Paul Ricoeur has died

by Henry Farrell on May 23, 2005

Via “Russell Arben Fox”: I see that Paul Ricouer has died at the age of 92. “Le Monde”:,1-0@2-3230,36-652552@51-633431,0.html, the”Telegraph”:;sessionid=BBIWUSDSJHP2RQFIQMGSM54AVCBQWJVC?xml=/news/2005/05/23/db2301.xml&site=5 and “Guardian”:,3858,5199672-103684,00.html have obituaries. In addition to Ricoeur’s direct philosophical legacy, he had a very substantial indirect influence on the social sciences through Clifford Geertz, whose arguments about culture and its study are informed by Ricoeur’s hermeneutics.

Update: As “Scott McLemee”: points out, it’s already Tuesday, and

bq. nobody in the American media has insulted Ricoeur yet. What’s going on? Have our pundits lost their commitment to mocking European intellectuals and the pointy-headed professors who read them?

Is something wrong? Inquiring minds would like to know.



Rex 05.23.05 at 8:34 pm

oh c’mon. Geertz gives a few shouts out to Ricoeur in one or two articles. But let’s face it, he learned more about culture from Kluckhohn than Ricoeur.


Shannon Clark 05.23.05 at 9:50 pm has posted a long and well written article on Paul Ricoeur:

Also Wikipedia’s entry has been updated and has further references:



des von bladet 05.24.05 at 4:09 am

Libé has the best goss, of course:


Henry 05.24.05 at 9:43 am

Hi Rex

I don’t pretend to be either a Ricoeur or Geertz expert, but I do reckon that Geertz’s debt goes a _lot_ farther than a few nods here and there. I think that Geertz’s effort to separate culture from the intentionality of actors owes an enormous amount to Ricoeur’s argument that social acts become separated from the intentionality of actors and their meaning a social meaning. In a very strong sense of the word, Geertz’s theory of culture is a hermeneutic one. Right?


des von bladet 05.24.05 at 9:55 am

Re: update

Ricoeur was not only distressingly reasonable and lucid, he also spent most of the ’70s in exile in the FDR after being tarred (and rubbishbinned) as a reactionary by the soixante-huitards. And he was even a practising protestant! (See the Libé article I linked, really do.)

So while it is arguably still very slack to leave him unillspokenof, your nutters have lucked out on their choice of non-target.


Amardeep 05.24.05 at 10:22 am

On the Protestant tip, there is an interesting interview with him at the website of a religious retreat he often visited, called Taize.

The interview is here.


Scott McLemee 05.24.05 at 10:22 am

My impression is that Geertz draws a lot more on Kenneth Burke, who cobbled together a sort of “wild hermeneutics” he called dramatism. It does some of what Henry here identifies as what Geertz got from Ricoeur.

It is not impossible, but also not likely, that Ricoeur and Burke ever read one another. Strange to think that. By chance, I happen to be reading both of them lately and keep having moments of deja vu in moving from one to the other.


Amardeep 05.24.05 at 11:53 am

In the James Dudley Andrew Project Muse essay“>essay on Ricoeur in Diacritics a few years ago, there is an interesting Ricoeur coinage, the idea of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche as “prophets of extremity”:

For Ricoeur claims that Freud, Marx, and a line of “prophets of extremity” [see Megill] stemming from Nietzsche have torn down every institution, every monument of civilization, including the institution of the self, leaving humanity with nothing but the movement of force and scattered elements of signification [Ricoeur and Ihde 148]. And yet these prophets evince a heroic embrace of a deeper truth than that whose edifice they have shattered. The result is a gain for consciousness. The Nietzschean overman, like the patient on the other side of psychoanalysis, has gained a certain adulthood of consciousness in recognizing and willing the loss of the dominance of consciousness within existence.

I’m not sure I see the “gain for consciousness” in this development (later in the same paragraph Andrew goes to Hegel), but it’s an interesting phrase nonetheless.


Amardeep 05.24.05 at 11:55 am

Sorry about the glitch above. Here is the (subscription) link to the essay.


Rex 05.24.05 at 2:10 pm

I think that Geertz quoted a little bit of everyone and dabbled in everything (that’s Geertz for you). To be sure, he was among the many influenced by Ricoeur’s enormously circulated _Meaningful Action as Text_ essay (despite the fact imho it is one of the worst things he ever wrote). But Schutz and Burke were more central in this regard, esp. Schutz since he shared with Parsons a Weberian origin (although Parsons and Schutz’s correspondence indicates they had little in common).

I’m not sure that Geertz /has/ a theory of culture. He certainly has a disposition that he writes suggestively about, but it’s quite difficult to pull a coherent statement from the Thick Description of Balinese Cockfight essays which ARE Geertz for most non-anthros.

The idea that the meaning of acts or anything else is based on enduring, and collective systems of categorization rather than “actors’ itnention” is just what anthropology has always been about, and interpreting these wider societal notions is something that people like Sapir and Mauss (if I had to pick two) had been doing for some time. It wasn’t new to Geertz, although he is the first person that non-anthros often discover it in and of course he and others positioned it in a particular way in anthros history that ended up being productive.

Des — when you say ‘FDR’ you mean ‘University of Chicago’ right :?)


des von bladet 05.25.05 at 3:49 am

Rex: Chicago and its university are still in the ‘Free and Democratic Republic’ (of the United States of America), isn’t it?


Angelo 05.25.05 at 10:11 am

Here a big collection of articles on Ricoeur:


Shrinivas Tilak 05.25.05 at 12:14 pm

Just as I started to proof-read my manuscript “understanding Karma in Light of Paul Ricoeur’s Philosophical Anthropology and Hermeneutics (500pp) came the news of Professor Ricoeur’s demise. I am sad that he will not be there to see it in print. In 1995 I had written to him about my project and he had agreed to read it. I contacted him again a year ago, but by that time it was already too late.

Comments on this entry are closed.