Review of Existencia y Hermenéutica by Paul Ricoeur

  1. Nombre y apellido del alumno Bert Amsing
  2. Fecha June 21, 2016
  3. Título del texto leído Paul Ricoeur

Existencia y Hermenéutica

  1. ¿De qué trata el artículo o capítulo leído?

Paul Ricoeur, in his chapter “Existencia y hermenéutica,” in his book El Conflicto de las Interpretaciones, gives us the foundation for understanding how the process of hermeneutics reveals our existence.

  1. ¿Cuál es la idea central del autor?

His central idea is that a linguistic philosophy, by providing a general theory of interpretation (which is what he is trying to do here), has the potential to bring the otherwise conficting interpretations/hermeneutics into a unified concept of man’s existence.

  1. ¿De qué nos quiere convencer?

Ricoeur wants to convince us that the hermeneutic of psychoanalysis reveals an architecture of being dependent on desire, the hermeneutic of the phenomenon of spirit reveals a theology of being dependent on spirit and the hermeneutic of the phenomenon of religion reveals an eschatology of being dependent on the sacred and that these three major ways of interpreting human existence are ultimately parts of a whole that is the holy grail of philosophy.

  1. ¿Cuáles son los puntos fuertes y los puntos débiles del texto?

Right at the beginning of this chapter, Ricoeur already starts off on the wrong foot with his interpretation of St. Augustine’s use of allegory.  As was pointed out in another review, St. Augustine did not use allegory as his main (or only) hermeneutical tool but Ricoeur uses it justify all biblical interpretation as a hermeneutic in the sense of having a surface meaning and a deeper meaning.  The manner in which Ricoeur uses this one concept of biblical hermeneutics to apply it to the whole of the biblical text fits his own philosophical assumptions but is not true to the biblical worldview.  In fact, this is a major issue and forms one of the basic differences between a secular and a Christian approach to a general theory of interpretation.  This fundamental concept of hermeneutics as revealing that which is hidden and thereby having a multiplicity of meanings is the basis of Ricoeur’s entire approach but it is not how the Bible looks at it and is in danger of being nothing more than a modern version of the gnostic heresy.
From a biblical point of view, the problem is not in the text but in man.  Ricoeur is willing to admit this to an extent and in a different way later on in this same article but he still maintains that the biblical text cannot be accepted as it stands.  Not only does it need to be stripped of its supernatural cultural trappings and fundamentally re-interpret its myths, but as religious language it is fundamentally symbolic language (rather than historical or scientific language) and therefore consists of a surface meaning and a hidden meaning.  In fact it is the stripping away and the re-interpreting that is an integral (but not complete) part of the process of hermeneutics which is to get to the real meaning behind the words.
None of this is the biblical perspective on how interpretation works.  There is a mixture of language types in the biblical text.  Some of it is historical language (eg. the Gospel of Luke, Acts of the Apostles etc).  Some of it is poetry (eg. Psalms) and some of it is narrative.  It isn’t only symbolic language and it certainly isn’t all allegory.  On the one hand, it needs to be interpreted just like any other collection of literary works within its own cultural, historical and linguistic context but it also must be understood within its own biblical history and canon of the Old Testament, the newer interpreted in the light of what came before, biblical theology and redemptive history, simply because it is one story and has one supernatural author.  The OT provides the theological and conceptual/linguistic context for the New Testament while, at the same time, the New Testament provides a new and fresh revelation of the acts and words of God in human history.
Still the fundamental problem does not reside in the biblical text but rather in our ability to understand it because of the noetic effects of sin both before and after salvation (in lesser measure).  Since Ricoeur rejects that interpretation of the human condition, he has reinterpreted the biblical text as a source of symbolic figures that need to be interpreted through various stages.

  1. ¿Qué aspectos no entendí?

The article in itself was understandable.  What needs more work is the integration and distinction of this “secular” general theory of interpretation from a “religious” or, more specifically, a “Christian” general theory of interpretation.  On the one hand, it is clear that “secular” does not mean “neutral” or “objective” vis a vis a “religious” or “Christian” point of view.  That is evident in Ricoeur´s own bias against the supernatural, his anti-historical view of the biblical text, his existential and phenomenological presuppositions and his general misunderstanding of the biblical text (as well as his continued violation of his own rules of interpretation when it comes to dealing with the biblical text).
On the other hand, what is not clear is whether all religious hermeneutics/interpretations of reality/existence can be brought under this “secular” general theory of interpretation without doing damage to their view of the world.  What is clear is that the “Christian” point of view is radically opposed to the foundational elements of this “secular” approach and reserves the right to elaborate an alternative approach that may use the general structure/approach but with a different foundation than the philosophical anthropology of Ricoeur and his existential and phenomenological assumptions.
Taking the supernatural element of Christianity at face value and the biblical text as revealed from a God-who-is-there (and therefore as authoritative and inspired) as rooted in the historical events of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, understood in its own historical/cultural/linguistic context based on the theological/conceptual context of the Old Testament, reveals an entirely different direction for a Christian philosophy of interpretation/hermeneutics that is not merely “totalitarian” or even “eschatological.”
It, at least, claims to be a pivotal event/word that is not only necessary but key to a self-understanding of man’s existence in this dark and dangerous world that holds any real hope to overcoming evil in the heart of man.  Looked at as two concentric circles that intersect in the middle, one would be a secular approach and the other would be a biblical approach in terms of its foundational elements and in the middle there would be some overlap and coherence in method and approach that may need some restatement but is in basic agreement.  That is the task of a Christian philosophy of hermeneutics that remains to be done.

  1. ¿Cómo se puede aplicar el contenido a la tarea hermenéutica?

If, by the work of hermeneutics, we mean the actual work of the exegete to understand the biblical text, very little.  If we mean the development of a Christian general theory of interpretation/hermeneutic that goes beyond the rules of exegesis and provides a linguistic philosophy based on Christian presuppositions that can incorporate and re-interpret other forms of hermeneutics (eg. phsycoanalysis, other religions, philosophy itself, including a phenomenology of spirit and religion) while maintaining their integrity as a secular approach to understanding the nature of man’s existence.
This Christian approach is not merely apologetic any more than the secular approach is, but it is in dialectical opposition and as an exercise in distinctive apologetics it has much value.  At the same time it must go beyond apologetics to provide a more ample biblical worldview that can truly engage with the individual and social problems that face our world and speak both judgment and hope, destruction and interpretation to use Ricoeur’s words, into each situation while maintaining God’s eternal perspective and agenda, his theodicy and his commitment to the cross of Christ as the exclusive solution to the problem of evil.  It is both a judgment on the “secular” approach to meaning as well as proclamation of hope for those who abandon the “secular” approach to life and embrace the “supernatural” approach as proclaimed through the biblical text.
Bert Amsing
Master’s Program – FIET