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Paul Ricoeur

literary critic , philosopher

Paul Ricoeur, French philosopher, literary critic. Decorated Croix de Guerre with palme; recipient Prix Cavailles, 1951, Prix Hegel République fédérale d'Allemagne, 1985, Prix Karl-Jaspers de l'université de Heidelberg, 1990, Prix Leopold Lucas de l'université de Tubingen, 1989, Grand prix de philosophie de l'Académie française, 1991. Served French Army, 1936-1937, 39-45, prisoner of war, 1940-1945.


Ricoeur, Paul was born on February 27, 1913 in Valence, France. Son of Jules and Florentine (Favre) Ricoeur.


Graduate, University Rennes, France, 1932. Graduate, University Sorbonne, Paris, 1935. Doctor of Letters, University Sorbonne, Paris, 1950.

Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), University Basel, Switzerland, 1964. Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), University Montreal, 1968. Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), University Chicago, 1969.

Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), University Nijmegen, 1970. Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), Ohio State University, 1970. Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), DePaul University, 1973.

Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), University Zurich, Switzerland, 1973. Doctor of Philosophy (honorary), Boston College, 1975.


High School teacher, Saint-Brieuc, France, 1933-1934, Colmar, France, 1935-1936, Lorient, France, 1937-1939. Attaché de recherche Center National de la Recherche Science, 1945-1948. Professor philosophy University Strasbourg, France, 1948-1957, University Paris, Sorbonne, France, 1957-1967, University Paris-X, Nantone, 1967-1981.

Visiting professor Yale University, New Haven, 1964, University Montréal, 1965, University Louvain, 1970. John Nuveen professor of Philosophy, University Chicago, 1971.



The first stage in Paul Ricoeur's thought, reinforced by his study of the works of Jaspers in a prisoner of war camp in Germany during the Second World War, is existentialist. This existentialist basis then shifts towards phenomenology and the philosophies of Husserl and Heidegger — Ricoeur translated the first volume of Husserl's Ideen into French. After phenomenology, or more precisely from within phenomenology, his thought proceeds to a philosophical hermeneutics, the proper term for Ricoeur’s mature philosophy.

Philosophical hermeneutics studies the diverse structures through which meaning can be brought to the subject, structures such as culture, religion, society and language: it owes much to phenomenological study of experience but at the same time offers a powerful critique of the foundations of traditional phenomenologyPhilosophical hemcncutics brings together two strands of hermeneutics corresponding to two of Ricoeur’s main interests: Biblical interpretation and the philosophical question of textual interpretation as found in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer. Here, the self-transparent autonomous sujectivity at the foundation of phenomenology is replaced by the need to interpret meaning as carried by various structures. For Ricoeur the meaning carried by structures such as texts cannot be known absolutely and thus the subject cannot claim to absolute knowledge or self-knowledge.

If the central question for philosophical hermeneutics is that of meaning then its guiding principle is that the many sources of meaning cannot be reconciled into a single account or discourse. Ricoeur's work is the attentive study of these various discourses and of how they impinge on the subject and undo any attempt to bring them together into one. Ricoeur’s work is important in debates on phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, critical theory, deconstruction and poststructuralism.

It offers a philosophy that mediates between the traditional position put forward by philosophers such as Gadamer in hermeneutics and Husserl in phenomenology and the post' structuralist critiques of those positions as encountered in the work of Derrida or Lyotard.


Served French Army, 1936-1937, 39-45, prisoner of war, 1940-1945.


  • Philosophers & Thinkers

    Jaspers. Marcel, Husserl, Heidegger, Gadamer and Freud.

  • Other Interests

    Phenomenology; existentialism. Literary theory; Biblical studies.


Married Simone Lejas, August 14, 1935. Children: Jean-Paul, Marc, Noëlle, Olivier (deceased), Etienne.

Jules Ricoeur

Florentine (Favre) Ricoeur

Simone Lejas

Jean-Paul Ricoeur

Marc Ricoeur

Noëlle Ricoeur

Olivier Ricoeur (deceased)

Etienne Ricoeur