Paul Ricoeur 1

Ricoeur is a philosopher/theologian who has had a great impact on the field, most especially, of philosophical hermeneutics. Unlike Gadamer, he emphasizes that we can indeed talk about methods of interpretation, but he is post-critical enough to admit that all interpretations are limited, never complete or final.

One of the interesting ideas he explores in Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (1976) is that a text, like a conversation between two persons, has a life of its own. Thus, the point of interpretation is not to get back to what the author meant (a al Schleiermacher and Dilthey), but to discover what the text means now. Here’s a quote from the end of the book:

“What indeed is to be understood — and consequently appropriated — in a text?

“Not the intention of the author, which is supposed to be hidden behind the text; not the historical situation common to the author and his original readers; not the expectations or feelings of these original readers; not even their understanding of themselves as cultural and historical phenomena. What has to be appropriated is the meaning of the text itself, conceived in a dynamic way as the direction of thought opened up by the text“(92, my italics).

So much for all of that historical-critical crap you learned in seminary, or the psychological reconstructions of Paul that you’ve read.

Later he writes that every text provides an “arrow” that points forward, and the reader’s job is to follow that arrow into new meanings.

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  • St.Phransus

    I’ll have to check Ricoeur out, sounds interesting. I think the Benedictines have interpreted scripture in that way- all along- might this “forward arrow” interpretation have a lot in common with lectio?

  • Brian

    I’d be interested to hear what you think of his ideas, Tony. Also, does he deny that the author meant to say something? Or does the author have his intended meaning, but the text also has it’s own meaning beyond what the author intended.

  • tony

    Here’s the full “arrow” quote:”Only the interpretation that complies with the injunction of the text, that follows the ‘arrow’ of the sense and that tries to think accordingly, initiates a new self-understanding”(94).Four points here:1) There is, indeed, an ‘injunction’ in the text, and it’s related to the original composition of the text. In other words, if there’s an arrow, then the bow still matters.2) Once the arrow has left the bow, the archer no longer controls it. Although she sent it on its way, she cannot get it back, and the arrow (text) takes on a life of its own. R. hints at it in his subtitle, “the surpuls of meaning.” That is, there is always more meaning in the future than the author intende in the present of composition.3) Interestingly, R. mentions lectio divina in the book, and he has visited Taize (a monastic community in southern France) several times. I think lectio is clearly one of these forward-arrow type reading that he’s talking about. 4) The point of good interpretation, R. says, is a new (non-narcissistic) self-understanding.

  • Brian