Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Doing Justice to Justice: Ricoeur's Discovery of the Juridical Plane

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Doing Justice to Justice: Ricoeur's Discovery of the Juridical Plane

Article excerpt

Reflections on the Just attempts both to complement and to correct "the whole dialectic of the little ethics" that Paul Ricoeur had placed at the end of Oneself as Another.1 One of the problems identified was that the approach Ricoeur had taken there gave rise to "the impression of a juxtaposi- tion and of a weakly arbitrated conflict of positions."2 Ricoeur was happier with the dialectical idea of justice he had argued for in "The Just between the Legal and the Good."3 François Dosse's Les sens d'une vie offers an interesting account of the circumstances in which he came to deliver that lecture.4 It was 1991-of- ficially designated l'Année de la justice by the Prime Minister Michel Rocard-and Antoine Garapon had recently founded the Institut des hautes études sur la justice (IHEJ). Ricoeur accepted Garapon's invitation to give the inaugural lecture, and the two men then worked on the text, meeting several times at Ricoeur's home in Châteney-Malabry. Significantly, the lecture was written for members of a professional body whose interest in justice was decidedly practical. Looking back on this period, in The Just, Ricoeur claims that his work with Garapon's IHEJ al- lowed him to resist a line of thought that "is strongly encouraged by the spirit of our times."5 This line of thought turns its gaze towards the philosophy of history, losing sight of the philosophy of right. Once this happens "it is the drama of war that captures our intellectual energy, at the price of an oft repeated confession of the incomprehensibility in principle of political evil."6 Ricoeur acknowledges that he is not in any position to deplore what he terms "this obstinate return of the eminently historical problem of political evil" because, in the past, he played a part in promoting it.7 But things changed as soon as he collaborated with Garapon and he began, at last, to pay attention to the "juridical problematic."8 He writes,

My work with the Institut des Hautes Etudes sur la Justice has been particu- larly influential in that regard. There I encountered the question of the unjust and the just on a level where reflection on the juridical ran little risk of being prematurely taken up into a political philosophy, itself snatched up by a phi- losophy of history haunted in turn by the pitiless torment arising from and sustained by the aporia of political evil.9

He claims that once he began to work at this more appropriate level he was able to take on the task of doing justice to "the question of right and law," of "doing justice to justice."

Ricoeur also acknowledges, in The Just, his debt to the École nationale de la magistrature, the nearby training school for public prosecutors and judges. He recalls that it was there that he

met the question of the juridical in the figure of the judiciary, with its writ- ten laws, its tribunals, its judges, its ceremonial processes, and, as a capstone to all this, the pronouncement of a sentence where the law is stated in the circumstances of a trial, an eminently singular affair. In this way I was led to believe that the juridical, comprehended through the features of the judiciary, could provide philosophy the occasion to reflect upon the specificity of right and the law, in its proper setting midway between moral philosophy or ethics (the nuance separating these two not being of importance at this preliminary stage of my investigation) and politics.10

It is significant, I think, that Ricoeur sees a new opportunity for philosophy in his belated discovery of the juridical problematic. Philosophy is given time to reflect on the distinctiveness of right and the law once it finds itself situated between ethics and politics, i.e., on the very plane where the judiciary is located.

Dosse's reading of "The Just between the Legal and the Good" probably does not give due consideration to the opportunity for philosophical reflection that this lecture provides. For Dosse, Ricoeur was-certainly in the 1990's-the "philoso- pher of the city" who endeavoured to enrich social practices with philosophical theories and insights. …

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