Academic journal article Theological Studies

Paul Ricoeur's 'Oneself as Another' and Practical Theology

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Paul Ricoeur's 'Oneself as Another' and Practical Theology

Article excerpt

THE PROPOSAL for the construction of a practical theology has consistently struggled in the past with the relationship of practical theology to theoretical or speculative theology and to an appropriate ontology. Since practice could not be grounded in pure agency, it was thought, it could only flow out of something substantive in the manner of the old adage agere sequitur esse. Usually esse was understood as a substantive being, that is, a something. Only this "something" was considered capable of anchoring human action. In a similar manner, systematic theology was thought to secure the foundations for practical theology. In order to rethink the relationship of the practical to the theoretical, and particularly of human praxis to being, it is worth reviewing some of the efforts in current hermeneutical philosophy to recast practical philosophy. In this article I will confine myself to an analysis of the most recent work of Paul Ricoeur, particularly Oneself as Another(1) a work highly representative of such a renewed practical philosophy. I will give a somewhat extended review of the book as an introduction to the themes of a reconstructed practical theology. Only in the final part will I weigh the consequences of this effort for theology.

Oneself as Another is vintage Paul Ricoeur. Like all his previous books and articles, it is part of an intricate dialogue with the philosophical community and indirectly with the theological community--or perhaps more accurately with the Judaeo-Christian tradition within an ecumenical culture. The theme of this present dialogue is the place of practical philosophy in a time of a shattered Cartesian "cogito."(2) What happens to human action and suffering in a time when the human subject seems to have lost its confidence in determining what is to be done? For this reason the concern of a practical philosophy has become the question of selfhood in all its obviousness, as in the question "Who am I?", or in all its opaqueness, as in the question "What is the 'I' " or "What is the self?" Ricoeur first presented these studies as the influential Gifford Lectures in 1986 under the title On Selfhood: The Question of Personal Identity. The Gifford Lectures have frequently provided a forum for thinkers on the issues that matter. Ricoeur quite clearly wished to elaborate his position on what he perceives to be one of the dominant culture issues of our time.(3)

THE ROLE OF THE SELF AND ACTION IN A PRACTICAL PHILOSOPHY

The two major themes of a practical philosophy, according to Ricoeur, are the human self and human action. Oneself as Another examines both themes in depth and indicates how their interaction forms the thrust of a new practical philosophy.

At the level of the self, this is an exploration of an option, a third way, between two major philosophical traditions of the West. Both traditions have succeeded as ideological movements--in the nonpejorative sense that Ricoeur has attached to the concept of ideology(4)--that is, as systems of interacting symbols that regulate and govern the actions of individuals to form a society in an institutional framework. For Ricoeur the central cultural issue is not the one designated by Dilthey, namely, the scientific, technological approach to reality versus a humanistic, hermeneutical approach. Ricoeur had earlier demonstrated their vaunted dichotomous relationship to be false.(5) Understanding, he has insisted all along, cannot exist separately from explanation. C. P. Snow's two cultures need each other. The cultural crisis is not a crisis of methods but a crisis of the self-identity of the human. The ideological protagonists for Ricoeur in Oneself as Another are not the empiricists or the logical positivists but two traditions which in Ricoeur's terms either "exalt" the subject too highly or "humiliate" the subject to the point of its disappearance or death." The protagonists of these traditions are Descartes (perhaps more accurately the Cartesian tradition articulated by thinkers such as Kant and Husserl) and Nietzsche and the other more recent philosophers of suspicion, especially the deconstructionists. …

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