Каталог статей из сборников научных конференций и научных журналов- Historical experience in the phenomenological hermeneutics of P. Ricoeur

XII международная научно-практическая конференция
Конференция 2022 по психологии, социологии, экономике, философии

Historical experience in the phenomenological hermeneutics of P. Ricoeur

D. G. Kukarnikov Head of the history of philosophy and

culture department, PhD, associate professor
Voronezh state university, Voronezh, Russia


There are serious changes in historical science in the second half of the XX – early XXI centuries, associated with a significant revision of its ontological and methodological foundations. These changes are determined by a number of important factors: first, the emergence of postmodernism and the «linguistic turn» in philosophy; second, the change in the role of history itself in its interaction with society; third, it is the creation of new theoretical models of history, adequate to modern political practices.

In this situation, we should recognize the relevance of an appeal to the ideas of the greatest French philosopher of the twentieth century Paul Ricoeur, which can move us forward in solving a wide range of controversial epistemological problems and creating a new theory of history. The harmonious combination of continental and analytical traditions in Ricoeur's philosophy, the synthesis of phenomenology and hermeneutics, existentialism and personalism allowed him to understand in a new way the main achievements of Western philosophical thought in the study of consciousness and culture.

In addition, Ricoeur considers history not only as a field of knowledge, but also as a way of human existence, primarily social existence, which allows us to rethink both the role of history for society and the very foundations of historical science. At the same time, although he himself is not a historian, his works demonstrate a deep familiarity both with the process of historical knowledge and with the works of historical scholars.

By proposing hermeneutics as a method of interpretation, and thus as a method of the historical sciences, Ricoeur considers the problem of time and its role in interpretation. Interpretation is a place where two tenses, past and present, interlock. From the point of view of the past, interpretation involves tradition: we interpret not in general, but we do so in order to clarify, continue and affirm the tradition to which we belong. Interpretation, on the other hand, takes place in the present tense, distinct from tradition; both belong to each other and are interrelated. In order to reveal this dialectic of tenses, Ricoeur turns to a third, profound time, which ensures the richness of meaning and makes possible the mutual enrichment of the other two times – it is the time of the meaning itself, which has to do with the semantic construction of the symbol.

The peculiarity of a symbol, according to Ricoeur, is that it has a double meaning: the semantic structure of a symbol is formed in such a way that it assumes a meaning by means of another meaning; the original, literal meaning in it refers to the allegorical, existential, spiritual meaning. In this way, the symbol calls for interpretation and speaking. There is an essential relationship between this capacity of the symbol and the temporal load that makes communication possible.

When explaining the historicity inherent in the symbol, Ricoeur relies on the structuralism of C. Lévi-Strauss, in particular on his understanding of synchronicity and diachronicity, as well as on the linguistic teachings of F. de Saussure, his distinction between language (langage) and words (parole). Using the ideas of structuralism, Ricoeur, however, does not recognize it as a philosophical discipline; for him, structuralism is a science, while hermeneutics is a philosophical discipline. In its analysis, the former seeks to abstract from the personal moment (structuralism «does not need a subject when it comes to imparting meaning to anything» [2, p. 192]). The second one intrudes into the hermeneutic circle of understanding, which defines it as «understanding thinking».

In the 70s, Ricoeur tried to rethink the problematic of the symbol, applying to it, as he himself writes, «more appropriate toolkit»; such toolkit the philosopher considers metaphor [4]. Metaphor, which moves the analysis from the sphere of the word to the sphere of the phrase, brings Ricœur close to the problem of innovation and allows him to use the progressive aspect of his methodology more fruitfully. «The meaning of a metaphor is not contained in any single word, it is born in the conflict, in the tension that arises from the combination of words in a phrase» [8, p. 334]. Metaphor vividly demonstrates the symbolic function of language: the literal sense recedes before the metaphorical sense, the correlation of the word with reality and the heuristic activity of the subject are intensified. In a metaphorical expression, which violates the semantic correctness of the phrase and is incompatible with its literal reading, Ricoeur reveals the realization of the human capacity for creativity. Poetry «rewrites the world» with the help of metaphor [5, p. 420].

The reflection on the narrative function of culture, started by Ricoeur in the 1980s, and the attempts to combine phenomenology with linguistic analysis and hermeneutics with analytical philosophy in this connection opened broader research perspectives for the thinker. He transits analysis of cultural fragments, imprinted in a individual word or phrase, to the analysis of cultural texts, and finally to the existence of culture as a historical integrity. One of the main problems of phenomenological hermeneutics is the question of the human being as a subject of interpretation and the question of interpretation as the inclusion of an individual in the holistic context of culture and as the basis of his/her activity in culture. It is the consideration of the individual as a subject of cultural-historical creativity that allows us to reveal the connection of the times.

When referring to the epistemology of history Ricoeur distinguishes three historiographical operations, which are mutually intertwined and complementary and which represent different types of interpretation: archiving the evidence of the past, understanding and explanation, narrative representation of the past in the present [1, p.183]. In his opinion, historical narrative is impossible without relying on evidence from the archival evidence, understanding and explaining, because all three operations «contribute to the accumulation of historical experience, its semantic arsenal» [1, p. 184].

Based on a wide range of philosophical and historical sources (especially the works of representatives of the Annales historical school, M. Heidegger, H.-G. Gadamer), Ricoeur analyzes each operation in detail, paying special attention to the dual opposition of historical explanation and understanding and the need to overcome it.

The conflict between understanding and explanation becomes a dichotomy from the moment when they begin to distinguish between the sciences of nature and the sciences of the spirit. Hermeneutics questions this dichotomy, which, as Ricoeur notes, «has always required, to a greater or lesser degree, the unification of one's own views and those of one's opponent» [3, p. 6]. For the philosopher, understanding and explanation are two interrelated procedures of hermeneutics. He speaks of the dialectical relationship interaction between understanding and explanation, meaning that explanation and understanding are not mutually exclusive poles, but «the moments of a complex process, which is actually called interpretation» [2, p. 162].  

Understanding is a procedure for penetrating into another consciousness, but not directly, but indirectly – through external designations. «Understanding is the art of comprehending the meaning of signs, transmitted by one consciousness and perceived by other consciousnesses through their external expression (gestures, postures, speech)» [6, p. 283]. If we take cognitive process as a whole, there are no two methods – explaining and understanding. «Strictly speaking, only explanation is methodical, while understanding is a non-methodical aspect of cognition, connecting with methodical explanation; understanding precedes explanation, accompanies it until its completion and thus encircles it from all sides; explanation, in turn, analytically develops understanding» [2, p. 181]. At the same time, understanding attests to our belonging to being – it precedes no subject-object relation; it is understanding that stimulates the further development of explanation, so long as it does not stop at what has been achieved, intruding into the spheres of the not yet known, and explanation develops understanding (Ricœur's motto: «to explain more in order to understand better» [3, p. 9]).

The philosopher considers it imperative to maintain a fruitful dialogue between philosophical and scientific approaches in explaining man and the cultural world. Ricoeur's approach to dialogue with the human sciences is based on the philosopher's own position: «I believe that philosophy will continue to exist at the cost of a close dialogue with the human sciences» [8, p. 361]. He believes philosophy would be doomed if it severed its centuries-long link to the sciences, whether they are natural or human, and became a «museum of concepts».

To build a theory of historical narrative, Ricoeur carries out a synthetic rethinking of the distinctive features of historical explanation and understanding, referring to the analysis of the works of a wide body of authors, such as: M. Weber, B. Croce, R.D. Collingwood, R. Aron, M. Block, F. Braudel, L. Febvre, M. Foucault, N. Elias, K. Popper, K. Hempel, W. Dray, A. Danto and others.

In examining the relationship between collective memory and historical experience, Ricoeur addresses the issue of clarifying the purpose of narrative in philosophy and reveals the fundamental function of narrative – to shape human experience. The world of narrative seems to the thinker to be very extensive, including many practices, part of which is the occupation of historical science. We can agree with I. S. Vdovina, who notes in this regard: «Here we will give central place – and this corresponds to the conviction of Ricoeur himself – to the narrative function, which, according to the philosopher himself, constitutes the essence of universal human experience, its activity in culture and history» [8, p. 286-287].

In the course of the philosopher's analysis of the peculiarities of historical knowledge, it is the problem of narrativity that acts as the central one, since it is the narration that represents the results of historical research. In this case, the dependence of scientific history from its literary expression arises. In his study of the epistemology of history Ricoeur tried to solve several problems. The first of them is to present a logically clear model of the historical story, which will be common to all variants of its construction. The second is to identify the essential differences between the historical narrative and the artistic narrative. Indeed, how does a historical narrative differ from a artistic one, if both of them tell? To what extent the claim of professional historians to truthfulness can be justified? An analysis of Ricoeur's substantiated answers to these questions can be found in the extensive work of A. V. Tashkin [7, p. 242-256].


1.    Gubman B. L. P. Ricoeur: a linguistic turn and a story about history // Linguistic turn and historical knowledge in Western philosophy of the XX-XXI centuries. – M.; St. Petersburg: Center for Humanitarian Initiatives, 2021. – P. 171-191 (Series "Humanitas")

2.    Ricœur P. Du texte à l'action. Essais d'herméneutique II. – Paris: Seuil, 1986. – 409 p.

3.    Ricoeur P. Hermeneutics, ethics, politics: Moscow. lectures and interviews / Ed. ed. and ed. post-last I. S. Vdovina. – M. : JSC "Kami" : Ed. Center "Academia", 1995. – 159 p.

4.    Ricoeur P. La métaphore vive. – Paris: Seuil, 1975. – 414 p.

5.    Ricoeur P. Metaphorical process as knowledge, imagination and sensation // Theory of metaphor: Collection of articles. – M.: Progress, 1990. – S. 416-434.

6.    Ricoeur P. Understanding and explanation // New philosophical encyclopedia: In 4 vols. / Under the editorship of V. S. Stepin. – T. III. – M.: Thought, 2001. – P. 283.

7.    Tashkin A. V. The specifics of historical narrative in the hermeneutics of P. Ricœur // Bulletin of Tver State university. Ser. Philosophy. – 2016. – №. 2. – P. 242-256.

Vdovina I. S. Phenomenology in France (historical and philosophical essays) / I. S. Vdovina. – M.: "Kanon +" ROOI "Rehabilitation", 2009. – 400 p.

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