The Priority of Affirmation in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur

By Perez, Josue | Philosophy Today, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Priority of Affirmation in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur


Perez, Josue, Philosophy Today


Students of Paul Ricoeur have noticed that one recurring feature of his philosophy is an emphasis on affirmation. Olivier Abel, for instance, states that one cannot truly comprehend Ricoeur's philosophy without recognizing the priority that he places on the affirmative mode.1 In a similar vein, T. M. Van Leeuwen observes that the central intuition of Ricoeur's philosophy is the "philosophical reiteration of the pre-philosophical experience that existence and being are ultimately meaningful."2 Likewise, in his study of Ricoeur's interpretation of biblical narrative, Kevin Vanhoozer proposes that Ricoeur's philosophy can best be characterized as a "passion for the possible."3

This interpretation is certainly well attested in the writings of Ricoeur himself. Two examples, one from an early essay and another from a more recent work, will make my point. In his 1955 essay, "Negativity and Primary Affirmation," Ricoeur states that he intends to pursue a philosophy of the "primacy of being and existing."4 The emphasis on the priority of being over nothingness characterizes his entire philosophical style, "a style of 'yes' and not a style of `no,' and perhaps even a style characterized by joy and not by anguish."5 One interesting outcome of Ricoeur's emphasis on affirmation is his "extraordinary generosity" toward other positions that he interrogates.6 His openness stems from his conviction that the community of philosophers participates in the truth. "Truth," writes Ricoeur, "is the being-in-common of philosophers."7 Because of this hope, Ricoeur is generous in his affirmation of the other's point of view.

My second example comes from the recent study, Oneself as Another.8In this work, Ricoeur makes reference to the concept of attestation. The concept of attestation is introduced at the beginning of Oneself as Another when Ricoeur addresses the problem of the cogito.9 He observes that within the history of modern philosophy there have appeared two dominant models of the cogito.10 The first model refers to the positing of the cogito, which began with Descartes' attempt to establish the cogitoon a final and ultimate foundation.11 This, of course, led to various attempts to either complete the Cartesian project or to put it into question. The criticism made against the cogito constitutes the second model concerning the status of the cogito. This tradition eventually led to what Ricoeur calls "the shattered cogito," with Nietzsche being the best representative of this tradition. The consequence of the shattering of the cogito is that the self's being-in-the world is rendered problematic. Thus, we hear of phrases such as "death of the subject" and the like. Though it is beyond the scope of this essay to delineate the various positions concerning the debate on the self, one way of looking at the issue is to say that the outcome of these debates has led to a crisis of confidence for the self. Anthony Thiselton, for example, remarks that the postmodern critique of the self has led to the "shattering of innocent confidence in the capacity of the self to control its own destiny."12 Hence, as a result of the devastating critique of the cogito, the self is placed in a position that can best be described as incapable. The self is rendered incapable of speech, action, narration, and moral imputation.13 It is against this picture, or better yet, as an alternative to this picture, that Ricoeur presents the concept of attestation. According to Ricoeur, attestation is "the assurance-the credence and the trust-of existing in the mode of selfhood."14 One cannot help but notice that this definition places the accent on the affirmative pole instead of emphasizing some other modality such as suspicion.

This does not mean of course that suspicion has no role to play in Ricoeur's thought.

In addition to developing a hermeneutic that aims at the restoration and recovery of meaning, he has also developed a hermeneutic of suspicion.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Priority of Affirmation in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?