Paul Ricoeur's Hermeneutic Detours and Distanciations
Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur have each proposed remarkably similar hermeneutic approaches to the interpretation of texts. They both approach hermeneutics starting from particular insights in Husserl's and Heidegger's respective phenomenologies. They both are wary of the claims of the need for objectivity to provide adequate interpretations of texts. They both turn to Plato and Aristotle to provide models and insights for the interpretation of texts. Gadamer and Ricoeur both devote considerable attention to the critique of prior significant figures in hermeneutics. They both utilize and exploit the difference between the structures and elements of a language and the actual use and expressions made in that language for the purpose of explaining how meaning is created. For all their similarities, there are differences between the hermeneutic approaches and theories of Gadamer and Ricoeur. One significant difference between the two is the attitude that each thinker takes toward tradition or dogma. Gadamer approaches prior interpretive contexts, i.e., tradition, in a manner that privileges their capacity to provide viewpoints to adequately and effectively interpret texts. Ricoeur, on the other hand, eyes tradition more critically. His research into many of the human sciences and their methodological and philosophical foundations leads to a greater awareness and acceptance of the possible deceptive and misleading capacities of tradition. This difference in attitude toward tradition expresses itself clearly in another difference between the two thinkers. Gadamer, unlike Ricoeur, is unwilling to accept the inclusion of methodologies and insights of the human sciences within the purview of hermeneutics. Gadamer argues that such an inclusion would be anathema to the hermeneutic and philosophical project. Ricoeur, on the other hand, argues that the inclusion of these insights leads to a broadening of hermeneutic resources and to the continued relevance of hermeneutics to the philosophical project. The inclusion of the insights of the human sciences within hermeneutics also points to another significant difference between Gadamer and Ricoeur. Ricoeur argues that the determination of the meaning of a text must always be achieved through a detour to a viewpoint that lies outside the text. There must be some distance between the text and interpreter if the interpreter is to provide an adequate interpretation. Ricoeur recognizes that this demand would seem to place him in the camp of those hermeneutists who demand objectivity for acceptable interpretation. Ricoeur provides a convincing defense against this charge. Gadamer, on the other hand, argues that any move outside of that of the text serves to impose an interpretation upon it that is not sensitive or authentic to it. For Gadamer, recourse to an interpretive viewpoint outside of the text is merely a capitulation to the methodologies of control and domination of positivism and scientism. In this dissertation I explore the similarities and differences among the theories of Gadamer and Ricoeur. I explore the similarities and differences that some commentators of Gadamer and Ricoeur have found. I provide a detailed examination of Gadamer's pivotal work Truth and Method. I consider Gadamer's assessments of prior hermeneutical figures, like Schleiermacher and Dilthey, and Gadamer's proposals for an alternative approach to hermeneutical interpretation. I also examine two of Ricoeur's significant works: The Conflict of Interpretations and Time and Narrative. In a short, but dense, article Ricoeur speaks directly to what he perceives to be the difference between his work and that of Gadamer and Habermas. Through the analysis of these three works, I hope to demonstrate how Ricoeur's hermeneutical theory is both similar to and different from Gadamer's. I argue that Ricoeur's hermeneutics provides resources to address some of the weaknesses present in Gadamer's thought, particularly Gadamer's assessment of the reliability of tradition for the interpretation of texts.