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Ricoeur and the hermeneutics of suspicionPaul Ricoeur (1913-2005) was one of the most prolific and influential French philosophers of the Twentieth Century. In his enormous corpus of work he engaged with literature, history, historiography, politics, theology and ethics, while debating ‘truth’ and ethical solutions to life in the face of widespread and growing suspicion about whether such a search is either possible or worthwhile. In Ricoeur and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion, Alison Scott-Baumann takes a thematic approach that explores Ricoeur’s lifelong struggle to be both iconoclastic and yet hopeful, and avoid the slippery slope to relativism. Through an examination of the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, the book reveals strong continuities throughout his work, as well as significant discontinuities, such as the marked way in which he later distanced himself from the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ and his development of new devices in its place, while seeking a hermeneutics of recovery. Scott-Baumann offers a highly original analysis of the hermeneutics of suspicion that will be useful to the fields of philosophy, literature, theology and postmodern social theory.
Ricoeur and the negation of happinessRicoeur lectured and wrote for over twenty years on negation ('Do I understand something better if I know what it is not, and what is not-ness?') and never published his extensive writings on this subject. Ricoeur concluded that there are multiple forms of negation; it can, for example, be the other person (Plato), the not knowable nature of our world (Kant), the included opposite (Hegel), apophatic spirituality (Plotinus on not being able to know God) and existential nothingness (Sartre). Ricoeur, working on Kant, Hegel and Sartre, decided that all these forms of negation are incompatible and also fatally flawed because they fail to resolve false binaries of negative: positive. Alison Scott-Baumann demonstrates how Ricoeur subsequently incorporated negation into his linguistic turn, using dialectics, metaphor, narrative, parable and translation in order to show how negation is in us, not outside us: language both creates and clarifies false binaries. He bestows upon negation a strong and central role in the human condition, and its inevitability is reflected in his writings, if we look carefully. Ricoeur and the Negation of Happiness draws on Ricoeur's published works, previously unavailable archival material and many other sources. Alison Scott-Baumann argues that thinking positively is necessary but not sufficient for aspiring to happiness - what is also required is affirmation of negative impulses: we know we are split by contradictions and still try to overcome them. She also demonstrates the urgency of analysing current socio-cultural debates about wellbeing, education and equality, which rest insecurely upon our loose use of the negative as a category mistake.
Ricoeur's translation model as a mutual labour of understandingRicoeur has written about translation as an ethical paradigm. Translation from one language to another, and within one’s own language, provides both a metaphor and a real mechanism for explaining oneself to the other.Attempting and failing to achieve symmetry between two languages is a manifestation of the asymmetry inherent in human relationships. If actively pursued, translation can show us how to forgive other people for being different from us and thus serves as a paradigm for tolerance. In full acceptance that this will be impossible, Ricoeur uses the model of translation as a way of understanding European integration, with three aspects: translation, shared narrative and shared forgiveness of Europe’s history. These models provide a strong statement about tolerance and become even more significant through their conversation with the negativity that suffuses them. He draws on his knowledge of psychoanalysis to explain that the translator suffers through remembering and through mourning the loss of perfection; there must be acknowledgement of deficiency. This acceptance of imperfection and of limits to success is a key element in Ricoeur’s philosophy and is explored from the 1950s onwards in his study of negativity; denied by phenomenology and explored by Hegel. Negation is vital for understanding the world (this word means this, not that), but it can preclude us from access to meaning when it becomes negativity (this word has no meaning because it is different). Translation can provide the bridge to span the tension between the pathology of denial and different interpretations, and projection of evil into others, which I believe is at the heart of the perceived incompatibilities between Islam and the West. There is a political urgency to this enterprise, given the ‘othering’ of the Muslim world that has replaced the Cold War dichotomies between Communist as ‘other’ and the capitalist world. References to the Muslim as the current ‘other’ will be part of my discussion. As well as seeking to understand Ricoeur’s model of translation, we will examine whether his model works in a world where many speak no Arabic, Urdu or Farsi, or indeed whether it has any relevance for people who do not.