THE FRENCH intellectual Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) ranks as among the most notable philosophers of this era. He will always be remembered for his wide-ranged approach in answering the question: “What is the meaning of being human?”
The international conference, Paul Ricoeur in Asia: Reflections on Politics, Society, and Religion, featured papers on Ricoeur’s philosophy that cut across the subjects of law, literature, theology, art, technology and ethics.
Ateneo de Manila (School of Humanities) and the University of Santo Tomas (Faculty of Arts and Letters and the Department of Philosophy) co-organized the event held on Nov. 19–21 to commemorate Ricoeur’s 10th death anniversary.
For conference convenor Leovino Garcia, Ricoeur sought answers not only in the traditions of philosophy—such as existentialism, Marxism, structuralism, phenomenology—but also in the sciences, history, linguistics, psychoanalysis, literary studies and biblical exegesis.
“This he did with such intensity that he has been hailed as ‘the philosopher of all dialogues,’” said Garcia, who teaches philosophy at Ateneo and UST.
Ricoeur’s long list of works of over 30 books and 500 articles include a three-book series on the Philosophy of the Will—“Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary” (1950), “Fallible Man” (1960), and “The Symbolism of Evil” (1960); the “The Rule of Metaphor” (1975); “Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning” (1976); “Time and Narrative” (1983); “Oneself as Another” (1990); and his last magnum opus, “Memory, History, Forgetting” (2000), among many others.
In the old jargon of philosophy, an eclectic supposedly pertains to a thinker who subscribes to particular ideas from various schools of thought, basing only on expediency.
Some purists pigeonholed Ricoeur earlier in his career as such, only to discover that they had overlooked what catapulted Ricoeur along the lines of the giants of hermeneutics (study of interpretation)—the emergence of multidisciplinary dialogue, which proves more rigorous than convenient.
“It is as one of the greatest hermeneutic philosophers, particularly as the interpreter of historical and fictional narratives, that Ricoeur will continue to be remembered,” Garcia said.
Garcia added that “Ricoeur reminded us that in spite of our vulnerability to commit error, we are capable of rising above what we have done because we are better than our actions.”
In the recently held conference, all 36 paper presentations recalled and reimagined the thoughts and methods of Ricoeur. Notable was “An Epic Vision of Christianity” by Olivier Abel of the Institut Protestant de Théologie.
Abel, who had known Ricoeur since his teenage years, discussed the philosopher’s article “The Image of God and the Epic of Man,” from which he developed the theory of seeing Christian life as an epic.
One of his points, which very much resonated Ricoeur, was that the Christian life, as in the epic, had events and characters gradually revealing themselves.
“Epic timing is where each character enters the scene one by one and shows their capabilities first before finding themselves in the midst of characters and in the chorus of spectators,” Abel said.
He explained people must pay attention to details, no matter how small or big, because, as in an epic, every glimpse of a narrative would play a part on the grander scale of the whole story.
“There is sure to be a meaning, but it is hidden, it remains to be imagined and interpreted,” Abel said. “An insignificant thing can turn out to be quite important, and the enormity of something imposing itself on everything can end up being nothing but a bluff.”
The other plenary papers presented during congress were “Reimagining the Sacred” by Richard Kearney of Boston College; “Summoned to Heaven: The Narrative Subject of Salvation” by Boyd Blundell of Loyola University New Orleans; “Practical Hermeneutics: The Legal Text and Beyond” by George Taylor of University of Pittsburgh; “Exemplarity and the Law of Superabundance” by Roger W. H. Savage of University of California Los Angeles; “Paul Ricoeur’s Approach toward a Narrative Theology” by Cristal Huang of Soochow University, Taiwan; “Reading Ricoeur with the Methods of the Digital Humanities” by George Taylor and Fernando Nascimento of University of Pittsburgh and Pontificia Universidade Católica de Campinas, Sao Paolo, respectively; “Ricoeur from Fallibility to Fragility and Ethics” by Morny Joy of University of Calgary, Canada; and “Between Responsibility and Hope: The Legacy of Paul Ricoeur” by Garcia.