Paul Ricœur died on the 20th of May 2005 at the age of 92, he was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics.
Born in 1913 on the 27th of February in Valence, Drôme, France to a devout Protestant family, making him a member of a religious minority in Catholic France, Ricœur’s father died in a 1915 World War I battle when Ricœur was only two years old.
He was raised by his paternal grandparents and an aunt in Rennes, France, with a small stipend afforded to him as a war orphan.
Ricœur, whose penchant for study was fueled by his family’s Protestant emphasis on Bible study, was bookish and intellectually precocious.
Ricœur received his bachelor’s degree in 1932 from the University of Rennes and began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1934, where he was influenced by Gabriel Marcel.
His unit was captured during the German invasion of France in 1940 and he spent the next five years as a prisoner of war.
His detention camp was filled with other intellectuals such as Mikel Dufrenne, who organized readings and classes sufficiently rigorous that the camp was accredited as a degree-granting institution by the Vichy government.
During this time he read Karl Jaspers, who was to have a great influence on him.
Ricoeur extends his account of freedom in Fallible Man and The Symbolism of Evil, both published in 1960.
In these works he addresses the question of how to account for the fact that it is possible for us to misuse our freedom, to have a bad will.
In Fallible Man he argues that this possibility is grounded in a basic disproportion that characterizes the finite and the infinite dimensions of a human being.
This disproportion is epitomized by the gap between bios, or one’s spatiotemporally located life, and the logos, one’s use of reason that can grasp universals.
This disproportion shows up in every aspect of human existence. It is manifest in perception, in thought and speech, in evaluation, and in action. By reason of this disproportion, we are never wholly at one with ourselves and hence we can go wrong.
From 1965 to 1970, Ricœur was an administrator at the newly founded University of Nanterre in suburban Paris.
Nanterre was intended as an experiment in progressive education, and Ricœur hoped that he could create a university in accordance with his vision, free of the stifling atmosphere of the tradition-bound Sorbonne and its overcrowded classes.
Nevertheless, Nanterre became a hotbed of protest during the student uprisings of May 1968 in France. Ricœur was derided as an “old clown” and tool of the French government.
In 1999, he was awarded the Balzan Prize for Philosophy, the citation being “For his capacity in bringing together all the most important themes and indications of 20th-century philosophy, and re-elaborating them into an original synthesis which turns language – in particular, that which is poetic and metaphoric – into a chosen place revealing a reality that we cannot manipulate, but interpret in diverse ways, and yet all coherent.
Through the use of metaphor, language draws upon that truth which makes of us that what we are, deep in the profundity of our own essence”.