1999 Balzan Prize for Philosophy
Paul Ricoeur (*27 February 1913, Valence; †20 May 2005, Châtenay-Malabry) taught at Strasbourg and at the Sorbonne before guiding the new University of Nanterre in the difficult moment that 1969 was. After retirement, he taught in America, principally at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.
A close follower of the “Esprit” movement, Ricoeur then came under the spell of the most important philosophic movements of our century, in particular, Phenomenology, Existentialism, and Philosophy of Language, not as that analytical science of Anglo-Saxon persuasion, but instead as an instrument of revelation.
This is due also to the religious sentiments of Ricoeur, given that the “Religions of the Book” use the word itself to reveal that which is beyond the word.
Paul Ricoeur then studies language not as an instrument which is limited to describing things and dominating them, but instead as a way of interpreting what is real, possible, and virtual. In this function, language follows the Rule of metaphor (Paris, 1975), and is not simply ornamental. When one speaks, he narrates and describes (as Paul Ricoeur clarifies in the 3 volumes of Time and Narrative [Paris, 1983-1985]) relating real or imaginary facts, not for the simple reason of furnishing information, but to bring the profound sense of reality into view. This does not occur in a unique and necessary way, but (as Saint Augustine already understood) in forms which can appear in contrast among themselves (as clarified in Conflicts of Interpretation, [Paris, 1969]), even combining one with all to shed light on an identical truth under a variety of formulas. Exemplified upon a great number of philosophical and literary texts, this inquiry gives testimony to Paul Ricoeur’s quality as a grand maestro of one of the most significant configurations of modern philosophy, “Hermeneutics”, or the science of interpretation.
The greatest achievement of Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical thinking in this branch of knowledge is to have furnished an interpretation of the interpretations, justifying their variety, without putting them on the same level (Relativism), nor giving preference to one or the other for the only reason of being “in agreement” with the majority of voices. In this way, truth and variety are upheld at the same time.