Paul Ricœur

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Paul Ricœur (1913–2005) was a highly influential French continental philosopher with interests in existentialism, religion, psychoanalysis, language and is best known for his work on philosophical hermeneutics, following on from the work of Wilhelm Dilthey, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Ricoeur was born in Valence, France and worked as a professor in Strasbourg, Chicago and Paris. Richard Kerney notes that a key distinction between the approach of Heidegger and Ricœur is that while Heidegger approaches the question of hermeneutics (or interpretation) as being a question that can be answered by contemplating Dasein, Ricœur approached hermeneutics by a "long route" by looking to a variety of different expressions of humanity.[1] Ricœur's hermeneutical work includes books on evil (The Symbolism of Evil), psychoanalysis (Freud and Philosophy), religion (including an essay on Rudolf Bultmann in The Conflict of Interpretations) and many other subjects.

Ricœur's early work – the planned three-part Philosophie de la volonté (the translation is "philosophy of the will"; the translation into English was published as Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary) – starts from the perspective of Edmund Husserl's phenomenology but criticises Husserl for paying too much attention to the mind and not enough to the relationship between the mind and body. In the second part of the series, published in English as Fallible Man, Ricœur investigates fallibility and the concept of pathétique de misère – translated into English as the condition "in which a human being does not completely coincide with him– or herself".[2]

Ricœur has worked on political philosophy as well, including work commenting on the ideas of the American liberal theorist John Rawls. Ricœur won the Balzan Prize for philosophy and the John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Human Sciences. During his career, he was in dialogue with Jacques Derrida; and his work has been important, although not universally agreed with, by those in theology, specifically Biblical studies.


  1. Richard Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur: The Owl of Minerva, Ashgate.
  2. David Pellauer, Ricoeur: A Guide for the Perplexed, Continuum.