From the Problem of "Evil" to Interpretation. "Hermeneutic Phenomenology" as a Method for Understanding the Religious Discourse
Bobb, Catalin Vasile, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies
Abstract: The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of hermeneutic phenomenology in Paul Ricoeur's philosophy. A major thesis of this study is that Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutic phenomenology is never freed from religious insights. If in a text like "Hermeneutics and existence", written in 1965, one finds, for the first time, "hermeneutic phenomenology" as an elaborated concept with a specific purpose and a specific area of problems to be solved, ten years later, in "Phenomenology and Hermeneutics" (1975), the aim, the problems and even the method change. This study will argue that hermeneutic phenomenology is deeply rooted into the problem of evil. In other words, hermeneutic phenomenology emerges in the early works of Ricoeur as a "tool" for the perpetual problem of evil, even if, later, hermeneutic phenomenology loses its binds with the problem it emerged from and it becomes a landmark for Ricoeurian thought. Moreover, the paper also argues that Ricoeur develops "hermeneutic phenomenology" in order to find a philosophical method for approaching the religious discourse.
Key Words: Religious Discourse, Evil, Self, Ontology, Interpretation, Hermeneutic Phenomenology, Paul Ricoeur.
The main thesis of the present study asserts a simple fact: Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutics or, more properly, his hermeneutic phenomenology is never freed from religious (not to say theological) insights, despite the fact that Ricoeur advocates a different perspective.1 Following Ricoeur's argumentation on the topic of "hermeneutic phenomenology", the study will point out all the elements in order to confirm its thesis. Thus, the first part of the text, From the problem of evil to self-understanding, will unfold the development of Ricoeur's first account of hermeneutics. Hence, it will point out that the core or the starting point of Ricoeur's hermeneutics is not a philosophical problem (the problem of evil). Consequently, the second part of the study, From self-understanding to interpretation, will emphasize how textual hermeneutics, named philosophical hermeneutics, still holds to a nonphilosophical insight. Therefore, the third part of the present article will apply hermeneutic phenomenology to religious discourse. The intention is not to see if hermeneutic phenomenology functions as a valid method in interpreting religious discourse, but only to point out the development of such a method in Ricoeur's thought. In other words, in order to fully understand the hermeneutic problem in Ricoeur's philosophy, one cannot elude what it is called the religious dimension of his thought.
From the very beginning, it must be underlined that it is almost impossible to accurately determine the place (or time) where (when) "hermeneutics" first emerged in Ricoeur's work2. Nevertheless, in La symbolitique du mal (1960), hermeneutics becomes the focal point. The question is what sort of hermeneutics is there: a hermeneutics understood as a methodology or a hermeneutics understood as philosophical hermeneutics3? Ricoeur, at this point, is not at all clear. Both directions are open to debate. There is a methodology, for in order to enter into the world of fault (Fr. faute) and transcendence "we need a new methodology"4, while, simultaneously, there is a philosophical hermeneutics because "this is how it opens the field of philosophical hermeneutics before me; it is a philosophy that starts from the symbols whose tasks is to promote, to craft, the sense by a creative interpretation"5. This ambivalence of hermeneutics can be better emphasized if appealing to another problematic concept, namely, hermeneutic phenomenology6.
If in the case of hermeneutics, a sort of general agreement is obtained among exegetes, it is not the case with the "ambiguous" expression7 - hermeneutic phenomenology. The difficulty of the matter is asserted not only by the many different ways of interpretation that exegetes have offered8, but also by Paul Ricoeur himself. …