make us believe. He actually sees this hermeneutical breakthrough in Ricœur’s tentative to articulate eidetic description and explanation into the act of comprehending the “intra-subjectivity” of the proper body, a tentative at work in The Voluntary and the Involuntary, dating from the ’50s. Starting here, he shows a particular interest to the structures of mutual reception between phenomenology and hermeneutics, revealed by means of questioning the epistemological and the ontological functions of the Lebenswelt, as they were theorized by Ricœur, following Husserl’s steps.

The direction of the second stage of our phenomenological itinerary is captured by two statements made by Ricœur. If the first one audaciously claims that “phenomenology is the sum of husserlian heresies”, the second one, no less bold, but more endowed with a critical tone, defends that “phenomenology can be founded only by what limits it”. In other words, we are invited to take into consideration the hermeneutical “graft” and “subversion” that Ricœur applied to phenomenology, while regarding as equally important Ricœur’s constant attempt to relate phenomenological description to a critical approach to experience. Could we thus not understand the thematic variations and the theoretical interconnections to which Ricœur constantly opens phenomenology as a coherent project of founding phenomenology by precisely what limits it? The first to dwell upon these problems is Lorenzo Altieri, who treats Ricœur’s phenomenological hermeneutics as an “heresy” in relation to the idealist version of the husserlian method, from genesis (in the Philosophy of the Will) to complete maturation in his theory of subjectivity (as other that I). But we shouldn’t limit our endeavor to a single heresy in relation to Husserl’s phenomenology: according to Scott Davidson, at least in France, there are actually two thinkers responsible for giving rise and then criticizing the standard picture of Husserl’s idealism: Ricœur and Levinas. Their heresies share the same method and the same goal, but differ in their manner of turning this critique into a springboard towards an original thinking. Following this method implies a double reading: one attentive to the directions clearly drawn by Husserl, but also to the operative intentions at work in the undergrounds of phenomenology and another one aimed against the dogmatic idealism set forth in Ideas and the Cartesian Meditations. This double reading yields a remarkable result: it leads to a restoration of the duality (the voluntary and the involuntary) within the framework of the phenomenological approach of the constitution of meaning, but it equally singularizes hermeneutics as a non-idealistic method of phenomenology. If it is often that heresies fuel revolutions, Annalisa Caputo calls our attention on a second Copernican revolution within phenomenology, revolution that finds its sources in Ricœur’s last writings. The phenomenology of the capable human being, generally seen as the endpoint of Ricœur’s phenomenology, is not at stake here, but rather a phenomenology of the mutuality. This one, the author defends, through drawing its forces from an ancient and (uncompleted) project of a poetics of the will (of the gift), produces a reversal at the level of method (from the analytic to the a-logical), but also at the level of the content (from the theme of intersubjectivity to that of giving and loving).

Having completed the picture of the heresies and revolutions taking place on the borders of phenomenology, we should draw our attention to the semantic crisis touching phenomenology from inside. It is about the limiting-notions which, once inserted and assimilated into the core of the phenomenological discourse, perturb the pre-established order of the principles, induce irregular variations, opening thus to a multitude of approaches and new questions. That is exactly the case of the notions of narration, time and violence. Pol Vandevelde deals with the problematic relation between narrative and past, as it was considered by Ricœur; the two models of approaching this issue – the structural one, outlined in Time and Narrative and the existential one, found in Memory, History, Forgetting do not respond though satisfactorily to the ontological vehemence of the “what” of the past. There is no invariable “what” of the past seized by the narration, because the past proves itself to be interpretable, according to the relevance it has for us or to our capacity to articulate it. Not only does the past in its relation to narration raise a problem, but also the time taken altogether, as Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron sustains it in his article. In order to illustrate this point, he critically reconsiders Ricœur’s reading of the augustinian reflections on the question of time. At stake is the very interpretation of Augustin’s theory of the triple present: should we treat the three ekstases of time as facts, binding them to the problem of time measurement (intentio / distensio), as Ricœur does it, or should we regard them as forms of the spiritual life, as the author whishes to? A last limiting-notion is addressed in Marc Crepon’s article, i.e. the notion of violence and of the paradox of the non-violence. In the context of the post Second World War years, the discussions around a subject like this, actuated by the publication of Koesler’s book, Darkness at Noon, segue rapidly: Merleau-Ponty’s analysis is followed by Camus’ response and Ricœur himself takes part, emphasizing the positive value of non-violence. His position shouldn’t be taken though for a neutral withdrawal from the course of history, but on the contrary, for the conviction that the acts of the non-violent resistance can change the direction of history.

Finally, we are left with the problem of Ricœur’s phenomenological heritage considered in its dual role: on the one hand, as horizon, as an inexhaustible paradigm in which Ricœur’s thinking has constantly developed, to which the French philosopher has steadily return, after following complementary paths and, on the other hand, as a succession of philosophical ideas, tasks and problems that he handed over to us, often by way of dialogues with other phenomenologies or adjacent sciences and domains.

It is precisely this very problem of the multiple meanings of the notion of horizon that Eddo Evink opens up his article with; after he determines the major meanings of this notion in Husserl’s and Heidegger’s thinking (limit, framework and openness), he takes into consideration Ricœur’s two supplements to the semantic of the horizon: as that which comes to us from the future and as originating from an absolute alterity, discursive only in religious terms. However, these supplements are difficultly compatible with the phenomenological core of this notion, as the author will show, by confronting Ricœur’s visions on the meaning of the horizon with Derrida’s different uses of this notion. In the end, a possible semantic reconciliation is sketched out, stemming from Patocka’s philosophy of history.

After approaching the notion of horizon, the focus of the analysis moves towards the dialogues: Luis Antonio Umbelino figures a possible dialogue between Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur on the problem of the memory of the body. The development of this issue will find its best form in Ricœur’s theory of a proper human space, established by an architectural act: this one, seen by the author as a spatial synthesis of the heterogeneous, is to be compared to the temporal synthesis of the heterogeneous, theorized by Ricœur in Time and Narrative. Within the article signed by Rolf Kühn, the regulative notion of the dialogue takes on a different shape, as speech opened to an absolute alterity. At stake is Ricœur’s manner of reporting to the Scriptures as a philosopher, and not as a theologian. Dealing with biblical texts in terms of narrativity, as Ricœur does, represents for Rolf Kühn a new form of the French philosophy of religion which shouldn’t nevertheless neglect the “priorness” of the pre-textual sphere. Another point of view on Ricœur’s contribution to a phenomenology of religion is put forward by Adam J. Graves who, to this end, confronts two manners of considering the phenomenon of revelation: the one of Marion, who prefers, in order to grant the title of first philosophy to the phenomenology of religion, formalizing the revelation, voiding it of all historical-material content; and the one of Ricœur, who considers revelation, by means of phenomenological descriptions and interpretations of the biblical text, as a phenomenon occurring in linguistic and historical frameworks. As a result, we are required to respond to what was already named, to assume and endlessly interpret the textual “over-determinacy” of His presence. The last two articles illustrate the creative and innovative aspect of the dialogue: it is Natalie Depraz who, in Ricœur’s descriptive phenomenology developed in The Voluntary and the Involuntary, in his interest for the personal and concrete experience, for the “incarnated” practice of the reduction, in his openness towards a scientific psychology, discerns the first milestones of a first person experiential phenomenology. This can be considered necessary, if we take into consideration Ricœur’s abandon of this project, superseded by his hermeneutics. At last, Jean-Philippe Pierron advances an audacious hypothesis – Ricœur as an ecologist thinker: an audacity properly justified though by the author who identifies in Ricœur’s last writings a phenomenology of belonging to the Earth; grafted with a hermeneutics of cultures, this phenomenology could be the basis for an ethic and a politics applied to environmental tasks.

Each reference point of the phenomenological itinerary that we outlined here marks a different use of phenomenology. By gathering them together, under the aegis of this centenary issue celebrating Paul Ricœur, we hope that we succeed in turning what appeared a simple question of semantics, i.e. defining the proper use of phenomenology, into a problem of orientation, of determining new directions of thinking.

Olivier Abel, Paul Marinescu

Paul Ricœur Centenary